Mandal Commission Report

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MANDAL COMMISSION REPORT On 20 December 1978 India's prime minister, Morarji Desai of the Janata Party, announced the formation of a second Backward Classes Commission under chairman B. P. Mandal, a former member of Parliament. The commission's assignments were: to determine criteria for defining India's "socially and educationally backward classes"; to recommend steps to be taken for the advancement of those classes; to examine the desirability of reserving state- and central-government jobs for those classes; and to present a report to the president of India. On 31 December 1980 the Mandal Commission submitted its report to President N. S. Reddy, recommending ways to advance India's "socially and educationally backward classes."

Historical Background

Efforts to develop some version of affirmative action for India's "untouchables" and depressed classes began in various parts of British India during the nineteenth century. After India became independent in 1947, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, spokesperson for India's "untouchables" and an architect of India's Constitution, made certain that the Constitution abolished "untouchability" and provided political and economic benefits for "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes." India's Constitution also authorized the state to make special provisions "for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens."

Since 1936, official lists ("schedules") had existed of India's castes and tribes that occupied a "degraded position in the Hindu social scheme." However, no official lists existed of India's "backward classes," that is, poor or otherwise disadvantaged groups that did not occupy a "degraded position in the Hindu social scheme." To address this deficiency, on 29 January 1953 the president of India appointed India's first Backward Classes Commission under Chairman Kaka Kalelkar. On 31 March 1955 the Kalelkar Commission submitted its report, including a list of 2,399 "backward" groups, 837 of which were considered "most backward," using caste as the major evidence of backwardness. The central government, fearing that the report's "caste test" would delay the ultimate creation of a casteless, classless society in India, rejected the recommendations of the Kalelkar Commission. From then until 1977, when the Janata Party won India's national elections, the issue of determining nationwide criteria for "backward classes" remained effectively dormant.

Procedures and Recommendations

The Mandal Commission developed eleven indicators of social, educational, and economic backwardness. One indicator was being considered backward by other castes or classes. Other indicators included depending mainly on manual labor for livelihood and having an average value of family assets at least 25 percent below the state average. In addition to identifying backward classes among Hindus, the Mandal Commission identified backward classes among non-Hindus (e.g., Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists) if they had belonged to "untouchable" castes before they converted to a non-Hindu religion, or if Hindu castes with the same occupational names, such as dhobi (launderer), lohar (iron worker), nai (barber), or teli (oil presser), were considered backward.

In February 1980 the Mandal Commission conducted a nationwide socioeconomic field survey in which it gathered interview data from two villages and one urban block in 405 of the nation's 406 districts. The field survey data, combined with information from the 1961 census, various states' lists of their backward classes, and personal knowledge of Commission members and others, enabled the Mandal Commission to generate an all-India "other backward classes" (OBC) list of 3,743 castes and a more-underprivileged "depressed backward classes" list of 2,108 castes.

The Mandal Commission concluded that India's population consisted of approximately 16 percent non-Hindus, 17.5 percent Brahmans and "forward castes," 44 percent "other backward classes," and 22.5 percent scheduled castes and tribes. However, since the 16 percent non-Hindus presumably included approximately the same proportion of "other backward classes" as did the Hindus (i.e., another 8%), the total proportion of "other backward classes" (Hindu and non-Hindu) came to 52 percent (44% + 8%) of India's population.

The Mandal Commission would have recommended that 52 percent of central government posts be reserved for OBCs. However, the Supreme Court had already ruled that the total proportion of reservations under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution should be below 50 percent. Since the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes already accounted for 22.5 percent of India's population, only a little more than 27 percent of government posts could be reserved for backward classes without exceeding the below-50 percent limit. The Mandal Commission therefore recommended that 27 percent of central and state government jobs should be reserved for OBCs, and that the 27 percent figure should be applied to other "compensatory discrimination" or "compensatory protection" benefits, including those provided by universities and affiliated colleges.

On 7 August 1990 Prime Minister V. P. Singh, of the National Front coalition, announced to Parliament that he would implement the Mandal Commission's recommendations. Violent objections ensued, especially in northern India among the upper castes, who feared the commission's recommendations would reduce their access to higher education. Southern Indian responses to Prime Minister Singh's announcement were considerably milder. In several southern states the proportions of backward classes combined with scheduled castes and scheduled tribes had already approached 50 percent prior to the Mandal Commission's recommendations.

On 16 November 1992 the Supreme Court upheld the Mandal Commission's 27 percent quota for backward classes, as well as the principle that the combined scheduled-caste, scheduled-tribe, and backward-class beneficiaries should not exceed 50 percent of India's population. The Supreme Court also ruled that "caste" could be used to identify "backward classes" on condition the caste was socially backward as a whole, and that the "creamy layer" of the backward classes could not receive backward-class benefits. The "creamy layer" included children of constitutional office holders, class I and class II officers, professionals, owners of large agricultural farms, and those with annual incomes of over 100,000 rupees. In September 1993 Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, of the Congress Party, announced that he was prepared to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations. This time there was little public resistance.

Joseph W. Elder

See alsoAmbedkar, B. R., and the Buddhist Dalits ; Caste System ; Dalits ; Scheduled Tribes


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