Print edition : August 27, 2004

IN Kerala, the demand for reservation of government jobs was made as early as 1891 with an agitation in the princely State of Travancore against the recruitment of non-natives, mainly Tamil Brahmins, into public service, overlooking qualified native people.

By 1932, the united resolve of the natives on this issue began to crumble and the first signs of communal polarisation developed, with Ezhavas, Muslims and certain sections of Christians demanding representation in the legislature and in government service "in proportion to their numerical strength".

As a result of several such demands and agitations, communal reservation was first introduced in Travancore on June 14, 1936, with a quota being fixed for each community on the basis of its numerical strength. In 1952, on the basis of a committee report, this quota system was replaced by a system of communal reservation in the Travancore-Cochin State. Reservation was fixed at 45 per cent, out of which 10 per cent was set apart for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and 35 per cent for Other Backward Classes (OBCs), which included Ezhavas, Muslims, Kammalas, Hindu Nadars, Nadar Christians (belonging to the South Indian United Church), Latin Catholics, and Other Hindus and Other Christians (S.C.s and OBCs who converted to Christianity).

With the reorganisation of the States in 1956, several changes were necessitated in the quota system, as Malabar, until then part of the Madras Presidency (where reservation for non-Brahmins was first introduced in 1921 and a quota system for five categories of people was introduced in 1926), became part of Kerala and several regions in Travancore-Cochin became part of Tamil Nadu. When united Kerala was formed, there were 70 Backward Classes, 70 Scheduled Castes and 38 Scheduled Tribes eligible for reservation and two out of every 20 appointments were reserved for S.C.s and S.T.s, seven for Backward Classes and 11 for open competition. In 1957, the quota for Backward Classes was raised from 35 to 40 per cent, bringing the total reservation to 50 per cent, with 10 per cent of the posts alloted for S.C.s and S.T.s. Moreover, after the government found out that certain communities (notably Ezhavas, who were the most forward educationally, socially and economically among them) were cornering most of the vacancies in the absence of a specific percentage of reservation fixed for each community, a system of sub-quotas among the major groups of Backward Classes was announced: Ezhavas and Thiyyas (from Malabar) 14 per cent; Muslims 10 per cent; Latin Catholics 5 per cent; Backward Christians (converts from S.C.s, S.T.s or OBCs) 1 per cent and OBCs 10 per cent.

Several changes were introduced in this system by successive governments, importantly, "special recruitment" for S.C.s and S.T.s in 1970, and, later, the modification of the quota system for appointment to last grade jobs in government. At present, the reservation system in Kerala is as follows: Backward Classes 40 per cent (Ezhavas 14 per cent; Muslims 12 per cent; Latin Catholics 4 per cent; Nadars 2 per cent; Christian converts from S.C.s 1 per cent; Dheevaras 1 per cent; Other Backward Communities 3 per cent; Viswakarmas 3 per cent) and S.C.s and S.T.s 10 per cent.

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