First Backward Classes Commission, Census & Separation

By OP Sudrania

Caste or Class Systems versus India in Global Perspective – CHAPTER FOUR & FIVE

Chapter 4 – Demographics: First Backward Classes commission:

(CHAKRA) Main article: Kalelkar Commission – The First Backward Classes Commission was set up by a presidential order on 29 January 1953 under the chairmanship of Kaka Kalelkar. The commission submitted its report on 30 March 1955. It had prepared a list of 2,399 backward castes or communities for the entire country and of which 837 had been classified as the “most backward”. Some of the most notable recommendations of the commission were:

  1. Undertaking caste-wise enumeration of population in the census of 1961;
  2. Relating social backwardness of a class to its low position in the traditional caste hierarchy of Indian society;
  3. Treating all women as a class as “backward”;
  4. Reservation of 70 per cent seats in all technical and professional institutions for qualified students of backward classes.
  5. Reservation of vacancies in all government services and local bodies for other backward classes.

The commission in its final report recommended “caste as the criteria” to determine backwardness. But this report was not accepted by the government as it feared that the backward classes excluded from the caste and communities selected by the commission may not be considered and the really needy would be swamped by the multitude and would hardly receive special attention.

Mandal commission:

The decision to set up a second backward classes commission was made official by the president on 1 January 1979. The commission popularly known as the Mandal Commission, its chairman being B. P. Mandal, submitted a report in December 1980 that stated that the population of OBCs, which includes both Hindus and non-Hindus, was around 52 per cent of the total population according to the Mandal Commission.

However, this finding was criticized [by whom?] as based on “fictitious data”. The National Sample Survey puts the figure at 32%. There is substantial debate over the exact number of OBCs in India, with census data compromised by partisan politics. It is generally estimated to be sizable, but lower than the figures quoted by either the Mandal Commission or and National Sample Survey.

27 percent of reservation was recommended owing to the legal constraint that the total quantum of reservation should not exceed 50 percent. States which have already introduced reservation for OBC exceeding 27 per cent will not be affected by this recommendation. With this general recommendation the commission proposed the following overall scheme of reservation for OBC:

  1. Candidates belonging to OBC recruited on the basis of merit in an open competition should not be adjusted against their reservation quota of 27 per cent.
  2. The above reservation should also be made applicable to promotion quota at all levels.
  3. Reserved quota remaining unfilled should be carried forward for a period of three years and de-reserved thereafter.
  4. Relaxation in the upper age limit for direct recruitment should be extended to the candidates of OBC in the same manner as done in the case of SCs and STs.
  5. A roster system for each category of posts should be adopted by the concerned authorities in the same manner as presently done in respect of SC and ST candidates.

These recommendations in total are applicable to all recruitment to public sector undertakings, both under the central and state governments as well as to nationalised banks. All private sector undertakings which have received financial assistance from the government in one form or other should also be obliged to recruit personnel on the aforesaid basis. All universities and affiliated colleges should also be covered by the above scheme of reservation. Although education is considered an important factor to bring a desired social change, “educational reform” was not within the terms of reference of this commission. To promote literacy the following measures were suggested:

  1. An intensive time-bound programme for adult education should be launched in selected pockets with high concentration of OBC population.
  2. Residential schools should be set up in these areas for backward class students to provide a climate specially conducive to serious studies. All facilities in these schools including board and lodging should be provided free of cost to attract students from poor and backward class homes.
  3. Separate hostels for OBC students with above facilities will have to be provided.
  4. Vocational training was considered imperative.
  5. It was recommended that seats should be reserved for OBC students in all scientific, technical and professional institutions run by the central as well as state governments. The quantum of reservation should be the same as in the government services, i.e. 27 per cent.

Old Wine in New Bottle Served by the Brown Butlers after 1947:

In an article in The Telegraph in India, Radhika Ramaseshan, expresses her doubts in the following essay published as late as Wednesday, May 12, 2010: BC, DC or EC? What lies ahead of the census – Haphazard lists and multiple definitions could pose hurdles in establishing identity during the caste count. Unfortunately the same 1931 census data were used by the controversial Mandal Commission later on.

“When officials carrying out the 1931 census, the last to take account of caste, asked a “waterman” on the Coorg border his place in the social hierarchy, the answer left them amazed.

The “extremely dark individual”, wrote then census commissioner John Henry Hutton in his report, said he was from the Suryavamsa (family of the Sun).

The focus on skin colour probably reflected Hutton’s own prejudice, but the British official anyway thought the waterman would be from a low or intermediate caste, perhaps even an untouchable.

He noted in his report that some people were using the census as a ladder to ascend the social order.

Today’s census officials, as they carry out a caste count almost 80 years later, could face the opposite problem, with the lure of reservation inflating the Other Backward Classes’ numbers.

But that is not the only reason officials say verifying every Indian’s caste identity will take at least five years after the 2011 census simply records citizens’ own claims on the matter.”

In continuing further Radhika asserts, “In the beginning, the term Backward Class was too wide, with the OBCs left undistinguished from the Dalits and tribals, sometimes even the Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.

One starting point could be 1918, when “BC” first acquired a technical meaning in the princely state of Mysore, says US academic Marc Galanter, author of the seminal Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India. The Maharaja of Mysore was then looking to fix a job quota.

However, all communities barring the Brahmins were notified BCs. In 1928, the Hartog Committee tried to narrow down the BCs as “educationally backward” castes/classes.

However, already in 1916, another term — the “depressed classes”— had been discussed in the Indian Legislative Council. It initially covered the “criminal and wandering tribes, aboriginal tribes and untouchables”.

In 1917, Sir Henry Sharp, education commissioner of India, enlarged it to cover the “backward and educationally poor and depressed and also certain classes of Muhammadans”.

Then began an attempt at sharpening the definition, propelled by the so-called lower castes’ resentment at being clubbed with the “untouchables” in the omnibus “depressed classes” label.

A memorandum from the United Provinces Hindu Backward Classes League, founded in 1929, suggested that “depressed” carried a “connotation of untouchability in the sense of causing pollution by touch”. It proposed the term “Hindu backward”, that is castes that were “low” socially, educationally and economically.

But in 1930, the State Committee of Bombay mixed things up again, recommending that “depressed classes” should refer only to the “untouchables” while a wider term, “backward classes” or “intermediate classes”, should cover even the tribes, whether aboriginal or hill-dwelling.


Chapter Five: Census & Separation


Some kind of order was imposed by the 1931 census — just in time too, since it proved to be the last caste census. It separated the Dalits and tribals from its version of the OBCs, whom it called “Hindu backward communities” and whose population it put at 43.7 per cent.

The census also counted the backward non-Hindu communities (8.4 per cent). Half a century later, the Mandal Commission primarily used this data to suggest, rather arbitrarily, a 27 per cent OBC reservation figure. But the 1931 figures stayed controversial.”  Peruse at for full details:

Thus it is clear that the legacy of caste perpetuated in Indian society even after the independence based on the census figures determined during the British era. Nehruvian era merely helped to make it worst by eternal policy entrenchment.


While revisiting Mandal protests, 20 years later in his post, Hemant Goswami laments as follows:

When will our politicians realise that poverty has no caste or religion? Presumably by doing all this, they are trying to convey that greed too has no caste or religion.

Hemant Goswami is a social activist working on citizen rights, good governance and public health. He also heads civil society organisations Burning Brain Society and Citizens’ Voice besides being primary catalyst behind GOI Monitor. More at:

Legal dispute:

Supreme Court interim stay

On 29 March 2007, the Supreme Court of India, as an interim measure, stayed the law providing for 27 percent reservation for Other Backward Classes in educational institutions like IITs and IIMs. This was done in response to a public interest litigation — Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India. The Court held that the 1931 census could not be a determinative factor for identifying the OBCs for the purpose of providing reservation. The court also observed, “Reservation cannot be permanent and appear to perpetuate backwardness”.

Supreme Court verdict

On 10 April 2008 the Supreme Court of India upheld the government’s initiative of 27% OBC quotas in government-funded institutions. The Court has categorically reiterated its prior stand that those considered part of the “Creamy layer” should be excluded from the scope of the reservation policy as well as from private institutions. The verdict produced mixed reactions from supporting and opposing quarters. Several criteria to identify the portion of the population comprising the “creamy layer” have been recommended, including the following:

Those with family income above Rs 250,000 a year (now Rs 450,000 a year, as of October 2008[update]) should be in creamy layer, and excluded from the reservation quota. Also, children of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, actors, consultants, media professionals, writers, bureaucrats, defence officers of colonel and equivalent rank or higher, high court and Supreme Court judges, all central and state government Class A and B officials should be excluded. The Court has requested Parliament to exclude MPs’ and MLAs’ children as well.

Supreme Court conclusions from Ashoka Kumar Thakur vs. Union of India

  1. The Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005 does not violate the “basic structure” of the Constitution so far as it relates to the state maintained institutions and aided educational institutions. Question whether the Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005 would be constitutionally valid or not so far as “private unaided” educational institutions are concerned, is left open to be decided in an appropriate case.
  2. The “Creamy layer” principle is one of the parameters to identify backward classes. Therefore, principally, the “Creamy layer” principle cannot be applied to STs and SCs, as SCs and STs are separate classes by themselves.
  3. Preferably there should be a review after ten years to take note of the change of circumstances.
  4. A graduation (not technical graduation) or professional course deemed to be educationally forward.
  5. Principle of exclusion of Creamy layer applicable to OBC’s.
  6. The Central Government shall examine as to the desirability of fixing a cut off marks in respect of the candidates belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) to balance reservation with other societal interests and to maintain standards of excellence. This would ensure quality and merit would not suffer. If any seats remain vacant after adopting such norms they shall be filled up by candidates from general categories.
  7. So far as determination of backward classes is concerned, a Notification should be issued by the Union of India. This can be done only after exclusion of the creamy layer for which necessary data must be obtained by the Central Government from the State Governments and Union Territories. Such Notification is open to challenge on the ground of wrongful exclusion or inclusion. Norms must be fixed keeping in view the peculiar features in different States and Union Territories. There has to be proper identification of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). For identifying backward classes, the Commission set up pursuant to the directions of this Court in Indra Sawhney 1 has to work more effectively and not merely decide applications for inclusion or exclusion of castes.
  8. The Parliament should fix a deadline by which time free and compulsory education will have reached every child. This must be done within six months, as the right to free and compulsory education is perhaps the most important of all the fundamental rights (Art.21 A). For without education, it becomes extremely difficult to exercise other fundamental rights.
  9. If material is shown to the Central Government that the Institution deserves to be included in the Schedule (institutes which are excluded from reservations) of The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 (No. 5 of 2007), the Central Government must take an appropriate decision on the basis of materials placed and on examining the concerned issues as to whether Institution deserves to be included in the Schedule of the said act as provided in Sec 4 of the said act.
  10. Held that the determination of SEBCs is done not solely based on caste and hence, the identification of SEBCs does not violate Article 15(1) of the Constitution.

See also:


  1. ^ “About Us – Brief History”.
  2. ^ Kumar, D Suresh (25 September 2010). [17 yrs after Mandal, 7% OBCs in govt jobs|]. Times News Network. [Archived by WebCite|] on 27 October 2010. Accessed 27 October 2010.
  3. ^ [1]. Accessed October 2010.
  4. ^ [2][dead link]
  5. ^ “Supreme Court stays OBC quota in IITs, IIMs”. ( India Limited). 29 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  6. ^ “New Cutoff for OBCs”. The Telegraph. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-11.


External links:

I have deliberately left the bibliography and references’ list here. It seems so useful.

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