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The Indian Reservation System and Equality: A Dworkinian Perspective

In this research project, I'll discuss about the Reservation System of India and equality. I would analyze about the purpose of the reservation system i.e. the core idea behind it and would also see if equality which is claimed to be the primary aim behind this system has been achieved or not. Further, I shall also analyze the Dworkinian perspective on Equality and how this system of reservation would be seen by him and also, how would he respond to this.

Before I begin with my analysis, it is pertinent to note whether equality was actually the primary goal of the reservation system and if it has been achieved, why is it still relevant. Therefore, the research project aims at analyzing the objectives along with achievements of the reservation system in India.

Through this research project, I have tried to answer two major questions. Firstly, whether equality been achieved in its true sense by the reservation system in India? Secondly, whether the system of reservation finds a place within the Dworkinian theory of Equality?

The aim of this research project is to put forth an analysis of the Dworkin's concept of equality in light of the reservation system of India.

Concept Of Equality Within The Reservation System Of India

India has been independent since past 73 years and among Indian, goal of equality is yet to be achieved and instead it is gradually turning into a dream. From this, it can be inferred that there is something certainly erroneous with the education as well as employment system of our country. The act of keeping back, reserving or withholding certain number of seats for uplifting the standard of living and the position of the socially and economically depressed groups of the society.

The reservation system in India was brought in to address the caste system itself. Initially, the caste system was the division on the basis of occupation but over the years it took an ugly path which further lead to the restrictions being placed upon the intermingling of castes and this in turn led to the social evil of untouchability and animosity among the groups.

The social discrimination which is based upon the caste, religion, gender and creed is an inhumane and evil practice which is still prevalent in most parts of our nation. Reservation has crucial economic, social and political consequences in our country which despite being the largest democracy of the world has scarce and limited public resources.

There is a serious requirement of refining and revising the reservation policy of our nation to improve it and become incorporative in accordance with the dynamic needs of India. There has been a confusion related to the reservation system in India since the day it was implemented and over the decades, it has increased since now even backward classes come under its ambit.

Even though reservation system has expanded and continued over the years, there is still a wide spread inequality and discrimination against the Dalits and other lower castes and this is a part of their routine and the aim of equal treatment has not been achieved. Reservation has been in practice since past six decades now and has expanded too but instead of serving its purpose, it has created animosity among groups and there is severe backlash. [1]

Reservation was included in the framework of the Indian Constitution in form of Article 15 and 16 for upliftment of SC/ST because they were denied respect, equal opportunity and were oppressed historically because of the deep-rooted caste system which was the primary reason behind their under-representation.

Reservation as a legislation does not alter the way Indian society would look at the lower castes. It only tries to put forth an equal opportunity and adequate representation for them. The aim of reservation has been diluted to a wide extent because it has shrank to being merely a political tool utilized by politicians for swaying voted in their favor.

These politically colored propagandas have further led to greater divergence among the various sections of the society instead of creating a sense of unity. These politicians have been fooling the citizens of our country by dishonest assurances of projecting reservation in a different light which has actually widened the gap among the population. [2]

The youth both Dalit and upper caste shows some severely violent tendencies because firstly, the Dalit youth has been discriminated against and oppressed for years and secondly, the upper caste or the general category youth feel that by means of reservation, the more competent candidate lose their seats to unqualified ones as they enjoy the benefit of the reservation. They feel that that this system is dangerous for the nation because meritorious candidates are being replaced by vacuous ones and therefore there is an extensive violence erupting due to the same.

People need to understand that reservation though it is very pertinent at this time cannot be a permanent solution and has to be a temporary one since the incorporation of reservation system in India was for the upliftment of the lower and oppressed community and by making it a perpetual one, we cannot project the idea that our nation has not succeeded in the eradication of unequal treatment even after years of independence and therefore what is problematic is the way in which this system is being anticipated by the population. It should be discontinued once the equality regime is achieved but that is a long way to go.

Reservation is not just a tool of poverty eradication which is actually the way it is being understood at present times instead it is for the equal representation and for achievement of justice and also to bring each citizen on the same level in terms of opportunities and representation. Discrimination in any form is unacceptable. Reservation aim for equality for all and once that is achieved, there won't be any requirement of creation of special privileges for any group of people because everyone will be on an identical pane. [3]

Reservation was initially caste based but now it is inclusive of the other backward communities (OBC) as well and this was done post the judgement of Indra Sawhney (1992) which laid down that along with the representing these communities adequately, it has led to sharing of power which was crucial for our nation because the downtrodden were not included in the administration post-independence.

The most striking feature of the judgment was that the court took a stand that if reservation is being provided to a certain group because they were disadvantaged, it does not mean that reservation is anti-merit because marks cannot not be the sole basis of merit since the socio-economic factors are also to be considered for the same. The court also made it explicitly clear that reservation is not for the eradication of poverty but to dismantle the caste-monopoly in the public sectors. [4]

It is imperative that such certain number of posts and seats are reserved for Dalits and this is not because they are underprivileged instead the problem was that even though these people appeared as candidate for government jobs, they were usually not selected due to their caste (which could be inferred from their last name) and the members of the selection board (usually upper caste) preferred to hire their kind of people and hence there was a serious violation of the rights of a person. By reservation, it was ensured that SC/ST's could be a part of the public services.

Simply providing reservation is not enough because nowadays it is being misused as a political tool during election as people usually form caste-based parties for contesting elections and there is often violence which erupts when the political agenda of parties is based upon caste. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that a system of checks and balances should be enforced to avoid such situations which could further make the relationship among the citizens of India bitter. [5]

Ronald Dworkin's Perspective On Equality And Reservation System Of India

Ronald Dworkin has given a Theory of Equality and according to him, it is a principle of equal value and special responsibility. He says that state needs to pay "equal attention" towards its citizens which should be according to their dignity in the sense that if someone is disadvantaged then their equal attention should be competent enough to make them as equal as others even if it means treating them differently.

This means that the differences and specialties of every individuals should be respected. For Dworkin, the distribution of resources need not be equal for everyone, but what is pertinent is that it should be fair for enabling the people to have choice w.r.t. the good they desire. Individuals have certain rights which cannot be overlooked by the state and therefore these cannot be sacrificed as well. [6]

According to Dworkin, by possessing rights the dignity as well as self-respect of the human being is protects and hence they are equal according to the fundamental rights even though he admits that the nature of these rights is quite abstract. He has put forth two interpretations: first, right to equal treatment means providing all citizens with similar opportunities and resources. Second, right to treatment as an equal. Dworkin has accepted the latter conception of the fundamental rights. [7]

When we read the reservation system of India into the theory of equality as put forth by Dworkin, it is quite acceptable to state that this system would have been acknowledged by him and it can be included into his theory because he was in favour of the idea of equal treatment and opportunity for all even if this means that special treatment needed to be provided for the achievement of this purpose.

For him, the dignity of the individuals acts as a determinant for the special treatment which is to be provided only if there is inequality and when we comprehend the purpose of the reservation system in India, both these ideas are in consonance.

Dworkin would view reservation as an integral part for the preservation of the fundamental rights of an individual within the nation. Even though reservation is a special treatment, it is indispensable for the equal treatment which is envisaged within the Constitution of our nation.

This research project analyzed the reservation system of India within theory of equality as given by Ronald Dworkin and how would Dworkin would view this system and to conclude, I would say that reservation system was included within the nation's framework for curbing the inequalities that were created because of the denial of equivalent treatment as well as forfeiting the dignity of a group of people who were considered to be of lower caste primarily because of their occupation and hence they were looked down upon by the upper caste.

When our country gained its independence, this was a major issue which was to be resolved and hence the reservation system was introduced so that this discrimination and inequality is restricted. This system can find a place within the Theory of Equality provided by Dworkin because when we see the purpose of this theory in totality, the gist is that equal treatment varies according to the status of the person and hence even if special measures need to be taken for bringing about equality, it would come within his theory.

It is quite a utopian vision to bring everyone up to the same level of equality within a society but the same cannot be used as an excuse for not bringing in any measures since such measures to bring about equality are necessary if they are going in the identical direction of such a vision.

  1. G.S. Ghurye, Caste and Race in India (1968).
  2. Nidhi Khurana, The Way Forward for Caste-Based Reservations in India (The Wire)
  3. Kailash Jeender, Reservation Is About Adequate Representation, Not Poverty Eradication (The Wire)
  4. Basavaraju, C. "Reservation Under the Constitution of India: Issues and Perspectives." Journal of the Indian Law Institute
  5. Indra Sawhney v Union of India AIR 1993 SC 477
  6. Alexander Brown, Ronald Dworkin's Theory of Equality: Domestic and Global Perspectives
  7. Dworkin, R. (1981). What is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare. Philosophy & Public Affairs
  8. Dworkin, R. (1981). What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources. Philosophy & Public Affairs,
  1. Nidhi Khurana, "The Way Forward for Caste-Based Reservations in India" 24 April 2017 The Wire
  2. Basavaraju, C. "Reservation Under the Constitution of India: Issues and Perspectives." Journal of the Indian Law Institute June 2009
  3. Kailash Jeender, "Reservation Is About Adequate Representation, Not Poverty Eradication"18 May 2020 The Wire
  4. Indra Sawhney v Union of India AIR 1993 SC 477
  5. Kailash Jeender, "Reservation Is About Adequate Representation, Not Poverty Eradication"18 May 2020 The Wire
  6. Dworkin, R. (1981). What is Equality? Part 1: Equality of Welfare. Philosophy & Public Affairs
  7. Alexander Brown, Ronald Dworkin's Theory of Equality: Domestic and Global Perspectives

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