Although affirmative action is constantly debated as a solution to the integration of minorities in the United States, similar arguments can be heard in India, where affirmative action is being used to fight the caste system, which segregates Indians into the social classes into which they are born.
At a lecture Friday comparing affirmative action in the United States and India, economics Prof. Thomas Weisskopf said minorities in the United States enjoy a much better standard of living than those in India.
He said India”s economic problems have limited the effectiveness of its affirmative action policy called reservation seating because it guarantees minorities a certain number of positions in government and in universities and technical schools.
“When you have relatively a lot of resources, you can provide something for everybody, whereas when you”re contesting for a limited number of opportunities which will guarantee you a good life, people who are up will be very reluctant to give up a little bit,” Weisskopf said.
Although improvement has been limited, Indian minorities” social standing is better because of reservation seating, Weisskopf said. But he said a troubling trend limiting the effectiveness of the policy has developed.
“The issue of reservations has become highly politicized, and is being struggled over in the context of political focus of power,” said Weisskopf. “The whole idea of preferences for disadvantaged groups is being discredited gradually.”
First-year Rackham student Hemanth Kadambi said that while affirmative action enjoys wide support from India”s universities, “most students would rather debate the politics of what happens than what would really be the effect.”
Additionally, social tension and resentment are side products created by the rigid quotas of reservation policies, Weisskopf said.
“When you have quotas, there”s pressure to lower the bar to fill the quota,” he said.
“If you have preferences, you give people some points which may help them jump over the bar but you”re not fundamentally warping the criteria.”
While the challenges facing affirmative action in India are different than in the United States, first-year Rackham student Megan Reif said examining affirmative action in India can help University students understand the policy in the United States.
“Most American students know nothing or are completely unaware that these policies exist,” Reif said. “It”s a great opportunity for students to bolster their arguments.”
Kadambi said knowledge of India”s reservation policy is “beneficial to understand American affirmative action policies, to see the disadvantaged groups in America and what kind of benefits they need in the future.”