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In the absence of credible alternatives for social equity, yes. 

There is no doubt in my mind that in 1947-50, affirmative action in the area of education and jobs was essential when related to caste and tribes.   It is important to remember that India was a society that was based on inequalities. The founders

Level Playing Field

of the constitution were trying to, and rightly so, level the playing field when it came to opportunities. Else you would have ended up in the situation shown in the cartoon on the left.



There is also no doubt in my mind affirmative action has made a difference to the divide.

  • Statistics on employment (government and private), education and health have shown disproportionate improvement over the last 65 years.
  • The voice of the hitherto repressed sections has been strengthened in decision making.
  • Discrimination and Atrocities have gone down, though not eliminated yet as I have argued here

You can see similar movement on gender based statistics due to affirmative action for girls and women in the areas of education and political representation (33% of seats are reserved for women candidates in local government structures).

The philosophy of affirmative action is that over time the playing field becomes reasonably level and one can do away with the system. You can already see that happening with some economically better off families eschewing the reserved route for seats in educational institutions, women contesting in ‘open local government seats’ and not in reserved constituencies. It will take time but we will get there.

A time limited affirmative action had been  envisaged by the constitution drafters but it did not happen!  There are two main reasons for that

  1. first, the field had not really been levelled as some sub-sections took more and repeated advantage over the others (also an issue of policy and implementation).
  2. second, once the genie was out of the bottle, it would have taken tremendously strong and visionary political leadership to put it back in the bottle; that is the one luxury we have not had in the last few decades.

There have been many negative impacts of the reservation policy and one of the more critical ones has been deeper entrenchment of caste based divisions in society. Sadly, that happens with ANY affirmative action and it is something we should expect.

I am not in favour of affirmative action been done away with. I think the advantages outweigh the negatives. In the coming years we are going to see more demands in this area,

  1. affirmative action in promotions which already on the anvil.
  2. affirmative action in private sector employment (as government reduces its work force, reservations will cease to matter)

We will also see short sighted and opportunistic politicians fanning these flames; it’s inevitable and we must deal with it.

I personally am not in favour of both but feel that there needs to be strong laws to prevent discrimination from creeping in. We can seriously talk of getting rid of affirmative action, only when society changes to an extent where it becomes unnecessary. Like it or not, there is discrimination against women and people who belong to the castes that come under affirmative action. The present laws against discrimination are difficult and cumbersome and fail to deliver justice. 

As it always happens, laws and policies will need to kick in when we cannot self govern. If we as a society fail to prevent discrimination, I am afraid we will be forced to resort to affirmative action, no matter what the chatterati and captains of industry have to say about it.