Equality and Social Justice: Is Affirmative Action in India Justified?

10 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2014 Last revised: 14 Feb 2014

Date Written: February 8, 2014


In ancient India, the people were divided into four classes namely; Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The Shudras were considered as untouchables, and were excluded all together from the society. After thousands of years, with the help of many social movements, a revolution was brought up. Mahatma Gandhi, B.R Ambedkar, J.L Nehru, and many other freedom fighters confronted the caste system and when our constitution was being framed, a special provision was made under Article 46, Article 15(4), Article 16(4) and few others for the uplifting of these backward classes.

The government under prime minister V P Singh, on the basis of the findings of second backward class commission reserved 27% seats for socially & backward classes on 13th August 1990. The decision caused a civil disturbance throughout India, and there was a huge loss of persons and property. Public Interest litigation was filed in the supreme court of India and decided in Indira Sawhney v/s Union of India AIR 1993 SC 477 in favor of the union of India, although certain regulations were imposed upon the reservations.

This reservation of seats in educational institutes and government jobs has faced the most opposition in the recent times. The protagonists of the reservation system say that affirmative action compromises for the discrimination of past policies, which have left a legacy of unequal caste representation in the society. Those who opposes the reservations says that it is against their right to equality, and even though there was injustice against the lower caste people in the past, but that does not mean that reverse discrimination is the way to heal it.

The main objective of this research is to discover if the present system of reservations in India is justified. Since, the issue of affirmative action, is directly related to the question as to “What is Equality?” it was considered necessary to answer that question first. The research takes into account mainly three concepts, namely, ‘Libertarianism’ by Robert Nozick, ‘Nicomachean ethics’ by Aristotle, and ‘A Theory of Justice’ by John Rawls along with others, to figure out ‘what is equality?’. However, this part of the research has a limitation, since it is an ethical approach, which is relative, and not everyone may agree with the conclusion, however a proper reasoning is provided as a justification for the conclusion reached.

The research paper considers various statistics provided by Census of India, National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), and other data provided by the union and state ministries, to figure out the present situation of backward classes, and the implementation of reservation policies. The research paper, apart from the theories and statistics, also records and considers the statements of few people who are directly or indirectly affected by the reservation policies (backward people, students and their parents, etc.) in order to really know, how the reservation policies effects the citizen of the country, and how far have they actually succeeded.

In the end, it was established that affirmative action promotes equality in opportunity, but the implementation in India has failed to show any desirable result, it has rather become a tool for political parties to fill their vote banks, the backward class people still suffers, and untouchability still persists.

Although the research is focused on the sociological analysis of affirmative action implemented in India, it has a much generalized approach in reasoning, and even a part of the conclusion states the repercussions of affirmative action in general, apart from being specifically for India.

The research paper suggest some political and social reforms to be implemented in future, so that affirmative action can bring positive result, and helps in establishing an egalitarian society. Even though the title suggests so, the research paper is not aimed at justifying affirmative action, but only makes a persuasive argument for accepting and implementing affirmative action for the overall benefit of the society.

Keywords: Affirmative Action; Equality; Caste System; Positive Discrimination; Reservations in India

Suggested Citation

Varshney, Neer, Equality and Social Justice: Is Affirmative Action in India Justified? (February 8, 2014). OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, Vol. 06, No. 11, pp. 81-90, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2392767

Neer Varshney (Contact Author)

Symbiosis Law School Noida ( email )

Block A 47/48, Sector-62
Noida, Uttar Pradesh 201301

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