The Constitution of India, through its provisions, provides way of reservation. The basic approach was specified in Articles 14, 15(1), 16(1) and 16(2). Article 14 guaranteed equality to all: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” That was the fundamental guarantee.
Article 15(1) made that guarantee specific in one particular:” The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.”
Article 15(2) guaranteed equal access for everyone to public facilities like wells, restaurants etc.
Article 15(3) contained a proviso: it is important as it recalls the only categories for which the framers were prepared to countenance curtailment of equal provisions. Article 15(3) provided:
“Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.”
Notice again: the only categories for which special provisions were envisaged were women and children. In particular, notice that no exceptions were envisaged on the basis of castes.
Article 16(1) made the fundamental guarantee of equality contained in Article 14 specific in another particular, one that was particularly important in those days when job opportunities were much more restricted than they are today, and governmental jobs were looked up to much more than is the case now. “There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.” Article 16(2) did for governmental employment what Article 15(1) did for a citizen’s living in general: “No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.”
Article 16(4) contained a proviso, and again it is important as a reminder of what the framers of the Constitution envisaged. This clause provided: “Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.”
Therefore to sum up what the Constitutional framers provided we may say: (a) The fundamental guarantee in every provision was of equality, of non-discrimination. (b) Caste was most consciously eschewed: the proviso to Article 15(1) spoke only of women and children ; Article 16(4) spoke only of “any backward class of citizens.” (c) Where caste was mentioned, it was only to prohibit discrimination on grounds of caste. (d) Where ‘equality’ was made specific – in Article 16(1) in regard to employment under the State, for instance – the expression that was used was ‘equality of opportunity’, an expression that, has been buried deep under the rhetorical flourishes of progressives.
Also the Constitutional framers deliberately omitted word religion under Article 29, and also under Article 46 weaker sections are to be promoted by State with special care to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Finally the Constitutional framers kept the provision of reservation under the strict scrutiny of Article 335. Article 335 provided, “The claims of members of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of the State.”