India Debates Affirmative Action

In Outlook India, a few pieces on quotas (affirmative action for lower castes and “Other Backward Classes”), including one on lessons from the US.

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Sixteen years ago, it was college students from Delhi and neighbouring states who took to the streets protesting then prime minister V.P.

Singh’s decision to reserve 27 per cent seats in government jobs for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). In the hot sweaty summer of 2006, it is medical students of Delhi, Calcutta and Mumbai who arespearheading the protest against Union human resources development minister Arjun Singh’s decision to extend the same percentage of quota in centrally funded colleges.

As the government tries to work out a solution to the highly emotive issue, the anti-quota voices have become shrill, their symbols of protest often taking on a distinct caste overtone. Take, for instance, students sweeping the floors of their campuses, as if to suggest quotas would leave them with no choice but to take to menial jobs. “Why must the protesters always take to a broom or shoe-brush? Why don’t they milk cows? Are they not the preserve of certain castes?” asks a Dalit [“untouchable”] student.

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