top of page

Affirmative Action In India: A New Paradigm

Akash Kumar - Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University

Affirmative Action in India: A New Paradigm

Akash Kumar, Political Science Honours (Zakir Husain Delhi College, Delhi University)


This policy paper focuses on a number of concerns and flaws in India's affirmative action plan structure and nature. This study divides the issue into two sections: reservations and welfare initiatives aimed at decreasing caste-based prejudice on the ground, notably in rural India. This is a critical problem because without an equitable society, no dignity will be guaranteed, and the country will continue to be entangled in political and social issues. This study attempts to establish a grassroots initiative structure aimed at fostering and maintaining social peace. The major thing that current policies lack is a focused strategy to addressing caste-based inequities. Furthermore, some flexibility in dealing with the dynamics of reservations is absent, as a result of which the subject has been politicised over the years has become a weapon for vote collection during elections. This study paves the path for possible improvements in the reservation pattern and welfare scheme system, making it less contentious and more inclusive in reasonable ways, and attempting to pave the road for a better set of progressive results. As is clear, the number of crimes committed against marginalised people is increasing, and the overall expenditure on their welfare is also rising continuously. The administration has been unable to determine who is denied what. There are also doubts about the necessity of reservations in higher education.[1] also, Affirmative action is confined to participation, which only impacts numbers in the polity and society, not power relations.[2] In terms of facilities and resources, exclusion has also become a major concern. Some policies do not help the target population, and benefits are spread unevenly within the target group. Schemes from a new viewpoint are required, as are modifications in reservation policy, such as the identification of creamy layers and disadvantage requirements for eligibility. This white paper will focus on innovative policy design approaches for dealing with these types of difficulties. This article will provide solutions to the problems with the current reservation policies' functioning, as well as new techniques for dealing with the (mostly) rural society's regressive conduct. Finally, we will assess the potential effects of the techniques suggested as policy reforms.

1. The two fault lines: problems with the ongoing system

In India, the problem with affirmative action policies has two dimensions: reservations and targeted welfare schemes. Both are severely hampered in their efforts to create a more inclusive society.

1.1 Reservations

  • Political tool: There is a pervasive prevalence of absolute reliance on reservations. As political mobilizations have shown, the issue focuses around who is qualified for reservations and who is not, and governments frequently fail to properly correct the situation. Some experts argue that the present system of reservations further entrenches the caste problem.[3]

  • Education: There are debates about reservations in higher education and private organizations. Even putting aside the social turbulence that the policy would generate for a minute, the statistic is the most compelling reminder that even if restrictions were expanded to the private sector, it would not achieve much in terms of equalising access to excellent employment.[4]

  • Loopholes: According to theoretical arguments, it is primarily restricted to participation and has no impact on the polity's power structure.[2] The system's near-exclusive reliance on a single ascriptive attribute, caste, inevitably leads to instances in which the system fails to promote broad ideals of justice. Many people from non-listed groups have limited social and educational possibilities, whereas others can produce caste and non-creamy layer credentials while having considerable social and educational options.[5] Concerns have been raised regarding the designation of creamy layer OBC's, as well as instances when initiatives have failed to help the intended populations.

  • Merit: Another counter-argument to the reservation is the merit argument. However, merit is a highly subjective idea in practise. Individual qualities and socialisation processes, for example, that mainstream abusive behaviour toward patients or religious intolerance in health facilities, are not the ones that bring mediocrity to a campus or a profession. Individual qualities and socialisation processes that legitimise abusive behaviour toward patients or religious intolerance in health facilities are among the elements that contribute to mediocrity on a campus or in a profession.[6]

1.2 Welfare schemes

  • Poor distribution of benefits: The advantages are dispersed unequally across the targeted groups. The lack of equal power structures at the local community level has exacerbated the problem.

  • Economic stagnation: EPOD researchers evaluated the varying proportions of social groupings among the poor using time series data from India's National Sample Survey from 1987 to 2011 (see graph 1). The proportion of the impoverished comprised of Hindu lower castes (including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes) grew from around 33 to 40% (see Table 1).[7] There is a clear link between social backwardness and poverty. In this regard, the nine-judge panel confirmed in the Indra Sawhney (1992) decision that the introduction of Article 16 resulted in (4), “...the accent was upon social backwardness. It goes without saying that in the Indian context, social backwardness leads to educational backwardness and both of them together lead to poverty—which in turn breeds and perpetuates the social and educational backwardness.” [8]

  • Poor Allocation in education & scholarships: This calls into question the government's increasing substantial part of budget allocation for the welfare of these populations. A significant chunk of this budget has gone toward student scholarships. Only 4-5 percent of pupils from lower socioeconomic backgrounds receive assistance (see graph 2).[9]

  • Exclusion at the local level: Because of inadequate educational facilities at the local level, the situation in rural areas has deteriorated. There is no one programme in place to improve community relations. Exclusion is so intertwined with social lines that the excluded groups are unaware they are being exploited. Women and excluded groups are disinterested in participating due to social norms and conventions.[2] Individuals who are most likely to get reimbursed are frequently those who have the fewest disadvantages.[10] The court must distinguish between those who teach reservation philosophy of inclusiveness and those who teach reservation as a tool for electoral advantage.[11] There have emerged privileged groups that have cornered all of the benefits of reservation women continue to be doubly disempowered inside the reserved category, and are targeted by families for marrying into a lower caste.

  • Rise in crimes: Crimes against scheduled tribal (ST) communities increased by 9.3 percent in the previous year.[12] According to National Crime Records Bureau data, a Scheduled caste (SC) person was victimised by crime every 10 minutes in India in the previous year, totaling 50,291 instances in 2020, a 9.4 percent rise from the previous year.[13]

According to the National Crimes Records Bureau's Annual Crime in India Report 2019, crime against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has increased by more than 7% and 26%, respectively, in 2019. According to the same National Crime Records Bureau, crimes against Dalits increased by 6% between 2009 and 2018.

In parallel, the entire budget for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has increased by 28%. The number of expenditures spent by the government Has increased by 50% throughout the last decade.[14] The concern is, why, despite such large financial commitments, the number of cases increases year after year, and by just 5-6 percent over the previous years. The issue is one of implementation. Not where we are allocating and implementing, but how we are allocating and implementing.

Reservation appears to have done nothing to improve society's equity and fairness, or to provide people with sufficient opportunity to evolve out of the harmful system of mutual disdain.[15] Because social justice has evolved into a thin foil that can be used to wrap nearly any material, its language and legacy are widely present in our public life today. On the one hand, the achievement of social justice politics is restricted to the election of Dalit-Bahujan politicians to governmental positions, with no substantial implications for the Dalit-Bahujan community.[16] The power of the state to impose genuine social reform measures is extremely restricted. Many challenges have come from within the camp of social justice in recent years, most notably the desire for a sub-classification of groups such as SC and OBC to allow for sub-quota for those communities deemed to have gained the least from the reservation system. There is a propensity to criticize the concept of a creamy layer as a sliver of information that might disturb the affirmative action system. Such a stance does not even approach the issue of how to accommodate other types of equality, such as gender and class, which have a significant impact on employment and educational prospects.[16]

2. The existing system of affirmative action in India

Reservations are offered in India for educational institutions, government positions, and the legislature. The system arose as a result of ancient India's long-standing caste system traditions. Following the signing of the Poona Pact between BR Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, some seats within the Hindu electorate were designated for depressed castes. Following independence, large programmes were launched in support of ST's, SC's, and, after 1980, the OBC. The government established the Mandal Commission in 1979. The chart illustrates the reservation offered to applicants for government employment in educational institutions.

Various categories receive a 60% reserve (SC, ST, OBC, and EWS). Previously, reservations were granted based on social and educational disadvantage, but with the 103rd constitutional amendment in 2019, economic disadvantage was now considered for reserve. People with disabilities are given an additional 4% reservation in government positions and educational institutions. This leaves 40% of seats accessible for merit-based candidates.

Competitive written tests are used in both university admissions and government jobs in India. As the "generic" quota, the top-scoring persons (up to a number equal to 50% of the ultimate target) are accepted or recruited. Officials then proceed down the list, admitting the highest-scoring scs, sts, and obcs until the quotas for these categories are filled or no applications satisfy a minimum quality criterion. It should be noted that the percentage of members of underprivileged groups among beneficiaries can be greater than 50% (if many applicants from these groups score higher than the general cutoff) or less than 50% (if most applicants from these groups score lower than the qualification cutoff), implying that scaling the size of the quota across states is difficult.[10]

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of Indra Sawhney versus Union of India that reservation for beneficiaries should not exceed 50 percent of India's population. This was the lawsuit that resulted in a reservation cap. In the case of the State of Madras versus Champakam Durai Rajan, the Madras government reserved certain seats in state medical and engineering institutions for distinct communities and proportions depending on religion and ethnicity. It categorized pupils according to their caste and religion.

The Maharashtra state reservation for socially and educationally backward classes (2) act 2018, which provided reservation to the Maratha group in public education and employment, was recently ruled down by the Supreme Court of India.

There are some social assistance programmes, but they fail to meet the demands of the socially oppressed groups. They fail to level the playing field for socially excluded groups. They attempt to provide resources and education, but they have little effect on the social composition. There is a need for a broad scheme, and there must be something between the economy and an individual's or community's social identity.

There is a widespread need for some specific monitoring of these government projects, as well as their assessment and data collection, so that plans may be launched with precision. There is now a significant paucity of data for investigating and assessing caste-based problems, particularly in rural India. Even if the resources are spread, the benefits are distributed unevenly within the target group.

3. Policy solutions to the issues

3.1 Changes to Reservations

Policy design must become more advanced in order to incorporate the demands and degree of the relative disadvantages experienced by the OBC.[17] The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) criterion of exclusion of the creamy layer is already in use for employment reservation. This might be implemented to professional education, with the caveat that only the vacant spots in the OBC Quota will be granted to creamy layer OBC applicants.[17] The committee may suggest that the 27 percent quota be shared between higher and lower obcs. Many states already have such divisions, and statutory agencies such as the NCBC can be asked to compile a list of upper and lower obcs for the other states.[17]

The committee may propose certain particular safeguards to guarantee that OBC women have proper access to this quota. Finally, the committee may establish a minimum qualifying level for OBC individuals seeking admission to super-specialty professional courses.

  • Need for data gathering: A countrywide survey of the social profile of higher education institutions and job holders in the organised sector can be requested from the National sample survey organisation (NSSO) or another independent agency.[17]

  • New scientific approach: To address the problem, a scientific method is necessary. This contributes to the de-essentialization of identity markers such as caste or religion, offering a reasonable explanation for why certain populations are entitled to compensatory discrimination and weakening views that see such privileges as a "birthright."[17]

  • Evaluation: There should be a strategy for evaluating urban and rural candidates separately based on the location of the school where tests are conducted. Zones should be established based on common indicators of backwardness. In the context of higher education, caste and community are assigned disadvantage points based on established empirical indices of relative backwardness.[17]

  • Disadvantage factor: One may create a disadvantage factor for each applicant that includes both family history and income as well as the societal obstacles that their community faces. This disadvantage component would then be combined with the merit factor,' minus the examinations, to get an overall score.[18]

3.2 Targeted Social welfare

  • More checks upon panchayats: Enforcing panchayat scrutiny and keeping it in control by higher authorities would be characterised as contributing in the successful destabilization of caste-based prejudice. When a hate crime is reported by an individual and validated by a local police station, Panchayats will be investigated. This would eliminate all instances of caste-based prejudice.

  • Monitoring and assessing: A better and larger solution would be to establish a committee or department comprised of both government and opposition members and specialists to monitor and report on social harmony index and reports, particularly in rural areas. The committee will prepare the report for the panchayat, district, and bloc levels. Panchayats, blocs, and districts will be awarded for their particular efforts, creating a situation in which the administration is more likely to take the stage. The job scenario, health and sanitation facilities, the prevalence of hate crimes against disadvantaged groups, the net attendance ratio, and the availability of government programmes could all be criteria for the aforementioned social harmony report and index performance at the rural level.

  • Data gathering from SHR: As is obvious, the government and research organisations are either dealing with a severe shortage of accumulated data to analyse social dynamics, or there is a plethora of disparate data reports on many subjects, confounding the analyst when selecting a few for the study. The social harmony index and report will be the most reliable source of data for subsequent investigation. The data collected from SHR must be trustworthy and essential for further interpretation, as it provides comprehensive data for a range of domains, which may assist rectify problems at various times and with varied issues.

  • A grand community development program: Launching a Pan-India 'Samanata mission' in stages to fill the void of social integration and communal peace. No such attempts have yet been established to address the social conflicts that have arisen since the establishment of caste dominances. The mission will feature a 'Samanta parv' organized in the name of the District Magistrate, which will include a fair, collective feast, films, sports, prizes, activities, and performances centered on the topic of communal harmony for a few days or a week.

  • Data, communication & Adhaar: ‘Mission Samanata’ would also aim to provide local level assistance for basic data and communication facilities, particularly in remote and underdeveloped regions where exploited sections of the population suffer more than other regions when it comes to accessing assistance through schemes or basic facilities. Local cybercafés will be established under the jurisdiction of blocs as part of the initiative to provide the seamless and easy provision of services relating to schemes, banking, and other necessary services within the neighborhood. This effort aims to make amenities and information available to rural locations and marginalized groups within those regions. In addition, mobile x Aadhar would be utilized to facilitate different administrative help in the form of cash, Fastrack complaints, reporting hate crimes, and other communication support. Connecting the Aadhar and mobile will facilitate communication since data from various advancements can be traced down via communication networks, and the same networks can be used to disseminate updates and track various developments. This would improve the speed and effectiveness of different social initiatives that are hampered by restricting agents such as administrative loopholes and favored sectors. This project will also address the issue of escalating hate crimes against the most vulnerable members of society, particularly in rural India.

A forecast

If the aforementioned policy changes and initiatives are applied, it may be predicted that the rates of hate crimes against the marginalized sections will drop significantly due to the increased surveillance and monitoring of the issue.

Also, if the administration involves itself in community developmental programs, there are good chances of improvement at the rural level, and this step would be beneficial as more responsibility and accountability shall be assured from the local governance.

The data availed from social harmony reports and index shall be rich in providing details of problems apparent or hidden in social life. The changes in reservation shall try to bring down the various emerging challenges and impediments from either social mobilizations or political propaganda.


The reservation plan has failed in India because its objective did not comply with the improvement of the socially oppressed class (by providing cases, reasons, and analysis), and thus the problem still prevails on the ground. There should be a completely different narrative and objective to deal with the problem of cast & class oppression in India so that the socially marginalized groups could be uplifted socially and economically (only if needed), in a fair and rational sense. If progressive actions are taken, it shall be worth more contributing than anything else to the social development and communal harmony of the country.

Tables & Graphs


  1. Changing social composition, SATISH DESHPANDE

  2. Pradeep Narayanan. (2003). Empowerment through Participation: How Effective Is This Approach? Economic and Political Weekly, 38(25), 2484–2486.

  3. All caste-based reservations must be abolished must-be-abolished.html

  4. Why reservation may fail in levelling the field e-field-101615234934723.html?utm_source=ht_site_copyURL&utm_medium=social &utm_campaign=ht_site

  5. Redesigning India's reservation system 615561660236.html

  6. Exploding the myth that reservations are responsible for ‘mediocrity in the medical profession’ ging-mediocrity-in-the-medical-profession

  7. India’s poor population is increasingly likely to consist of members of marginalized groups members-marginalized-groups

  8. Reservation Is About Adequate Representation, Not Poverty Eradication

  9. NCSC Report : Problems faced by Scheduled Caste students in obtaining Scholarships - 2016

  10. Lee, Alexander. (2021). Does Affirmative Action Work? Evaluating India’s Quota System. Comparative Political Studies. 54. 001041402198975. 10.1177/0010414021989755.

  11. Why are we still asking the wrong question about reservation? -about-reservation-in-india-7258304/

  12. Crimes against Dalits, tribals rise by over 9% amid lockdown mid-lockdown-1030962.html

  13. Crimes against Dalits, tribals increased in Covid pandemic year: NCRB -covid-pandemic-year-ncrb-101631731260293.html

  14. Union Budget 2021, Spending up on schemes for Scheduled Castes mes-for-scheduled-castes/article33721265.ece

  15. Reservation has failed to address social inequities, create opportunities for all ota/

  16. Rethinking social justice

  17. Deshpande, S., & Yadav, Y. (2006). Redesigning Affirmative Action: Castes and Benefits in Higher Education. Economic and Political Weekly, 41(24), 2419–2424.

  18. Redesigning India’s reservation system 615561660236.html

  19. Guess how many Indians get merit-based scholarships ased-scholarships/20140901.htm

bottom of page