Context: Maratha quota activist Manoj Jarange Patil finally ended his indefinite hunger strike after Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde called on him at the protest site in Jalna district and assured him that the government is committed to granting reservation in government jobs and education to the community.
Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in India are a diverse group encompassing various communities and sub-castes, united by their classification as educationally or socially disadvantaged by the government.
This article delves into the demands for OBC status by dominant caste groups such as the Jats, Marathas, and Patidars. It also provides insights into the OBC classification and the historical context surrounding these demands.
Understanding Other Backward Classes (OBCs): OBCs constitute a vast and heterogeneous group within the Indian social fabric. They include communities with differing societal and economic statuses. OBCs consist of land-owning communities in both northern and southern India, as well as economically disadvantaged sections of society engaged in subsistence labor.
Defining Elements of Dominant Castes: Within the OBC classification, some castes stand out as dominant due to their historical social and economic status. These dominant caste groups often possess significant landholdings, political influence, and socio-cultural prominence. Despite their dominance, they seek OBC status, citing various socio-economic challenges.
The Mandal Commission and OBC Reservations: The Mandal Commission, established in 1979 and chaired by B.P. Mandal, played a pivotal role in addressing caste discrimination in India. In 1990, the Union government announced a 27 percent reservation in jobs within central government services and public sector units for OBCs, based on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. This reservation was implemented in 1992, with educational quotas following suit in 2006.
Creamy Layer Criteria: To ensure that the benefits of OBC reservations reached the most disadvantaged communities, the Supreme Court introduced the “creamy layer” criteria in the ‘Indira Sawhney Judgment’ of 1992. Under this criteria, households with an annual income exceeding Rs 8 lakh are classified as belonging to the creamy layer and are ineligible for reservations.
Defining Elements of Dominant Castes: Dominant caste groups, despite their historical and socio-economic dominance, are often subject to the same “creamy layer” criteria, which can affect their eligibility for reservations.
“Dominant OBCs” is a term used to refer to certain groups or castes within the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category in India that have historically held more social and economic influence compared to other OBC groups. These dominant OBCs may have larger landholdings, political representation, and socio-economic power.
It’s important to note that the OBC category as a whole is meant to encompass a wide range of communities and castes that have historically faced social and educational disadvantages. The classification of dominant OBCs is somewhat controversial because it implies that within the OBC category, some groups are more privileged or influential than others.
This can lead to debates and discussions regarding the fairness and equity of affirmative action policies, including reservations in education and employment, for these dominant OBC groups.
Examples of dominant OBCs in various states of India may include the Jats in some northern states, the Marathas in Maharashtra, and the Patidars in Gujarat, among others.
These groups have at times demanded OBC status to access the benefits of reservation policies, even though they may be relatively better off than other OBC communities.
The inclusion or exclusion of such dominant OBCs from the OBC category and the extent of benefits they should receive are subjects of political and legal debates in India.
Demands by Dominant Caste Groups:
Reasons for Demands:
- Success of Affirmative Action: Dominant caste groups argue that the success of affirmative action has diminished the relative deprivation faced by them.
- Structural Transformations: Changes in the economy and underperforming agriculture have altered the socio-economic landscape, leading to demands for OBC status.
- Land Holdings: Fragmentation of land holdings has exacerbated economic challenges.
- Private Sector Opportunities: Shrinking opportunities in the private sector have further fueled these demands.
- Lack of Skills: A lack of skills to take advantage of emerging opportunities is another concern.
- Violation of 50% Limit: These demands often violate the 50% reservation limit imposed by the ‘Indra Sawhney’ case.
- Not “Socially and Educationally Backward”: Critics argue that these dominant caste groups do not meet the criteria of being “socially and educationally backward” as outlined by scholars like Deshpande.
- Perception vs. Empirical Evidence: Some believe that the anxieties of these groups are based more on perception rather than empirical evidence of backwardness.
Supreme Court’s Observation:
- The Supreme Court has emphasized that providing reservations alone is not the sole means to uplift backward classes.
- It recommends the state to adopt a multifaceted approach, including providing free educational facilities, fee concessions, and opportunities for skill development to enable self-reliance among candidates from backward classes.
The demands for OBC status by dominant caste groups like Jats, Marathas, and Patidars highlight the complex interplay of socio-economic factors, historical contexts, and affirmative action policies in India. These demands continue to be a subject of debate and legal scrutiny, with questions surrounding the effectiveness and equity of reservations for different communities. The path forward involves a nuanced understanding of the evolving socio-economic landscape and addressing the unique challenges faced by each group within the OBC classification.