Affirmative Action And The Indian Women

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative Action, a term coined from the United States, is a referral to a policy that aims at negating discrimination by approving oppurtunites to the underrepresented sections of the society. Affirmative action acts as a support system, to upbring the sufferers of past discrimination, through various policies that include providing access to education, job oppurutnities, housing etc.

Types of affirmative actions can be observed through an analysis of this particular action in different countries. In the United Kingdom, affirmative actions are considered as illegal as it does not render all races equally. In India, affirmative actions can be seen through the system of reservations. In International law, affirmative actions are referred to as “special measures”.

Affirmative Action in the Indian Scenario:

Perceiving affirmative action through the Indian lens, it can be observed that India has one of the most elaborate policies laid down in the Indian Constitution for the representation of weaker stems of the society; mainly those who belong to the “lower castes”. It is mentioned in the Constitution, the State has the power to promote the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society, emphasising particularly on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.[1]

The main objective behind the drafting of Article 46 of the Indian Constitution, was to do away with the historic oppression of those who belonged to the lowest strata of the hierarchical ladder of the society, thus aiming at equal opportunities for all. Eventually, even those who belonged further up the ladder claimed the benefits of the policy that aimed at equality; hence including other backward classes(OBC) and economically backward general.

Affirmative actions in India are enacted through reservation policies or quotas in educational institutions, government jobs and the legislature. Essentially, the reservations help in improving and promoting an environment of healthy competition in the labor market. The promise of equality for all as enshrined in the Constitution was highlighted in 1992 by the Supreme Court of India as it ruled, that more than fifty percent reservation in an institution, would be a violation of equal access.[2]

Although the reservation policy is to uphold the discriminated section of the community, the question to be answered is, does these policies fulfil the promise of prohibiton of discrimination on grounds of sex as spelled out in Article 15. Affirmative actions are taken in the scenario of backward castes but not class. Women may not be confined to a certain type of class, but the non fulfilment of the promises of the Constitution to them, is a direct violation of Article 14, the principle of equality before the law.

The Supreme Court had stated that, under Art.15(3), the state may fix a quota for the appointment of women in government services.[3] But the question about what is being done to combat discrimination in the private sector for castes, and the weaker section say women are still unanswered.

If India is to be considered top, at a global level, there is to be some parity with men and women, just not the trial to be rid of discrimination at the caste level, it should be implemented on the grounds of gender too.


[1] Art 46, the Constitution of India.

[2] Indira Sawhney v. Union of India and Others, AIR 1993 SC 477.

[3] Govt of Andhra Pradhesh v. P. B. Vijay Kumar, AIR 1996 SC 619.

This Article Is Authored By Maryam Aseef, Student of B.A. LL.B, National University Of Advanced Legal Studies , Kochi

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