The basic structure of the Constitution envisages a cohesive, unified, casteless society. By breathing new life into casteism … fractures the nation and disregards the basic structure of the Constitution …. revitalise casteism, cleave the nation … open up new vistas for internecine conflicts and fissiparous forces ….
In the first place because they [castes] bring about separation in social life. They are antinational also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste …. For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation.
-B R Amedkar
The National Law University Delhi is a residential university in Dwarka. It offers both undergraduate and post graduate education. Its male and female students reside in separate accommodations. So far so good- common and unremarkable. However, what is fantastic and even worse is the university’s policy of allocating rooms in these accommodations following the ranks attained by each student in the General and Reserved category lists of the entrants through AILET. Needless to explain, this has meant and will continue to mean that members of different social groups will be barricaded from each other and reside with members of their own social groups because of the (ill) considered decision by the administration of this university. Whatever the rationale behind this ludicrous and ‘backward’ policy in this age, one only wants to believe like most other regressive and demeaning actions of the bureaucracy they exist not so much because they have been thought through but mindlessly performed repetitively in the name of tradition.
For our undergraduate course, out of 80 seats offered each year, 16 seats (excluding quotas on other grounds) are reserved for various scheduled castes and tribes to, one would hope, increase diversity in the Bar, academy and the judiciary, aimed at erasing existing fissures between Indians with different social, economic and cultural backgrounds, and giving all Indians the opportunity to fully realize their capabilities and contribute to their society. Sadly, this policy meant to break meaningless and unjust social barriers that obstruct many Indians has transformed itself to an instrument of institutionalizing, unlawfully, the fact of these artificial social distinctions in our everyday lives- in our residences- and influence who we interact with, what activities we engage in and with whom and so on.
The social distinctions that existed in our lives before we entered university and which justified this policy find a new lease of life in the University, where unfortunately, they are only reinforced. While distinctions of caste and so on have, on the basis of the Constitution and various and by now voluminous judicial precedents, been accepted to authorize the State to consider “… caste in relation to Hindus … [to] be a relevant factor … in determining the social backwardness of groups or classes of citizens.” And that, “unless the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people are promoted quickly and. liberally, the ideal of establishing social and economic equality will not be attained …. No one can dispute the proposition that political freedom and even fundamental rights can have very little meaning or significance for the Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes unless the backwardness and inequality from which they suffer are immediately redressed.”
But most importantly, the Court reminds that while classification and discrimination is permitted under our Constitution, such action itself must be premised on ‘upliftment’ and erasure of existing social discrimination and not on creating new ones or reinforcing old ones. Article 14 to the Constitution guarantees to one and all equality and commands that:
The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
The present policy is clearly not aimed at anything remotely beneficial to any identifiable group (save maybe ardent casteists) nor is its discrimination rationally connected with any objective. On the contrary, the classification of students into various castes etc. for the purpose of allotting them their place of residence is discrimination only on the basis of caste and does not promote any purpose outlined in the exceptions to Art. 15(1). Its purpose cannot be and is not promoting collegiality that is an inherent part of every institution but rather this policy has taken upon itself the task of undoing any benefits that might accrue due to discrimination in order to promote diversity in this university. If different social groups outside the university are cleaved and unequal vis-à-vis each other, it is rather shameful that recipients of a ‘higher’ education and most importantly, students of the Indian Constitution should be willing participants in replaying that sorry spectacle within the university.
While we do know the administration has been working overtime to make our life in the hostels, particularly in last few months over pleasant, we hope that if tradition permits they will have a second look at this policy and if they so desire, consult only among themselves in bringing a new policy.