Reservations by religion

Essay by bir43B, November 2006

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The idea has disturbing possibilities

WHEN we entered the age of reservations in the early 1950s, we closed both the front and back doors to reservations by religion. Are we opening them now, some half a century later ?

When the debate on reservations began, in the Constituent Assembly, we decided we would have job reservations only for the Scheduled Castes and tribes. A little later we opened the door to "other backward castes " as well, because they were making practically the same case as had been made earlier by the Scheduled Castes, that Hindu society had inflicted social and economic discrimination upon them and thus had gravely reduced their capacity to compete with others on a footing of equality; therefore for a time they needed reservations as a class to regain their competitive ability.

On each occasion some Muslim leaders urged similar reservations for such Muslims as belonged to the same disadvantaged categories.

Their implied rationale was that since most Muslims were converts from Hinduism or had descended from the converts they were also disadvantaged by the Hindu society and needed the same compensatory advantage for a time.

But the demand was rejected on the ground that anyone who could be shown to belong to a scheduled or a backward caste could qualify as such where he was, but since his religion, Islam, claimed that it treated all Muslims as equal -- and many Scheduled Caste Hindus had been persuaded to become Muslims on the promise of such equality -- he could not at the same time claim compensation for an inequality which, according to his religion, did not exist.

They might have won reservations under a system meant to remedy economic deprivation. But the system we had then was aimed against inequalities inflicted by the caste...