Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

Part I

The differing contexts and potential consequences of positive discrimination in the US and India

My major objective in this part of the book is to analyze, in a systematically comparative framework, the way in which differences in the social, cultural, economic, and political contexts of the US and India are likely to affect the prospects for the success of positive discrimination policies in the two countries. In order to address this question, I begin in Chapter 1 by reviewing the historical development of the relevant policies in each country. In Chapter 2 I discuss the debate over positive discrimination in each country, which is helpful for understanding both the context and the potential consequences of positive discrimination in each country. I then go on in Chapter 3 to organize the arguments advanced in such debates into a comprehensive list of arguments and claims for and against positive discrimination, defining the potential benefits and costs of positive discrimination policies in terms of claims of beneficial and costly consequences. In Chapter 4 I develop a model for qualitative comparative analysis of the relationship between the context and the consequences of positive discrimination policies, which I apply to the cases of the US and India in the following two chapters. I explore in Chapter 5 key differences between the two countries in the context for positive discrimination. Finally, I undertake in Chapter 6 an analysis of the way in which these differences are likely to affect the comparative benefits and costs of positive discrimination policies in the US and India.

The subject of positive discrimination is beset with much controversy and strong feelings. It is also beset with much misunderstanding, due in no small part to lack of clarity in the meaning of key terms and concepts. Before proceeding to my substantive discussion and analysis, I believe that it will be helpful to define as clearly as possible how I will use certain important terms that will recur throughout the book.

The meaning of "affirmative action" has evolved over time in the US. When President John F. Kennedy first used the term in 1961,1he meant an affirmative effort to assure equality of opportunity to all Americans and to end discrimination against members of groups that had historically been exposed to a great deal of discrimination-most obviously African Americans. Affirmative action policies in the following years consisted of vigorous efforts to assure that no person would be denied opportunities simply because of the group he or she happened to be born into. By the

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