Affirmative action policies in India and the United States have origins rooted in addressing historical injustices and promoting equality for marginalized communities. Both countries implemented these policies without significant initial opposition. However, while affirmative action in America has faced recurring challenges and recent Supreme Court verdicts, India’s reservation system has endured despite generating public hostility. This article explores the historical context, evolution, and key factors contributing to the divergent paths of these affirmative action policies, highlighting the unique aspects that have enabled India’s reservation system to withstand the test of time.
Affirmative action in the United States gained momentum in the mid-20th century, driven by the Civil Rights Movement. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 speech at Howard University marked a pivotal moment, emphasizing the need to address not only legal freedom but also systemic racial inequalities. Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 mandated affirmative action measures, pushing government contractors, colleges, and universities to actively seek diversity and equal opportunities.
In contrast, India’s history of positive discrimination dates back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when lower castes, particularly in South India, sought to challenge Brahmin dominance. The princely state of Mysore implemented reserved seats in public service and higher education for “backward communities” in 1921. Similar policies followed in other British-ruled regions, and when India gained independence, these principles were enshrined in the Constitution. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a prominent advocate for the rights of lower-caste communities, played a pivotal role in drafting the Indian Constitution, solidifying affirmative action as a cornerstone of Indian governance.
Similar Beginnings, Divergent Trajectories
The initial introduction of affirmative action in both countries shared common goals – rectifying historical injustices and promoting equality. In the United States, affirmative action initially garnered support and was implemented with relative ease, similar to India’s reservation system. However, over the years, the two countries have witnessed distinct trajectories in public opinion and policy outcomes.
In America, affirmative action policies have faced increasing opposition, with recent Supreme Court rulings, such as those against the University of North Carolina and Harvard University, challenging their constitutionality. This shift has been influenced by conservative voices, including former President Donald Trump, who hailed the court’s decisions as a victory for the nation.
In India, despite reservations sparking controversy, they have persisted with limited advocacy for termination from political parties or the public. The endurance of India’s reservation system can be attributed to several key factors:
- Constitutional Foundation: India’s affirmative action policies were integrated into the Constitution at its inception, providing them with a strong legal foundation. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a respected leader from the marginalized Dalit community, played a vital role in shaping these policies. This constitutional backing has made it considerably challenging to challenge or repeal these policies.
- Broad-Based Beneficiaries: India’s reservation system encompasses various marginalized groups, including Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This broad spectrum of beneficiaries has created a diverse and formidable coalition of support, making it difficult for any political party to advocate for its termination without alienating significant voter bases.
- Electoral Dynamics: In India, political parties recognize the electoral significance of appealing to these marginalized communities. Affirmative action policies play a crucial role in mobilizing voters, making any attempt to dismantle them a politically risky proposition.
- Persistent Disparities: India continues to grapple with stark social and economic disparities. The persistence of these inequalities reinforces the perceived necessity of reservation policies as a means of addressing historical injustices and leveling the playing field.
- Commitment to Social Justice: India’s leaders and policymakers have consistently articulated their commitment to social justice and inclusivity, making it challenging for any political entity to openly oppose affirmative action without facing significant backlash.
- Grassroots Movements: Civil society organizations and grassroots movements in India have played an active role in advocating for the continuation of reservation policies. These movements have kept the issue alive and pressured the government to maintain or expand affirmative action measures.
The comparative analysis of affirmative action in India and the United States reveals intriguing insights into the resilience and enduring nature of India’s reservation system. While both countries initially introduced affirmative action policies to address historical injustices, India’s constitutional foundation, broad-based beneficiaries, electoral dynamics, persistent disparities, commitment to social justice, and grassroots movements have contributed to the policy’s longevity.
In contrast, America’s affirmative action policies have encountered increasing opposition, culminating in recent Supreme Court rulings that have questioned their constitutionality. These divergent trajectories underscore the importance of historical context, legal foundations, and the broader socio-political landscape in shaping the fate of affirmative action policies.
As India continues to grapple with issues of social inequality and justice, its reservation system remains a cornerstone of its commitment to inclusivity and equal opportunity for marginalized communities. Meanwhile, the United States faces ongoing debates and legal challenges surrounding the future of affirmative action, reflecting the complex and evolving nature of race-based policies in the country.