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Role of Affirmative Actions in creating Social Justice

In this blog, the author speaks about affirmative actions under Article 14, 15 and 16 which helps to bring about social justice.

The purpose of affirmative action is to counter the effects of past inequalities to bring all persons to the same level. In the past, certain divisions in the society were discriminated against on the basis of a certain factor such as race, caste, gender etc. For instance, in India there were certain castes that were considered inferior in comparison to other castes. Post-independence the castes that were considered inferior were combined and broadly classified into three categories, that is, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Castes. In order to counter the inequality previously faced the government came up with reservations for a particular period in educational institutions, government offices etc, so as to enable people from these castes to come the same level in terms of education and income and integrate them with the general caste. In the United States, affirmative actions are taken by the way of quotas primarily for black persons and women. The affirmative action in India is taken by the way of reservations of seats. Initially, these reservations were to only be for a period of 10 years in order to bring the aforementioned castes at the same footing as that of general castes, however, it was later extended by the government and is still in existence.

This essay seeks to study the affirmative actions taken by different governments and its consequences (intended and unintended) of these affirmative actions in the attainment of Social Justice.


Affirmative action U.S is a set of laws and policies aimed at ending and correcting the effects of a certain kind of discrimination. The affirmative action in the U.S primarily includes racial quotas and reservations based on gender. Prior to the 1950’s, African- Americans faced severe discrimination, however after the Civil Rights act 1968, the

These quotas have been challenged in court several times as being discriminatory in nature. In the case of Grutter v. Bollinger[1], the court held that race could be taken into consideration in case of admissions along with other factors such as merit of the student. Hence according to the aforementioned judgment, if an African- American student and a Red-Indian student are on an equal footing in terms of merit, the African- American student can be admitted in the university taking into account his race in order to facilitate equal representation.

The concept of affirmative action has led to a “mismatch”, that is, when a person who is under-qualified is put with a group of people who are qualified, they are more likely to feel out of place and drop out.[2]


Indian Citizens are guaranteed the right to equality under Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. However, Article 15 and Article 16 enables the state to provide for reservations of SC, ST, and OBC in educational institutions and government jobs. The underlying principles of these reservations were to bring about a good amount of representation from all castes in educational institutions as well as the workplace. Furthermore, these reservations also extend to women and economically backward upper castes as well who earn less than rupees eight lakh and own land of fewer than five acres. While there are other types of reservations as well such as reservations for children of defense personnel, residents of Jammu and Kashmir, children of freedom fighters etc., this essay is limiting itself to the impact of affirmative actions with respect to castes and gender. As of now there is a total of 59% of reservations in total in government jobs for SC, ST, OBC and Economically Backward Upper Castes.[3]

In India there is a concept of “creamy layer” that applies to the OBC’s, that is, if a person belongs to OBC but has the income level above rupees 8 lakh, they will not be eligible for reservations. This concept has in the recent years also been extended to SC’s and the ST’s.

It is pertinent to note that despite all these affirmative actions, today the aforementioned castes still continue to be part of the unorganized sector with no permanent source of income. In rural areas they are still subject to alienation, untouchability and other forms of discrimination.[4] Moreover despite the reservations and other efforts made to bring the aforementioned castes to the same footing as that of the general castes according to a report by the amnesty international published in 2019, 65% of the hate crimes committed in India are against Dalits.[5]


Though affirmative action, reservations are widely criticized and are perceived as unfair. The rationale behind this is that the concept of reservation ends up reinforcing the categorization of castes instead of blurring the lines between castes. Unlike in the U.S where affirmative actions can be taken only when both the students have the same merit, in India, there is a significant difference between the eligibility standards to be met by a person of General Caste and a person from an SC, ST or OBC. For instance, if the cut-off mark for general caste is 120 out of 150, the cut-off mark for a person belonging to SC, ST or OBC category will be around 99. It is felt by many that the reservation systems lead to under-qualified persons replacing the qualified persons, consequently negatively affecting the competition in the Indian economy.

On the other hand, it is also important to note that the SC, ST and OBC’s in the rural areas are till this date subject to bias and poverty. As mentioned above, in rural areas they are subject to alienation and social discrimination. It is also pertinent to note that Dalits from remote areas are not exposed to the same standard of education as the people in urban or suburban areas. There is a huge gap between Dalits in the cities and Dalits in rural areas. Dalits in rural areas are still ostracized. These reservations are meant to give them an opportunity to escape the social stigma that they face and the lower cut-offs for SC’s, ST’s and OBC’s are determined to take into consideration the standard of education in rural areas as well.


Affirmative Actions are brought in with the purpose of correcting the effects of past discrimination, however, more often than not it ends up reinforcing such categorization instead of abating it. The purpose of these actions is to level the playing field so as to bring everyone to an equal footing in order to ensure equality. Like the U.S mismatch happens in India as well, especially in educational institutions which leads to dropping out of the students. In India the affirmative actions are brought in with the purpose of the abolishment of the caste system, however, a lot of times the ones that reap the benefit of these reservations are the ones who are only up the social structure. The author of this essay is not against the reservations per se. However, she is of the opinion that these affirmative actions do not achieve the object for which they were made. In rural areas a lot of Dalits are not even aware of these provisions, hence the government should make an effort to raise awareness as to reservations and encourage these people to go for higher education and government jobs. This way the affirmative actions will achieve their fullest potential.


1. Richard Sanders and Stuart Taylor Jr. “ The Painful Truth About Affirmative Action”. October 12, 2012

2. Almost all Indians will soon qualify for affirmative action in India, The Economist, January 12th 2019

3. Special Correspondent, 65% of hate crimes against Dalits: Amnesty , The Hindu , March 5,2019

4. Swadesh Sinha “Plight of STs, SCs and OBCs the worst in the world” Forward Press, March 27th 2018,

5. Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)

Submitted by:

Shrishti Sneha,

Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad

(Images used for representative purpose only)


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