Affirmative Action in India

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Yusuf, Mar 24, 2012.

  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

    Mar 24, 2009
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    Posting this on behalf of a friend. It's her original piece.

    If you don't like affirmative action, what is your plan to guarantee a level playing field of opportunity? - Maynard Jackson

    Affirmative action was never meant to be permanent, and now is truly the time to move on to some other approach. Susan Estrich

    Wikipedia says, “Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including "race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin" into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.”

    As if competing to survive the laws of nature was not sufficient, it is like a long standing war coming since ages for man to overpower man. For one age that has been greedy the other age is heavily penalised. In fact, despite this form of punishment, it is unsure that the victim finds a sufficient justice to this. Yes, it is affirmative action that is being talked about.

    The term affirmative action was coined by President Kennedy of USA in 1961 in response to the racial discrimination so rampant even today. This is one philosophy of equality that is both praised and pilloried for influencing inequality of sorts.

    Prior to this philosophy gaining grounds, the world was divided in a two groups, the haves and the have not’s. But today, there is a third equally prominent group, the haves yet the have not’s.

    This movement has taken different colours in different countries. South Africa can be considered the most successful model of this where the natives won over the racial discrimination by getting to govern their own nation.

    Again in India the whole issue takes a very unique stand owing to the age of the movement and it being Constitution based and with a quota system like no other.

    Broadly there are two types of disparities – colour based and non ascriptive or non colour based disparities. Apart from the caste system there are many examples of non colour base disparities present in other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe too.


    From the ancient varna system to the modern day jati system, caste system has evolved and transformed dramatically in the last 2500 years and more. Unlike what we learn in schools this varna system had five if not four prominent classes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and Ati-Shurdras (the Untouchable or Harijans or modern day Dalits.) This stood perfect for socialising and mingling in the rudimentary economy. Over the centuries the evolved and metamorphosed in the present day jati system, bearing similarities to the old varna system. The evolution has been such that today there are more than 3000 jatis, where the exact number of caste divisions are difficult to determine. Also that these jatis are more regional classes, making inter-personal comparisons cloudy.

    Some interesting features of this affirmative action in India are:

    1. Affirmative action unfortunately is restricted to mostly Hindus, when in a broad frame of mind/ time, there are Dalits in other religions as well, making the whole issue more complex.

    2. There is also a group of Adivasis which are even older than these varnas and jati system of India. These tribes have been mentioned in the government schedule of India, referred to as Scheduled Tribes or STs.

    3. The term “Others” are another mix of groups where earlier there was SC, ST and Others, later to be subdivided with the category called Other Backward Classes or OBCs.

    4. This Others possess the most intra-group disparities along with the fact that since it is a residual term, it includes almost everyone else irrespective of the economic and social position.

    What strengthens the case for affirmative action for backward groups in India is the fact that firstly they have been historically deprived of many basic rights and opportunities as well as on the grounds of persistent disparity and continuing discrimination. Affirmative Action is seen as a program to compensate for the injustices delivered historically on various grounds. In fact the continued presence of social and economic secernment worsens these inequalities.

    A World Bank Report on Affirmative action throws light on this issue by comparing the racial discrimination between India and the USA. A worthy read available on the link enclosed below.

    World Bank Development Report 2006
    The way it analysis the need for affirmative action stands to convince the need for it in this age to a great extent. Of all the reasons for reservations to exist, it states of two approaches to social justice – equality in law and equality in fact. “Equality in Law” is when a person is not denied equality before the law of the land, and “Equality in Fact” is when the country provides measures of affirmative duties to remedy the existing inequalities.

    Unfortunately Affirmative Action is only understood and restricted its scope to “reservation policies” in India where the even though in theory all protection and strengthening measures are available, there is no proper monitoring or implementation body to ensure that the disparity decreases. A closer look at the Indian policies and commissions for this will give us a better view on the whole issue.

    Mandal Commission and the likes were born out of the Indian Constitution Articles 340(1) and (2), together making the government responsible for undertaking and ensuring the upliftment of backward groups and communities in the country.

    Article 340(1) states that “the President may by order appoint a commission, consisting of such persons as he thinks, fit to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the union or any state to remove such difficulties and as to improve ‘their condition and as to the grants that should be made, and the order appointing such commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the commission.”

    Article 340 (2) in continuation states that “a commission so appointed shall investigate the matters referred to them and present to the president a report setting out the facts as found by them and making such recommendations as they think proper.”

    Definition of ‘Backward Class of Citizens: The term ‘backward class of citizens has not been defined in the Constitution. But, since the emphasis in Article 16(4) is on social and economic backwardness, backward class cannot be identified only and exclusively with reference to economic criteria. The court, therefore, struck down the notification which sought to reserve another 10 per cent for the economically backward sections not covered by any existing schemes of reservations. On the other hand, the Court held that a caste could quite often be a social class. ‘If it is socially backward for the purpose of Article 16 (4).’ Also, several socially backward occupational groups, sects and denominations among non-Hindus would also be covered by Article 16(4). It would, be incorrect, therefore, to say that the backward classes under Article 16(4) were the same as the socially and educationally backward classes under Article 15(4) and 16(4) is ‘class;, the majority judgment held that ‘identification of the backward classes can certainly be done with reference to caste among, and along with, other occupation groups, classes and sections of people.

    The Kaka Kelkar Commission was the first of its kind set-up post independence to review the cause of the backward classes. The aim of the commission was to understand the undergoing hardships and conditions of the backward groups both socially as well as educationally. They were to make recommendations to help these groups rise out of it.

    (a)This report was submitted on March 30, 1955, with a list of 2399 backward castes/ communities for the entire nation of which 837 were classified as the ‘most backward.’ Women too were taken in as a backward group of the country.

    (b)A significant outcome of this study was the genesis of the idea to undertake caste-wise enumeration of the population in the census of 1961 as the last such data available was taken during the British rule in 1931.

    (c)Some of the recommendations were that they insisted on 70% reservation of vacancies in all technical and professional institutions for qualified students of backward classes along with a minimum reservation of vacancies in all government services and local bodies for other backward classes too.

    Outcome of Kaka Kelkar Report:This report was rejected by the Central govt on the grounds that it did not provide the test required for identifying the Backward Class. This brought in the opportunity to create another commission to do the same.

    The Mandal Commission was created by the Janata Party government, when Morarji Desai was the then Prime Minister. It was conferred an official status on January 1, 1979 by the President of India. Popularly known by the name of its Chairman, Shri B.P. Mandal, the committee submitted its report on December 1980.

    In continuation to the Kaka Kelkar Report, the goal of Mandal Commission, was to arrive at a criteria for defining and determining the socials and educationally backward, so that measures could be decided to help bring them up. Based on their recommendations, the favourability of providing reservations in the government positions as well was to be determined.

    The methodology of the report is interesting enough for you to visit: The Mandal Commission Methodology and Details

    The Mandal Commission had in its report recommended 27% reservations for backward classes in view of the limit of 50% imposed by the Supreme Court. In its Judgement, in what has come to be known as Mandal case, the Supreme Court decided on 16 November 1992 by a 6 to 3 Majority that 27% reservation of posts for the socially and educationally backward classed were in order, provided that the advanced amongst them ‘the cream layer’ were excluded from the list of beneficiaries, reservations were restricted to initial employment alone as Article 16 (1) did not permit any reservation in promotions, and the total reserved quota did not exceed 50 percent except in some extraordinary situations. The court held that any reservation in promotions was invalid as ‘this would be a serious and unacceptable inroad into the rule of inequality of opportunity’ and would not be in the interest of administration. By adding a new clause to Article 16, the Eighty – First (Amendment) Act 2000 however, clarifies that the unfilled reserved vacancies are to be treated as a separate class and are not to be included under the prescribed ceiling of the fifty per cent reservation of vacancies of the year.

    Reservations not available in certain areas: The Supreme Court has held that it may not be advisable to provide for reservations in certain areas for example technical posts, R&D organizations, in specialities and super specialities in medicine, engineering and other such courses in physical science and mathematics, in defence services and connected establishments. Reservations may also not be advisable in higher posts like those of professors in education, pilots in airlines, scientists and technicians in nuclear and space application etc (Indra Sawhey vs Union of India AIR 1993.) The Supreme Court disallowed lowering of qualification for admission to super specialities medical courses in favour of the reserved category candidates (Kartar Singh vs State of MP 1999.)

    At the least when we talk about reservations, high time the education system needs to evolve and not by restricting creativity to the number of benches available for students. Also, it needs to be ensured that it serves more than just being a vote-bank philosophy behind this, which is moving from caste to classiest groups.

    Some of the recommendations are really good, but what gets highlighted in the long run is reducing the opportunity of the general category. Yet, if this were to go on, I think general category can soon qualify to be the minority group, in lines with the Constitution again. The only problem with this too much of this reservation along with the continual mishandling might ensure that people stop competing in the long run.

    Personally speaking after going through the vast data on the subject, the question is not whether there should be reservations or not, because in reality, the ruling classes have in some way or the other managed to keep a reservation for themselves and the so called higher societies by providing exclusive entry to the club.

    It is only fair to extend this opportunity to the group who is larger than this group not only in terms of reservation in education seats but of reducing the social barrier. That is where the real problem stands.

    However good the policy, in reality it fails to uplift the backward groups for it makes sure that the backward groups will never be able to compete in the real times. Today, the scenario is such that the benefits that the government shows towards this group, some people often come up with fake certificates to gain access to already limited resources and opportunities, marring the whole purpose of this affirmative action.

    The problem is not reservations; it is the allied policies that our policy makers come up with. The existing proposal made ensures that the backward generation is constantly crippled further. The best way would be to provide additional education help rather than underestimating their human intelligence. In my schooling I have known of brilliant students who belonged to these so called backward classes. They were actually class toppers more often than not. Yet to overcome further competition, they were pushed to seek this backward classification for an even easier entry. My point here is that this so called backward group is intellectually brilliant, and even when I say this, it is an understatement.

    It is certainly a difficult choice to make between giving in to reservations or not. A lot depends on how it is politically and strategically handled. Rather than looking at it as a vote-bank the students can help this movement by providing that additional help to ensure that a backward student is not deprived of opportunities and can stand fair competition.

    The instances of reservations in international perspectives which would make interesting case studies are the affirmative movements of South Africa, USA, reservations in Arab countries, protectionists policies of trade and commerce too. Once you read more on it, the canvas of reservation is larger than we envision.

    Nature is about the survival of the fittest, how much ever we hate it, we have to live with it.
    Oracle likes this.

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