Social justice in Indian Context


Sensible delibration is required to ensure equality and justice for all

JAT-AndolanSocial Justice is ideally justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society. Here, the justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The pertinent entitlements can include education, healthcare, social security, labour rights, as well as a broader system of public services, progressive taxation and regulation of markets, etc. which are needed to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunity, equality of outcome, in short a just society. The concept of social justice, thus has a specific, tangible and dynamic content with an inherent potency to bring about equality in a society of unequals.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the definition of social justice seems to have changed colloquially. It is now identified solely with ‘reservation’ in India which incidentally has become a political necessity as well. No political party can afford to initiate any debate on the relevance of reservation policy; leave aside revising the policy. Although the judiciary, in such a scenario, has often been forced to take up a stand against the politicisation of reservations, the caste-based reservation policy is a sensitive issue and there are arguments on the both sides.

The reservation as a socio political tool and concept is not new in the Indian society. It has been creating ripples ever since the pre-independence days. The Britishers for their colonies initially used this concept in the name of welfare purposes but the main aim behind this was to control the power by dividing the individuals for the personal interest i.e. the policy of “Divide and Rule.” By the Government of India Act 1909 and 1919, the British Empire allotted some reservation or quota for Muslims and other minority classes in the administration according to the proportion of their population.

Also India was a country with a very rigid caste based hierarchal structure where the higher casts enjoyed most of the benefits while the lower casts were looked down upon. The majority of the population was backward socially, economically, educationally, and politically.

The backward classes were classified as the Scheduled castes (SC), Scheduled tribes (ST), and other backward classes. When India became an independent nation, the framers of the Constitution took upon themselves the duty of forwarding interests of the backward classes by having Article 46 in the Constitution. Article 46 stated that the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the weaker section of the people, also protecting them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Article 46 was complimented by the inclusion of many other articles for the empowerment of the backward classes. Since they were the oppressed classes this was thought to be the best mechanism to correct the mistake that was being practiced for many hundreds of years.

But the implementation of reservation or quota system was not carried out smoothly. The Congress government headed by the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru felt unable to implement the policies of Planning Commission whose one of the objectives at that time (1951-56) was raising the standard of living of people especially those belonging to backward classes because these policies  to some extent infringes upon the fundamental rights provided under Article 14, 15, 16, 21 etc.

In State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan, a seven Judge Bench of the Supreme Court struck down the classification for  allotting seats in the State medical colleges as being based on caste, race and religion for the purpose of admission to educational institutions on the ground that Art. 15 did not contain a clause such as Art 16(4).

To overcome this decision, by the 1st Amendment in 1951, the legislature added Clause 4 in Art. 15. Clause 4 says that the state is not prevented from making any special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of  citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Through this provision, the legislature overcame the judicial decision and made reservation or quota for the backward classes. The reservation was initially provided for the period of 10 years which was later extended from time to time. Till 1980, the reservation was generally provided to SCs and STs. After the Mandal Commission report on reservation, the provision reservation was granted to Other Backward Classes too in jobs as well as in the higher education which has now gone up. The report was implemented in 1990 amid a great deal of controversy; the Mandal Commission was one of the prominent reasons that led to the downfall of the V.P Singh  government.

Although the reservation policy is an exception to the equality rule, it is still considered an essential element of equality. Equality has many dimensions and one such dimension is the reservation policy for the backward classes. But gradually, there has been bipolarity building up on the issue of reservation which is surely and steadily partitioning the society. The forward class people are feeling pressed and are desperate at the emerging scenario when pie is fast shrinking for them. Nearly half of all
government jobs are out of their reach because of the method of social justice adopted by the government. But even after  nearly 70 years of independence the people still are having to fall back on reservation, and that shows the success or otherwise, of governments in delivering social justice.

Reasonable Solutions
It may be noted that every individual is like a building – if its foundation is feeble it is unavoidable that the entire structure will collapse. The fundamentals for a successful career is deeply rooted in the primary education the individual receives, as it is this education that will help him attain higher levels of education. So to become a skyscraper one has to start from the bottom. The emphasis should thus be on maximizing the educational infrastructure, more fund allocation and that of reforming the entire teaching and learning process and refurbishing the outdated administrative apparatus that hampers more than it serves.

Opponents say reservation is akin to reverse discrimination

It is not that the backward castes have not progressed but the percentage is less because those who have already availed reservation and progressed keep getting it again. This results in the formation of the creamy layer. So, instead of having a reservation policy the emphasis of the government should be on building good schools so that the poor have an opportunity to study. A person must be given the basic necessities of life – nutrition, clothing, shelter, medical facilities etc. These must be provided at nominal rates through fair price shops catering specifically to the economically backward of this country.

Benefits, if provided, should be restricted per family to a maximum of two children irrespective of the number of children in a family. This will help in spreading the benefits to a larger number of families. Equality of opportunities could also be achieved where reservation can be extended to one generation only. Offsprings of a family that has availed it once should not be allowed to avail it again. This would make it possible to do away with reservations in a phased manner. The Supreme Court’s observation in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India [12] on the exclusion of creamy layer from the benefi ts of reservation is crucial if the benefi ts of reservation are to reach more people. Also, once the given reserved category individual is self-sufficient then transfer him from that category and include him in the general category. Eventually, his coming generations will be termed as general category and this process will result in lessening of the reserved category individuals. Besides, a review committee should be constituted under a governmental authority which submits an annual report at the end of the year reviewing the execution of allocation of funds at the primary and secondary levels of education.

It’s worth noting that the source of the problem simply not lies in the segregation of the categories but also in the ever increasing rural and urban divide. In rural India, the suffering of a general category individual is similar to the reserved category persons.

So, the solution lies in bridging the gap between rural and urban India which can be done in concentrating on the rural setup and providing them all the basic facilities.

Instead of having a reservation policy, the emphesis should be on building good schools so that the poor have an opportunity to study

This way the concentration of power in few hands can be reduced and sustenance can be provided to the disadvantaged section i.e. the rural society. Furthermore, there should be a time limit for eliminating all kinds of reservation benefits provided to SC/ST and OBCs. The government must determine a final date (maybe within 10 to 15 years) when the whole setup is brought  down. This will not only encourage reserved category people to stand on their own but also go a long way in increasing its suitability for all sections of the society.

As discussed, there is a requirement of departure from the present “groupcentric” affirmative action to “individual- centric” benefits. At present, benefits are being extended to a “class” (correctly described as “caste”) which has resulted in formation of unholy “caste-based” lobbies and political factions which is not in the interest of the country. At the outset, this groupism has to be disbanded and therefore emphasis on extension of benefits has to shift from “the conditions that a group satisfies” to the conditions that “an individual satisfies” for claiming benefits of state protection. Thus the state thereafter has to lay down secular conditions which apply to all individual irrespective of their caste, religion, sex, place of birth etc. The individuals satisfying these conditions would thereafter be collectively called the “Backward Classes” to muster the constitutional mandate.

One must take into account that reservation is for the upliftment of the disadvantaged and continuing it for the lifetime of the nation is not good. People for whom this is meant should recognise the effort the government is putting in for their upliftment and use this opportunity to bring themselves to the mainstream of Indian society.

They should understand that reservation is not a good thing to happen for the society as it is an indication of social inequality and social injustice which do exist in our social setup. There is a need to slowly end this and bring to our country a society that is free from inequality, injustice and any form of preferential treatment. But to make this happen, people who fall in the category to be benefi ted from reservation should come forward and utilize this opportunity to rise and help themselves and the society as a whole to acquire a socially forward, equal and just status.