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

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

5

The differing contexts of positive discrimination in the US and India

My objective in this chapter is to compare, as between the US and India, the various conditions that are most likely to influence the consequences of positive discrimination (PD) in each country In other words, I intend to compare what I described in the previous chapter as primary factor characteristics. I address first the characteristics of those under-represented ethnic groups (UREGs) that are favored by PD policies in each country, because some of the other characteristics differ not only between the two countries but also among the different groups. Then I consider, in turn, the characteristics of the PD policies themselves and the characteristics of the general societal environments. Finally, I will summarize the comparison in Table 5.1. My intention throughout is to contrast the ways in which the characteristics of these three basic factors manifest themselves in the US and in India.


Characteristics of the UREGs in each country

1

The beneficiaries of positive discrimination at issue here are those UREGs officially recognized as eligible for preferential selection. These are African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans in the US, and Dalits, Adivasis, and members of the "Other Backward Classes" (OBCs) in India. By definition, members of these groups share several basic characteristics. 2 First of all, they are conspicuously under-represented in desirable positions and in the upper strata of society. They also have in common a virtually inalterable group identity, based on a social construction of inherited physical and/or cultural characteristics.

UREG identity, in the US and India as elsewhere, is sometimes signaled by easily recognizable physical characteristics; thus black skin serves as an indicator of African American identity. Native Americans and Adivasis are also generally distinguishable by their physical appearance. But this is often not the case with Dalits; and it is virtually impossible to distinguish on the basis of physical characteristics alone either Hispanic Americans or those Indians officially recognized as OBCs. In the many cases where racially linked physical characteristics are not decisive, one's group identity depends on social conventions-such as the American convention that a person is considered Black or

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