Positive Discrimination in India: A Political Analysis
Partha S Ghosh
Abstract In a plural society such as India the state generally faces demands from various caste, tribal religious and gender groups for social justice. Amongst such groups, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs & STs), are treated as deserving cases for historical reasons and on this, therefore, a national consensus has emerged. There is no agreement among the political classes as far as the other categories are concerned. Yet as the demands on their behalf for inclusion in the affirmative action (positive discrimination in Indian parlance) categories have assumed serious political dimensions the state is under pressure to respond politically as and when the demands become persistent. In this article four such social categories, namely, the SCs & STs, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the minorities, and women, are analysed from a political perspective. The scope of the article is limited to an assessment of the scheme at the federal level. References to the experiences of individual states are occasional and are only by way of supplementing a point or so. Some questions have been raised about the future of the scheme if the Indian state is forced to increasingly withdraw from the social sectors under the requirements of liberalisation and globalisation of the economy.
Any democratic society faces the challenge of harmonising two essentially contradictory political concepts--one, equality before the law irrespective of religion, caste, creed, race, and gender, and the other, social justice at the cost of the same commitment for equality before the law. Even a developed democracy like the United States is no exception to the rule and has taken recourse to affirmative action to ensure justice for the less privileged sections of the society at the cost of individual merit and equality of all citizens before the law. In India large numbers of people have experienced...