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Comparison of Affirmative Actions in India and U.S. UPSC NOTE


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  • The U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-conscious student admissions programmes currently used at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

Comparison of affirmative actions in India and U.S.

  • The Indian and U.S. Constitutions are poles apart on how they treat affirmative action.

  • The U.S. Constitution is silent on it, prohibiting only the denial of “equal protection”

    • Leading to varied interpretations of this amorphous phrase depending on the sitting Justices.

  • The Indian Constitution is more clear.

  • Indian Constitution expressly allows affirmative action in favour of backward classes in matters of education (Article 15) and jobs (Article 16).

  • Article 16 expressly permits “reservations” in jobs, something that is unique to the Indian Constitution.

Formal equality:(U.S.)

  • The U.S. seeks to eliminate all distinctions based on race universally, the reason being equality cannot mean different things for different individuals. 

  • This applies even for affirmative action that may be justified to undo the historic discrimination faced by African Americans or Hispanics (or other groups). 

  • Thus, measures which treat one race as distinct from another in any manner, including a preference in education, are viewed strictly and against equality. 

  • This narrow view of equality is called a formal equality and prevents U.S. courts from allowing broad-based race conscious measures.

Substantive equality: (India)

  • India, on the other hand, does not treat all distinctions of race or caste alike. 

  • Certain classes such as the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes who have faced discrimination in the past are not considered on a level field with others. 

  • To help them to achieve equal opportunities it is imperative that they have access to reservation.

  • Reservation is not antithetical to equality, but a tool that furthers equality. This is called a substantive notion of equality.

  • Substantive notion of equality facilitates Indian Courts to pass pro-reservation judgments, in sync with the constitutional mandate. 

Test for constitutionality: (U.S.)

  • The U.S. has strict scrutiny of all measures that create distinctions based on race. 

  • This means a measure is constitutionally permissible only if it furthers a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve such interest. 

  • The only permissible state interest in the U.S. is the need for a diverse student body. 

  • Once this is established, it must be proved that the measure closely correlates to diversity. 

  • This is a high standard that makes it extremely difficult for universities to devise admission programmes that are favourable to the minority race. 

  • Any broad measures are viewed with great caution so that non-minority candidates are not disadvantaged at the cost of minority.

  • In stark contrast, Indian courts have a very different standard to meet under Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. 

  • ‘Education’ and ‘public employment’ are already enshrined in the Constitution as legitimate goals for reservation. 

  • Thus, the standard adopted by courts focuses on whether the class seeking reservation is socially and educationally backward, and inadequately represented. 

  • In employment, this requires proof of quantifiable data from the state. 

  • If these two criteria are met, even broad reservation measures are constitutional and the interests of the non-minority are instead taken care of by capping reservations at 50%.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Comparison of Affirmative Actions in India and U.S. UPSC NOTE
Comparison of Affirmative Actions in India and U.S. UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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