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

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

1

On the origins and nature of positive discrimination policies in the US and India

I begin this chapter by reviewing briefly the historical origins of positive discrimination in each of the two countries. Then I go on to compare the nature, the legal basis, and the scope of current policies of positive discrimination in the US and India. Finally, I consider possible cultural and historical sources of the differences in these policies as between the two countries.


A brief history of positive discrimination policies in the US

Contemporary positive discrimination (PD) policies in the US owe their origin to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. 1 Some preferential policies on behalf of emancipated Blacks 2 -former slaves-were enacted during the Reconstruction Era immediately following the Civil War; but this brief effort to restructure the racial balance of power in the South was soon abandoned, and the "Jim Crow" era of White domination took over with a vengeance. For almost 100 years after slavery had been formally abolished, all kinds of negative discrimination and related injustices were imposed upon formally free African Americans-then known as "Negroes"-throughout the South. In the North, Blacks did not suffer quite so many indignities, but their lot was generally poor, and they were largely ignored by the White population. By the middle of the twentieth century, after Blacks had played important roles in two world war victories, and many Blacks had migrated from the rural agricultural South to northern industrial cities, American society was forced to come to terms with its continuing mistreatment of the Black population.

In the years following the Second World War growing numbers of Blacks (as well as sympathetic Whites) rallied to the cause of the Civil Rights Movement, which called for an end to the injustices perpetrated against Blacks (especially, but not exclusively, in the South) and for the participation of Blacks in American society as full citizens. The struggle to achieve these goals was led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., whose effective strategy of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance was inspired by that of Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for Indian independence. By the late

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