Ethnic Studies Report
, Vol. XV, No. 2, July 1997© ICES
Positive Discrimination in India:A Political Analysis
Partha S Ghosh
In a plural society such as India the state generally faces demands from variouscaste, tribal religious and gender groups for social justice. Amongst such groups,the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs & STs), are treated as deservingcases 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 areconcerned. Yet as the demands on their behalf for inclusion in the affirmative action(positive discrimination in Indian parlance) categories have assumed seriouspolitical dimensions the state is under pressure to respond politically as and whenthe demands become persistent. In this article four such social categories, namely,the SCs & STs, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the minorities, and women, areanalysed from a political perspective. The scope of the article is limited to anassessment of the scheme at the federal level. References to the experiences ofindividual 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 isforced to increasingly withdraw from the social sectors under the requirements ofliberalisation and globalisation of the economy.
Any democratic society faces the challenge of harmonising two essentiallycontradictory political concepts--one, equality before the law irrespectiveof religion, caste, creed, race, and gender, and the other, social justice atthe cost of the same commitment for equality before the law. Even adeveloped democracy like the United States is no exception to the ruleand has taken
recourse to affirmative action to ensure justice for the lessprivileged sections of the society at the cost of individual merit andequality of all citizens before the law. In India large numbers of peoplehave experienced social discrimination through centuries on account of