The frame work for considering reservation policy for backward classes in Tamil Nadu should include the notion of not only inequality but as discrimination and relative deprivation in the dialectics of backward and the forward classes.

From the primary data collected at Nandambakkam, Chennai, it is seen that in Tamil Nadu yesterday the spread of higher education is largely in terms of caste of class lines.  Yet one should not fail to notice that utilization of reservation declines with the increase in class hierarchy.

Today’s picture though is not very different, highlights the fact that many first generation graduates are on the raise.  This is largely because reservation policy has gained prominence and more aspirants use it as a passport for gaining educational facility.

For tomorrow one see the necessity of continuance of reservation policy as there remains Sex, Caste, Region, Class based inequality in educational utilization at primary level itself.  To make it more successful new indicators in tune with changing trends in social stratification should be developed.  In addition to promote real equality the dependency structure on caste lines at village level should be destroyed and simultaneously both educational and employment opportunities should be enlarged.


Reservation Policy in India comprises of preferential schemes for other backward classes, scheduled caste and scheduled tribes.  These programmes are authorised by constitutional provisions.  Reservations which facilitates access to resources include separate seats in legislatures, post in government services and places in educational institutions.  Among the various states in India, Tamil Nadu remains unique in forcefully implementing reservations to all the three categories.  It also has witnessed the backward classes movements which has given a special impetus to the reservation programme.

Social backwardness is viewed in India as an attribute of groups and communities which occupy lower position in the hierarchy of caste structure.  In relation to this the forward caste has to recognize that their own advantages are in significant measure group benefits rather than individual achievement and that their own success has beeen in past a matter of their own superior group opportunity purchased at the expense of opportunities for others (John C. Livingston, 1979).

In the present context reservation in educational institutions of higher learning would be taken as it entitles the highest expenditure and affect the largest number of individuals.  It also stands out in being taken up as one of the earliest measures of development of the backward classes.  [P.Radhakrishnan, 1989, K.S.Chalam, 1990]

Field of Study

To assess the impact of reservation in education yesterday & today and tomorrow in Tamil Nadu and area specific primary census data collected at Nandambakkam, Chennai is utilized. Chennai ranks in Tamil Nadu in the number of colleges, professional courses and other special institutions of higher learning [Madras Universtity, 1991].  Nandambakkam is a town with 9,872 population and has 75% literacy ratio 99% of main workers are non-agricultural workers and it has the least communiting distance in reaching the institutions of higher learning compared to other towns which ranges in population between 5,000 to 10,000.  The number of housholds were 1,574 [census of the India, 1981, 1991].  However when actual census was undertaken Nandambakkam was found to have 1,754 families [412 Forward Caste, 964 Backward Caste, 259 Scheduled Caste and 18 Scheduled Tribes 101 unknown].  Nandambakkam consists of 13 wards.  Caste wise distribution of the families among 13 wards is picturised here [Graph -1].

Economically ward 12 is the richest (Defence Colony) which has the highest number of forward Caste families(110).  It is closely followed by upper middle of ward 13 (Sundar Nagar)  and ward 10(IDPL Officers Quarters).  Ward 1,2,8,9 and 11 belong to middle class.  Amidst this maximum number of backward caste families (133) are found in ward 11.  Ward 3,4,5 and 6 belong to lower middle class families.  Ward 7 (Thulasingapuram) is the poorest slum where maximum number of scheduled caste families (83) reside.

Reservation Yesterday

Reservation education began as early as 1882, and favour of backward classes in 1918, in the princely state of Mysore due to the British Initiatives.  The intention of British however were less on development of underprivileged than on divide and rule policy.  But this did not alter the earnest efforts of Jyotirao Phule or Dr.Ambedkhar at the national level and Periyar E.V.Ramasami Naicker’s at the state level to move the objective resolution of the constituent Assembly in 1946 to resolve to provide adequate safeguards for minorities, backward and tribal areas and depressed and other backward classes (Guhan.S, 1991, Limaye, Madhu, 1990).  Thus a stage was set for the compensatory programmes with its insistence for obtaining socio economic equality among groups.

The list of Backward and Scheduled kept expanding (from 11 in 1883 to 238 in 1943 to 323 in 1988) Likewise the percentage of reservation also kept increasing (P.Radhakrishnan, 1989). This gets reflected in our data which shows a gradual increase in the spread of higher education among backward classes.  To be precise the impact of reservation in Tamil Nadu yesterday is understood by the date below which highlights caste wise distribution of educational level of head of the families at Nandambakkam.


Table:1 Caste wise distribution of educational level of the head

of the families and their percentage

S.No Caste Illeterate Primary Middle Secondary Degree Total Percentage of the Population
1 FC 1










399 26
2 BC 84












3 SC 35








4 ST 14






18 1















 [Source: Karpagavalli.A.,1995 Table 78-Page: 144]

Table 1 clearly shows that as the percentage of illiterates decline with the increase in the hierarchy of caste structure, the number of degree holders and above increases with the hierarchy.  Like wise when the percentage of those who had higher education (42% FC, 12% BC and 5% SC and none among ST) is compared with the percentage of their population (26% FC, 57% BC, 16% SC and 1% ST) it clearly highlights that largely the hierarchy in caste structure gets reflected in the proportion of those who had higher education yesterday.  It is also unfortunate to note that Scheduled Tribes find no place in higher education.

When among the backward and scheduled caste graduates a ward wise assessment, as to who has utilized reservation was made it showed the following details.

Table 2: Means of acquiring higher education among BC, SC graduates and their ward wise distribution




BC          SC


BC          SC

Open Competition

BC          SC


BC          SC

1 6 (75%) 1 (100%) 2 (25%)       8 1
2 1 (100%) 1 (50%)   1(50%)     1 2
3 4 (100%)           4  
4 2 (100%)           2  
5 1 (100%)           1  
6 2 (100%)           2  
7   2 (100%)         2
8 1 (100%) 1 (100%)         1 1
9 3 (100%)           3  
10 5 (100%) 2 (100%)         5 2
11 12 (86%) 3 (100%) 2 (14%)       14 3
12 3 (13%)       19 (87%)   22
13 20 (52%) 2 (100%)     18 (48%)   38 2
Total 60 (52%) 12 (92%) 4 (4%) 1 (8%) 37 (37%)   101 13

 [Source:Karpagavalli.A, 1995 Page 65,108,109]

This Table No.2 highlights the fact that though number of graduates among the backward and the scheduled increases with the class stratification of the wards the number of those who utilize reservation decline with the increase in class status.

Thus is analysing the impact of reservation in higher education yesterday it is seen that the spread of higher education is largely in terms of caste and class lines.  Yet the utlization of reservation declines with the increase in class hierarchy.

Reservation Today

To decipher the spread of higher education among youngsters today the education level of them (between the age 18 to 26) is taken up.

From the Table No.3 it is clear that the spread of higher education is on the increase for every caste group but one should not fail to notice that on the one hand while the hierarchy of caste and spread of education is not altered, on the other, the spread of education and policy of reservation has definitely led to the developmental fervour among the backward caste and Scheduled caste.  It is also interesting to note that when table 3 and 1 are compared it is seen that many among the younger generations have utilized the educational benefits for the first time.  Unfortunately here once again Scheduled Tribes are left behind.

Table 3: Caste wise distribution of the educational level of the youngsters between the age of 18 to 26 and their percentage

S.No Caste Illeterate Primary Middle Secondary Degree Total Percentage of the Population
1 FC 1












2 BC 25










666 58
3 SC 6










214 18
4 ST 3






7 1
Total 35













[Source: Karpagavalli. A,1995 Table 80 – Page 146]

Table 4: Age, Caste and Sex wise distribution of higher education utilizers



Caste Total Population Number of those who acquired higher education
Men Boys Women Girls Men Boys Women Girls
1 FC 420 166 420 106 173(42%) 80(48%) 121(29%) 58(55%)
2 BC 945 435 945 233 103(11%) 84(19%) 66(7%) 87(37%)
3 SC 271 120 273 102 16(6%) 23(19%) 8(3%) 13(13%)
4 ST 17 04 17 04

 With the above data it is clear that as Malik (1986) argues one should analyse society in the context of today.  To quote him further he says “it is the present context which is relevant i.e., since our goal is one of creating an egalitarian society we need an examination of the basic inherent contradiction in society even if social ranking is symbolically encomposed by ritual aspects.  In fact, studies do indicate that there have been near approximation of ritual and economic status.”

Reservation Tomorrow

Having seen what reservation was yesterday and what it is today in Tamil Nadu it would be apt to answer the following issues for tomorrow. They are

  1. a) Should reservation in education continue?
  2. b) What are the indicators for basing reservation tomorrow?
  3. c) How long should reservation continue?

Reservation in education has to continue as there remains inequalities in educational utilization.  This is highlighted by the study by Mehta (1991) which concludes that the overall enrolement rates are significantly higher a) for men, than for women b) in urban areas than in the rural c) for general caste populations than Scheduled Caste and Tribes d) for younger  generations  than the older  e) for higher income groups than the lower.  These findings leads us to the issue of what should be the criteria on the basis of which reservation should continue?  Our data already showed that in addition to caste hierarchy the educational utilization also tallies with class stratification.  It also showed backward castes who belonged to the upper class compete on par with the forward on open comptition.  When gender based data was analysed (Table 4) it showed that inequality was more pronounced among the older generation than the younger one.

This fact might be explained by the fact that Nandambakkam is a town very near to Chennai metropolis, which cannot represent a village situation where differences between men and women is educational utilization is more sharp at any age group.  This leads us to accept Malik’s (1986) conclusion to see ritual status as mode rather than a determinant of social status.  To look beyond caste lines or to add a composite index of class component with caste would help in reaching the benefits to the most deserving.  This will also reduce the lengthening of the backward caste list to a manageable proportion.

As to the question of how long reservation should continue Perumal Sundaram [1985] aptly suggest it should go on till the dependency structure in the villages along the castle lines is altered.  There should in addition be an expansion opportunities in employment and education. Till such a time those who benefited in the past should be prepared to share with those who had been neglected.


It is seen from the primary data collected at Nandambakkam, Chennai that the spread of education through reservation policy  in Tamil Nadu yesterday did not alter but coincided with the existing caste hierarchy.  Todays position is not much different. Yet one could see that reservation policy has expanded to the new horizons, therby including many first generation graduates.  Simultaneously it has an in built dereservation facility whereby backward have started competing on par with the forward. One can certainly state that without reservation policy this would not have been possible.  But one should not fail to notice the fact that the policy has set in motion a keen competition among caste  for labelling them as backward.  To avert this situation and in keeping in mind the new trends in stratification principle, caste alone cannot be maintained as criteria of backwardness. New indicators have to be developed which would help to establish a human society assuring justice, liberty and equality to all citizens (Dave 1985).  True Independene can be achieved only thus.

Chalam.K.S., “Caste reservations and equality of opportunity in education” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.25, No.41, 1990.
Government of India, Census of India, New Delhi 1991.
Government of India, Census Town Directory, New Delhi 1981.
John C.Livingston, Fair Games? Inequality and Affirmative Action, Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi, 1979.
Karpagavalli.A, “Reservation, Higher Education and Backward Classes” : A Sociological Study. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Chennai, University of Madras, 1995
Limaye, Madhi, “A Democratic Weapon” Seminar, Vol 375, 1990, Madras University
“Academic courses in the Universities in Tamil Nadu”, Chennai, 1991.
Mahesh H Dave, “Backward Classes and Reservation” in Harcobhai Mehta & Hasmukh Patel ed.- Dynamics of Reservation Policy, New Delhi, Patriot Publishers, 1985.
Malik S.C.Ed., “Determinants of Social Status in India : Problems and Issues”, Delhi:1986
Mehta G.S., “Inequalities in the educational utilization”, Journal of Indian Education Vol 17 No.1. Sept 1991.
Perumal, C.A.Sundaram. D., “Culture of backwardness” Report in National Semiar on social backwardness, Chennai, Madras University, 1985.
Radha Krishnan. P., Backward classes in Tamil Nadu 1827-1988 Working paper No.89 Madras, Madras Institute of Development Studies, 1989.


A.Karpagavalli :

Got Ph. D. in Sociology, University of Madras, Madras. Papers presented :
Education and Backwardness,
Employment of the Backward classes : A comparative profile with the forward.
The oppressing dynamics of caste system in Tamilnadu.
Daughter of  Thiru. Agilan, a well known NOVEL Writer.