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Forward caste (also known as Forward Class, Forward Community, and General Class) is a term used in India to denote groups of people who do not qualify for any of the affirmative action schemes operated by the government of India. These schemes are known as Reservation Benefits. Forward castes form about 20–30 percent of the population, the number varying by region. Those groups who qualify are listed as Other Backward castes or Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and they can take advantage of defined quotas amongst other benefits for education, tax benefits, special government schemes, government employment and political representation. The lists of Forward, Other Backward and Scheduled castes, and Scheduled tribes are compiled irrespective of religion. The lists are subject to change from time to time, dependent upon social, educational and economic factors. However, although lists are produced for those groups entitled to take advantage of the quotas, there is no such list for the Forward caste group; if a person does not belong to any of the listed groups then that person is by default a member of a group classed as Forward caste.
Economic and educational status
As of 2007[update], forward castes had to compete only in the open category, as they are considered socially, educationally, and economically advanced. At that time the reservation proportion stood at 50% in central-government educational institutions and central-government jobs. However, in certain states, such as Tamil Nadu, the reservation percentage was around 69%.
Reservation for economically backward among forward castes
Currently forward castes are only allowed to compete for seats in the unreserved category in educational institutions and central government jobs, regardless of their educational/economical status in the society. However, a significant percentage of the forward caste population lives below the poverty line and more than 30% of the members of this community are illiterate. To meet their aspirations, demands have been raised for providing separate reservations for the poor among forward caste populations. Many political parties like BJP, Samajwadi Party, LJP, Rastriya Janata Dal, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Bahujan Samaj Party have supported proposals for providing a separate reservation for the poor among the forward castes. These parties account for over 400 of the 542 members in the current parliament, as well as holding power in most states in the union.
- 1991: Congress government headed by Narasimha Rao introduced 10% separate reservation for poor among forward castes.
- 1992: The Supreme Court has ruled in the Indra Sawhney case that separate reservation for poor among forward castes is invalid. Government has withdrawn separate reservation as per supreme court judgement. (Many other verdicts given in same case have been overruled by constitutional amendments like quota in promotions, exceeding 50% reservation for Tamil Nadu, judgement regarding creamy layer in the same case was not implemented by Tamil Nadu so far.)
- 2003: BJP government appointed a group of ministers for suggesting measures for implementation of separate reservation for the poor among forward castes.
- 2004: A task force has been set up to work out modalities for providing reservations to the poor among forward castes. No information available regarding a report submitted by this task force.
- 2006: Present Congress government appointed commission to study separate reservation for economically backward castes.
- 2006: Communist government in Kerala earmarked 12% seats in private professional colleges for economically poor among forward castes.
Many backward caste leaders allege forward castes are overrepresented in many spheres of life. State and central governments have not released adequate data regarding representation of various communities in their services and admissions to educational institutions. Most of the private companies in India do not collect data regarding community of their employees. Very few reports are available regarding representation of various communities in public–private services and admissions in educational institutions.
- In Tamil Nadu forward castes have secured around 1.9% of seats in medical colleges in 2004 and 2.68% seats in 2005, against their population percentage of 13%. See also caste-based reservations in Tamil Nadu. This trend of poor representation has continued for the last 10 years as claimed by lawyers in one of the reservation cases.
- Narendra committee report in Kerala has pointed out that forward castes representation in public services and PSU units is around 36 to 38%, which is more or less equal to their population percentage.
- Karnataka minister in state Assembly has announced that the per capita income of the Brahmins is less than all communities including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
- Oversight committee in its final report has indicated that forward castes are placed better than backward castes in some indicators and comparable with backward castes in few indicators and backward castes are superior in some parameters like health indicators in states like Assam, Maharashtra, Haryana, West Bengal, etc.
- National survey 99-00 indicates that forward castes are better placed than SC/ST in almost all parameters. However, in rural unemployment, forward castes score worse than all other communities.
- Recently released provisional report of national survey 04-05 states that buying capacities of backward castes in rural and urban areas are comparable to forward castes. It also revises backward castes figure as 41%. It also states that landownership of backward castes are comparable to forward castes. It reiterates its earlier finding (in 99-00 survey) that forward castes are poorly employed (more unemployment).
- National surveys used rural landholding pattern to assess wealthiness of various social groups. Its findings indicate that OBC and FC are comparable and there is a very minor difference between them. There is a big difference between OBC/FC and SC. Even Scheduled Tribes are placed better than Scheduled castes. Experts who analysed national survey results point out that other backward castes are near average in many parameters. Please see the chart.
Shrinking educational opportunities
During April 2006, India’s Human Resource Minister announced that 27% seats will be reserved exclusively for candidates from Other Backward castes in addition to existing 22.5% reservation for Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The implementation of OBC reservation meant that 50% of seats are available in open competition. All communities can compete in open competition which means forward castes must secure between 72% and 78% of the 'open competition' seats in order to maintain their representation in keeping with their estimated population of 36-39%, whereas other communities will get major chunk of seats through exclusive reservations. This has resulted in protests from Forward caste community members and supporters from other communities under the banner of Youth for Equality and by All India Anti Reservation Front. They have pointed out the following as reasons for their protests:
- The government has implemented reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the last 60 years, however the social and economic situation of these groups has not shown much improvement.
- Any differences between proportions of different communities in higher educational institutions are mainly because of differences in primary school enrolment. (This fact was also confirmed in national sample surveys and pointed out by oversight committee in its final report). Government should attack the cause instead of providing reservation at higher education level.
- Already 24% of college seats are with Other Backward castes. Providing another 27% seats will deprive chances of Forward castes.
Many states do not have 27% of Other Backward caste population, as per national sample surveys. (This includes major Indian states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Punjab, West Bengal). Some Indian states like Assam, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, have more than 50% Forward castes population, which means the number of seats secured by Forward castes will not be equal to their population proportion even if they secure 100% seats in open competition in central government institutions of these states. Central government, however, excluded 27% reservations to Other Backward castes to the areas with high tribal populations.
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