ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revisiting the Rationale for Reservations

Claims of ‘Middle Castes’

The demand for reservations in jobs and education being made by agitating "middle castes" overturns the logic of affirmative action on its head. Instead of addressing historic discrimination, it is articulated as a means to "capture" public employment and education to maintain caste hierarchies. Accepting these demands, as the high courts have held, would be unconstitutional, but that will not stop governments from trying.

Over the last decade, India has seen a very specific kind of mass mobilisation break out in different places. The “middle castes,” the bulk of whose members are usually dependent on farming or small businesses, have mobilised making demands to improve their socio-economic lot. Whether it is the Patels in Gujarat, Jats in Haryana, Kapus in Andhra Pradesh or Marathas in Maharashtra, these movements have gathered momentum culminating in mass violence, or are ongoing with the genuine prospect of an outbreak of mass violence (as with the case of the Marathas; Poonam 2016). Several common features can be seen between these agitations, but an important one is the demand for reservation of college seats and government jobs for the members of these castes.

To defuse the agitation, state governments had promised to implement some form of reservation for these groups, only to have this struck down in courts. Haryana, for instance, introduced reservation for Jats only to see it stayed by the High Court of Punjab and Haryana ( 2016). The Gujarat government’s reservation scheme for “economically weaker sections” among forward castes was stayed by the High Court of Gujarat (Business Standard 2016). These have been stayed primarily because the intended reservations crossed the limit of 50% imposed by the Supreme Court in Indira Sawhney v Union of India (1992) on all “vertical” reservations.

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