When policies of positive discrimination in favor of under-represented ethnic groups were first introduced in (independent) India and in the US, they enjoyed a great deal of public support. Over time the extent of the opposition has grown significantly in each country; positive discrimination has become an increasingly controversial issue and the subject of increasingly heated debate.
In this chapter I begin by reviewing in more detail the evolution of public opinion about affirmative action in the US and reservation policies in India. Then I go on to explore the particular arguments that have been made by proponents of positive discrimination (PD) policies, and those that have been advanced by opponents of these policies, in each country. In discussing the arguments made for and against positive discrimination, I will necessarily refer primarily to what people have written about the topic, i.e. what members of each society's elite have to say. Precisely because they express their views in writing, however, these elite are influential in shaping public opinion. Finally, I offer some observations about how and why the debate in each country about positive discrimination has changed over time. In this chapter-and in the rest of the book-I will focus attention on PD policies in the spheres of employment and education, where positive discrimination has proved to be most controversial.
In the early years after India gained independence there was clearly a great deal of public support for reservations in favor of Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). The idea of reserving places for members of disadvantaged groups, as a way of doing justice to those groups, had been legitimized and popularized during the British Raj. The extent to which positive discrimination was embedded in the constitution of independent India, in tension with its commitment to individual liberty, testifies to the degree of support it enjoyed.
The political leaders and constitution-makers of the Indian nationalist movement were mostly from the upper castes and in many ways rather elitist in outlook. Their institutionalization of reservation policies in favor of the