Affirmative Action: Notes for UPSC Polity

Affirmative action refers to a set of policies that support members of disadvantaged groups that have previously suffered discrimination in any form.

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What is the nature of Affirmative Action?

The nature of affirmative action policies varies from region to region and exists on a spectrum from a hard quota to merely targeting encouragement for increased participation. Some countries use a quota system, whereby a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies must be reserved for members of a certain group; an example of this is the reservation system in India.

Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action has sought to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances.

How is Affirmative Action Categorized in India

Affirmative actions in India can be categorized into 3 main dimensions, which are given below.

  1. Appointment and promotion in government services.
  2. Reservations in public education institutions.
  3. Reservation of seats in Central and State legislatures.

Who Does Affirmative Action apply to? 

Affirmative action refers to the set of policies of the Governments to support members of disadvantaged groups that have historically faced discrimination in the areas of education, employment, housing and respect in the society. The main goals of affirmative action are to bridge inequalities in access to education, employment, equal pay, better standards of living. 

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What is an Example of Affirmative Actions?

In the Government-run education institutions, the Indian government provides reservations for SC, ST and OBC students. To give them better political representation, constituencies are reserved for SC and ST’s in proportion to their population. Reservation is provided in Public Sector Undertakings (PSU’s), civil services, statutory bodies. Reservation is not provided in defence and judiciary.

What are the Implementation Issues of Affirmative Actions?

  1. Quality of representation in legislature – Studies have indicated lower participation in the legislative proceedings.
  2. Data on justice-related matters showed that they were facing discrimination.
  3. There is no time limit on reservation policies.

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