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Formed in 2000, the IDSN is a network of international organisations, national solidarity networks and affected country groups, campaigning against caste-based discrimination throughout the world, from the dalits of South Asia to the Osu of Nigeria and the Burakumin of Japan. Visit our website International Dalit Solidarity Network for more information. SUBMIT DALIT NEWS HERE

Thursday, June 16, 2005  
Affirmative action needs refocus

The Economic Times
15 June 2005

The measures suggested by private sector do not include definite ones against present exclusion and discrimination suffered by SCs in various markets including those for labour and capital. On May 25 a group of like-minded industrial houses issued a statement spelling out an affirmative action policy for SCs/STs. For the first time, the private sector recognised the historical denial of equal opportunities to SCs/STs for social, cultural and economic reasons. It also recognised the need for affirmative action to wipe out social and caste discrimination and to ensure equal opportunity for education, employment and earning a livelihood. This is a bold initiative which needs to be welcomed. The proposed action package includes measures for education and skill and entrepreneurship development among SC/ST youth. This is to be achieved through scholarships, company-run schools, partnership with government schools, vocational training — in-house as well as in partnership with ITIs — and vender development programmes. This sort of affirmative action assumes that the SC/ST youth needs to be made more productive so that their employability and entrepreneurial capacities are enhanced to enable them to make use of economic opportunities.

The education/skill/entrepreneurship-based affirmative action package in a way includes a few, if not all, of the basic measures for mitigating the consequences of historical denial of right to property, education and business to untouchables. It does not, however, include measures for providing safeguards against economic exclusion and discrimination in the present and hence an equal share and participation in employment, education and business and other spheres. The reservation/affirmative action policies in India and elsewhere have been designed not only to build human and resources capabilities of discriminated groups but also as proactive measures to give share to them. Why does the private sector take such an approach? The reasons are to be found in its understanding of the SC/ST problem. The private sector does recognise the impact of historical denial. However, it seems not to recognise the problem of continuing discrimination of SCs/STs in various markets. It apparently believes that markets operate in a non-discriminatory manner. It is this understanding which makes them suggest measures to compensate for historical denial of rights, while ignoring measures to ensure equal access and participation as a safeguard against the continuing caste-based discrimination.

The measures suggested by the private sector do not include definite ones against present exclusion and discrimination suffered by SCs/STs in various markets including those for labour and capital. They fail to recognise that the problem of discriminated groups like untouchables is two fold; one of lack of access to income earning capital assets and education due to denial in the past and two,the continuing exclusion and discrimination at present in various markets. This is sufficient evidence on the exclusionary working of employment market and other markets

In economic theory of discrimination, the market intervention policy in the form of reservation/affirmative action is justified not only to provide equal access to discriminated groups but also to overcome the market failures caused by discrimination to improve working of the markets for better economic outcomes. Given the pervasive character of societal discrimination, particularly against the low-caste untouchables, we require a reservation policy with multiple measures, namely legal safeguards in the form of Equal Opportunity Act, measure to ensure appropriate share in proportion to some criterion such as population. Compensatory measures for historical denial of rights, to provide safeguards against the existing practices of economic discrimination are also called for.

There is urgent need to mitigate the detrimental consequences of denial of economic and educational opportunities in the past. The CII, entrusted with the job of preparing a proposal, must take into account the insights from economic theory and our own and experiences of other countries and come with the package which would enhance education/skill /entrepreneurship. Access to resources and equal share to discriminated groups in employment, capital, education, input, product and consumer market must be secured. This would require some sort of legal provision and mentoring mechanism.
(The author is director, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies)

Link to the article

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