P.S. Krishnan


No one can complain that too much has been given to the minorities, in particular Muslims, through the sub-quota for B.Cs among the minorities.


Some reactions to the Union government’s decision to provide 4.5 per cent reservation for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (B.Cs) among the minorities within the 27 per cent quota for Backward Classes are based on ignorance and confusion. The inability of some in the media to distinguish between this sub-quota and the provision of reservation of not less than 50 per cent in Lokpal for the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs), the Scheduled Tribes (S.Ts), the minorities and women has confounded this further.


Four criticisms made by many commentators on the 4.5 per cent sub-quota are unjustified.


(i) It is a quota of reservation based on religion and, therefore, unconstitutional.


This is not correct. It is not reservation for the minorities or for Muslims. It is reservation for certain B.Cs identified on the basis of social and educational backwardness. This is not new reservation. The B.Cs among the minorities have already been identified State-wise in the Central List – many in 1993, on the basis of commonality between each State List and the Mandal List for each State, and others, mostly in 1993 and 2000, on the statutory advices of the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) set up on the direction of the Supreme Court in the Mandal judgment of 1992. All of them were identified solely on the basis of social and educational backwardness as prescribed by the Constitution. The religion of castes/communities was not a factor at all – neither a qualification nor a ground for disqualification.


A scheme of reservation can be criticized as one based on religion only if all members/castes or communities of that religion are included in toto and given reservation. In the State-wise Central List of B.Cs, Muslim castes/communities such as Syed, Pathan, Mogul, Arab, Irani, Cutchi-Memon, Bohra and Khoja, and Christian castes or communities such as Syrian Christian, and Sikh castes such as Jat Sikh and Khatri Sikh are not included because they are not socially backward just as certain castes of Hindus that are not socially backward are not included in the list. Obviously, castes/communities that are in the B.C. list and provided reservation are not included on the basis of religion, and what has been done is not at all unconstitutional.


The inclusion of non-Hindu castes/communities in the list of B.Cs is not a newfangled innovation of vote-hungry politicians. Even before Independence, in the southern States, Muslims or certain castes/communities of Muslims were included in B.C. lists along with Hindu and Christian backward castes. This was also done post-Independence by State Backward Classes Commissions and the national-level Kalelkar (1953-55) and Mandal (1979-80) Commissions. The national commissions also identified the B.Cs among Sikhs and Buddhists (before the S.C. converts to Buddhism were recognized as S.Cs). They were only recognizing the social reality without factoring in the religion of the members of castes/communities that were found to be socially and educationally backward.


The basic dichotomy


(ii) Reservation for B.Cs among Muslims is basically wrong because Islam does not recognise caste.


From this premise, two opposite and extreme positions are taken. One is that because Islam does not recognise caste, no Muslim should be given reservation and the other is that all Muslims should be given reservation. The latter position is not permissible either under the Constitution or the social logic underlying the social justice policy of which reservation is a part. Social justice, including reservation, is required and, therefore, permissible only for castes/communities that have been kept in varying degrees of subordination/deprivation/disadvantage by the operation of the traditional Indian social system, namely, the caste system with “untouchability”. The Constitution does not permit reservation on an individual basis. Therefore, reservation for individuals who are economically poor but do not belong to the systemically deprived castes/communities is constitutionally contraband and socially unjustified.


The other extreme position is based on the inability to distinguish between the ideology of a religion and the social structure, social system, social stratification and social inequalities prevailing among people who adhere to that religion. It is true that the social ideology of Islam is uncompromisingly egalitarian and upholds equality and fraternity. But the social system among adherents of Islam is based on various social and economic factors. On account of socio-economic factors, Muslim society in India (and also in some other parts of the world) presents a picture of social inequality. The Indian caste system is so all pervasive that J.H. Hutton, the scholarly Census Commissioner of 1931, rightly observed: “Caste was in the air, and neither the followers of Islam nor of Christianity could escape the infection of caste; even the change of religion does not destroy the caste system, for Muslims who do not recognise it as valid are found to observe it in practice and there are many Muslim castes as well as Hindus” (Hutton, 1980 (1946)).


The dichotomy between the egalitarian social ideology of Islam and the existence of a caste-like stratification with hierarchy, linkage with a traditional occupation and endogamy in Muslim society in India has been noticed by numerous scholars, historiographers, archaeologists, census demographers and socially knowledgeable administrators. All this has been discussed elaborately in my “Report on Identification of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes in the Muslim Community of Andhra Pradesh” (June 2007, which was the basis for 4 per cent reservation for identified B.Cs among Muslims in Andhra Pradesh) and in my article “Understanding Backward Classes of Muslim Society” ( Economic & Political Weekly, August 21, 2010). In this context, the eloquent and perspective observation in one of the Lectures of Swami Vivekananda (1897), whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated from January 12, 2012, is relevant to bring out the social character of most converts to Islam:


“The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedans. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think it was all the work of sword and fire….”


This is not different from the situation of adherents of other religions also. The Vedas and the Upanishads proclaim the universality of the same soul permeating all beings, human and even non-human. But notwithstanding their lofty spiritual positions, a virulent caste system emerged in Hindu society. The landmark Mandal judgment of the Supreme Court also notices the prevalence of the caste system among adherents of non-Hindu religions. Therefore, it is illogical and factually incorrect to say that because Islam does not recognise caste, there are no castes or caste-like social collectivities within the Muslim society.


(iii) A portion of reservation provided for Hindus has been snatched away from them and given to Muslims.


This is also not correct. Reservation has not been given to Hindu B.Cs only. It has been given to all B.Cs irrespective of their religion and without discrimination against those B.Cs who follow non-Hindu religions. The identified B.Cs among Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are as much entitled to their share of the 27 per cent reservation as the identified Hindu B.Cs. They were covered by the 27 per cent reservation ab initio. But, on account of different levels of backwardness among B.Cs, some categories of B.Cs have not been getting their due share out of the 27 per cent reservation.


Differential levels of backwardness among B.Cs is a social reality and it has been recognised by the Supreme Court in its Mandal judgment, which clarified that the categorisation of B.Cs and distribution of sub-quotas among them within the 27 per cent is not unconstitutional and is even necessary to fulfil the purpose of B.C. reservation. In fact, many States have had schemes of sub-categorisation and sub-quotas among B.Cs for many decades.


The Centre has now taken a step in the right direction, though belatedly and incompletely. Since B.Cs among Muslims, Christians and Sikhs are already in B.C. lists and are covered by 27 per cent reservation, making a sub-category of them and giving them a share out of the 27 per cent does not mean snatching it away from Hindus and giving it to Muslims.


(iv) What has been now given is too much for Muslims and or too little for Muslims.


According to the Mandal Commission, B.C. Hindus formed 43.7 per cent of India’s population. At that time, the Hindu population was 83.84 per cent of the Indian population; 43.7 per cent in 83.84 per cent is the same as 52 out of 100. Therefore, the commission applied a rule of thumb and assumed that the percentage of B.Cs among non-Hindus would also be 52 per cent of the population of the minorities. At that time, the population of the minorities was 16.16 per cent; 52 per cent of 16.16 per cent is 8.4 per cent. The total population of B.Cs of all religions was estimated by aggregating 43.7 per cent plus 8.4 per cent, which is equal to 52 per cent.


The rule of thumb is not quite accurate. But the Mandal Commission had to take recourse to it because the Census establishment has persistently turned a blind eye to the need for estimating the population of B.Cs in the country as it has been doing in the case of the S.Cs and the S.Ts from the beginning. While it gives the population of each religious community, it has stoutly refused to count B.Cs within each of them.


The Mandal Commission recommended a reservation of 27 per cent for 52 per cent of the B.Cs mainly to stay safely within the overall limit of 50 per cent – a limit set by the Supreme Court according to its interpretation of the Constitution. The Government of India accordingly provided 27 per cent reservation for B.Cs.


The 4.5 per cent reservation for the Mandal-estimated 8.4 per cent minority population, out of the 27 per cent for 52 per cent of the whole B.C. population, is all right arithmetically and proportionately. This cannot be called excessive.


Taking into account information available subsequently and estimates based on my long-standing experience, what has been provided is on the lower side. According to the 2001 Census, the population of the minorities and Hindus is 18.53 per cent and 81.47 per cent. Among the minorities listed by Mandal, the Jain community (0.5 per cent) has no B.Cs; they are almost entirely Vaishya-Bania followers of Jainism. Of the Buddhists (0.7 per cent), no B.Cs are left after S.C. converts to Buddhism were accorded S.C. status in accordance with their long-standing demand. Thus, other than Hindus, there are only three religious communities that have got B.C. components, namely, Muslims (13.43 per cent), Christians (2.4 per cent) and Sikhs (2 per cent). Together these three account for 17.83 per cent.


Of these three, Sikhs have got an S.C. component and a substantial upper-caste component. Christians have substantial S.T., B.C. and upper-caste components, while Muslims have an insignificant S.T. component, a large B.C. component, and a relatively small component of upper castes/communities. Neither Christians nor Muslims have an S.C. component though there are among them castes/communities that are identifiable as converts from Hinduism or as counterparts of Hindu S.Cs. Like Hindu S.Cs, they are the victims of “untouchability” – “untouchability being the basic criterion for inclusion in S.C. schedules. However, they are not recognised as S.Cs on account of Clause (3) of the Presidential Order, which schedules the S.Cs. On the other hand, S.T. schedules and B.C lists do not exclude Muslim and Christian S.Ts and B.Cs. Such identifiable S.C. converts to Islam and Christianity are also listed as B.Cs.


I would estimate the B.C. components of Christians and Muslims to be 1.4 per cent and 10.5 per cent, after excluding their S.T. and upper-caste components. Backward Class Sikhs are likely to be 1.2 per cent after excluding their S.C. and upper-caste component. B.Cs of these three together would, therefore, constitute 13.1 per cent, which is approximately one-fourth of the total B.C. population, and the share of B.Cs of the minorities out of the 27 per cent should be around 6.75 per cent. Muslim B.Cs constitute about one-fifth of the total B.C. population. The due share of Muslim B.Cs alone out of the 27 per cent should be around 5.4 per cent or 5.5 per cent. Certainly, no one can justifiably complain that too much has been given to the minorities, in particular Muslims.


Justifiable criticisms


(a) This is belated. It should have been done much earlier.


It would not be quite fair to find fault with the government for not providing sub-quotas in 1990. The Mandal Commission itself by a majority of 4:1 ruled out categorization of B.Cs on the basis of its understanding of the Balaji judgment. [Delivered in 1961, the judgment is about the principle that overall reservation should not exceed 50 per cent.] On that basis, the majority overruled the suggestion of one of its members, the late L.R. Naik, that B.Cs should be divided into B.Cs and Depressed B.Cs, with separate sub-quotas in the 27 per cent. At that time, L.R. Naik had held detailed discussions with me. The subsequent Mandal judgment of the Supreme Court clarified in 1992 that the categorization of B.Cs on the basis of relative backwardness is constitutionally permissible and may even be necessary.


The earliest time that such categorization could have been made was 1990 or 1993, that is, after the Mandal judgment. In 1990, it took all the energies of the government to see that the long-delayed B.C. reservation was launched on the basis of my note. There were heavy odds against it and there was a tremendous outburst in northern India, provoked by ill-informed, distorted and exaggerated and grossly one-sided presentations in the print and electronic media. Some leaders and activists of this misinformation campaign became active again in 2007 against the long-delayed introduction of reservation for B.Cs in Central educational institutions. Some of them are today the leading lights of the media as well as other movements, and none of them has yet expressed regret for what they did and for the self-immolations of young people they provoked. In the surcharged atmosphere of that period, when there was a very narrow window of opportunity for B.Cs to be given their rights before that government fell, it was not possible to take up this fine-tuning. That would have resulted only in the basic decision to extend the recognition of and introduce reservation for B.Cs not going through.


Categorization could certainly have been done in 1993 after the Supreme Court judgment of 1992. An expert committee was appointed on February 22, 1992, of which I was a member, to recommend within 15 days the criteria for the identification of Socially Advanced Persons/Sections (“Creamy Layer”) of identified B.C. castes and their exclusion, as directed by the Supreme Court, as a precondition for the commencement of reservation for B.Cs. This was a rare instance of a committee accomplishing its task within the period laid down by the government and not seeking extension of time, to the discomfiture of important persons in government who hoped that the committee would tie itself up in a never-ending exercise, thereby delaying B.C. reservation indefinitely. After this task was completed, the committee was asked to recommend the categorization of B.Cs in light of the Supreme Court’s Mandal judgment.


While the committee was actively at it, the government withdrew this mandate abruptly. Why this was done can well be understood. Suffice it to say here that the will and pressure of those who would benefit in an undifferentiated single-category list at the cost of the “More”, “Most” and “Extremely” Backward Castes of the B.Cs prevailed. The government can certainly be faulted for not introducing categorization in 1993 and all the years subsequent to that. All the governments that came to power at the Centre after 1993 owe an answer to the people for this.


(b) The categorization is incomplete


Nobody has raised this issue, though this is an important aspect of the government’s default. The B.C. category consists of castes and communities that are at different levels of backwardness. If the support of reservation is to be equitably distributed among them, these castes and communities have to be objectively identified on the basis of social realities, unpolluted by electoral considerations. In my opinion, they consist of four categories, namely, the “Backward”, the “More Backward”, the “Most Backward” and the “Extremely Backward” ( Pichade, Ati Pichade, Atyant Pichade and Sarvadhik Pichade). The “Extremely Backward” are those castes which have neither skills nor assets. They include nomadic communities, Vimukta Jatis, that is, those who were earlier stigmatized as “criminal tribes/communities” and those linked with stigmatized occupations such as scavenging. Some of them are classified as S.Cs if they are Hindus. Examples are Halalkhor (the Muslim counterpart of Hindu Balmiki and Sikh Mazhabi), Muslim Lalbegi, Muslim Mehtar, Muslim Nat, Muslim Jogi, and the large number of beggar/mendicant/entertainment castes among whom there are Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the Central and State B.C. lists.


“Most Backward” castes are those who have no asset base but have skills – their skills are traditional and outmoded and have not received the benefit of technological upgradation, modernization, direct market linkage and financial support. Most of the artisan castes and artisanal/artisan-like castes, and castes which provide lowly services, among whom are Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, would come under this category. Most Muslim B.Cs would come in this category and a few also would be in the “Extremely Backward” category.


The “More Backward” castes include castes of small peasants, especially tenantry without rights. Above these three are the “Backward” castes who are the least backward of B.Cs but who are nonetheless backward, consisting of castes/communities with relatively substantial asset base.


There cannot be equal competition among the four. States such as Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh recognized this reality long back and ab initio provided a number of sub-categories with sub-quotas. This has helped to distribute the benefits of reservation and other social justice programs more equitably, thereby eliminating/minimizing heartburning, though some fine-tuning is required in these States too. Some other States also introduced categorization later, but it is not as thoroughgoing as that of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The Centre and some of the north Indian States have, as usual, been laggards in this, the Centre being the hindmost of the laggards. The NCBC and the Planning Commission’s Tenth Plan Working Group, of which I was the Chairman, have recommended that such complete categorization with sub-quotas should be introduced among B.Cs. But the government has paid scant attention to this.


(c) Reservation is not the be all and end all of social justice


Reservation is no doubt important, but it is only part of a package of measures of social justice encompassing economic, educational, health-related and child-survival- and-growth-related schemes and programs necessary to remove inequality in every parameter of development and welfare between the S.Cs, the S.Ts and B.Cs compared with the advanced castes. The government has a duty not to confine to reservation itself. Also it should not confine discourse and action to reservation.


What then? What next?


What has been done will certainly improve the share of B.Cs among the minorities, especially Muslims who until now have got much less than their due in competition with the category of B.Cs who are the least backward. This should, therefore, despite the three deficiencies mentioned above, be welcomed, but as the first step. The government should immediately undertake necessary exercises for the complete categorization into four or five categories with sub-quotas. It is possible without much difficulty to obtain objective data to accomplish this in a month or two. If this is done, it can be introduced after the ongoing Assembly elections. Along with this, the government should utilize this interim period and the period before the commencement of the Twelfth Plan to evolve a package of schemes and programs of social justice to bridge the gaps and create equality.


Right timing


There seems to be an impression in the minds of leaders of political parties that people will remember what is done for them and vote for them only if it is done just before elections. Such calculations are not only unethical but also cynical in their assessment of people, who have grown in consciousness and awareness in the past decades.


The right time to undertake any measure genuinely required not only for B.Cs among Muslims and other minorities but also for B.Cs as a whole and for S.Cs and S.Ts and their women and children and for the really poor among non-S.Cs, non-S.Ts, non-B.Cs and their women and children is when it becomes clear that the measure is necessary and adequate data are available. There are, in fact, many measures of social justice that are long overdue for all these deprived classes and for which all necessary information has long been available. It is hoped that the government will take action on these measures without any delay after the present round of elections and without cynically waiting for the next round of State elections or the next parliamentary elections.


P.S. Krishnan retired as Secretary, Government of India, in 1990 and has been active for more than six decades in the field of Social Justice & Empowerment of S.Cs, S.Ts and B.Cs, including B.Cs of religious minorities.

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