Caste reservations in India

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Caste reservations in public services and for admissions in educational institutions have become so entrenched in the Indian political and legal sphere that they have almost become a holy cow, which no politician or judge in India dare to touch. It was therefore left for me to bell the cat.

Dalits or the Scheduled Castes ( SCs ), coupled with the Scheduled Tribes ( STs ) constitute about 20% of the Indian population and are still regarded as inferior by a large section of Indian society, just as blacks were ( and to some extent still are ) regarded in American society.

Reservations for them were therefore envisaged as a means of uplifting them.

However, today caste reservations in India have in reality become nothing but a political ploy to get votes in elections, and in my opinion far from benefiting the Dalits and other backward castes ( OBCs ) does them great harm, as I explained in this article :

For some time after the Independence of India in 1947 such reservations may have helped the Dalits for their upliftment. The Indian Constitution promulgated in 1950 provided for reservations for Dalits for 10 years, but thereafter they have been continued by regular Constitutional amendments. In fact such reservations have been enlarged by Article 16 (4A ) by permitting reservations in promotions too ( apart from initial recruitment ).

While I am strongly opposed to the caste system ( see my article ‘The caste system in India’ on my blog Satyam Bruyat ) as it is a disgrace to India, I am against caste reservations as I believe it is only a political device for securing Dalit ( and OBC ) vote banks, and in fact do great harm to the Dalits, far from benefiting them. I have explained my stand below :

(1) I was appointed a judge in the Allahabad High Court in November 1991. A few months thereafter I delivered a judgment holding that such reservations cannot be validly made in scientific fields as that is against the national interest. The judgment is reproduced here:

Because of this judgment, I got many threats, some of my senior colleagues told me I had destroyed my judicial career,  and I was almost sacked

I have always been of the view that science alone is the means of solving India’s huge problems, and caste-based reservations damage the cause of science, which is a relentless pursuit of objective truth and must maintain very high standards and permit no compromises. This is the reason why I gave that judgment.

(2) In April 2019 I was invited by the Ambedkar Mission Society, Punjab, which promotes the cause of Dalits, to a function in Jalandhar, Punjab on the occasion of Dr. Ambedkar’s birthday. I have mentioned about it here :

The function was held at a huge ground in which there were about 2000 people present, about 90% of them Dalits. I had told the organizers beforehand that I would speak my view about reservations, and they agreed that I could.

In my speech, which was for about one hour, I said that caste reservations, while purporting to be for the benefit of Dalits, was in fact doing them great harm, and they should themselves demand its abolition. The audience, which consisted mostly of Dalits, listened to me in stone silence, apparently stunned by what I said, but thereafter there was an uproar against me, evidently instigated by some political elements in the crowd.

(3) As regards reservations for OBCs ( the intermediate castes, i.e. those below the upper castes but above the Dalits ), I have explained that it is pure fraud in my article published in :

(4) In this article I have explained my stand about appointing Dalits as High Court Judges :

I am whole heartedly for the Dalits, as great injustice has been done to them. But I also believe they have been taken for a ride, and it is time they realize this.