The questions arise: are there better options than reservations or quotas in jobs and higher education? Don’t these measures encourage the beneficiaries of affirmative action to designate themselves as members belonging to preferred groups?

 

Don’t these measures make those sections of society that historically have been discriminated against feel that they have been elevated due to preferential treatment or positive discrimination on the basis of group allegiance rather than individual merit?

 

Won’t the poor upper caste people suffer due to reverse discrimination in favor of affluent well–to-do lower castes in India? Won’t they make the beneficiaries of the affirmative action lethargic or complacent? Won’t the upper caste people who are more productive and competent are losing their hope or migrating from the country?

 

If the students coming from a backward class were to know in advance that they would be accepted by higher education institutions or jobs under the reserved category or preferential treatment, would they still strive hard to perform their best? Won’t it aggravate further animosity if, despite reservation and preferential treatment, such students find students from the general category outperforming them?

 

Affirmative action in the name of race, caste or minority can have deeper psychological scars on the groups, according to who receives preferential treatment and who does not. Moreover, affirmative action in the name of diversity, has an ameliorating effect on both groups, preferred as well as non-preferred. Like mercy, it is “doubly blessed”. It leads to less passion and resentment. It gives due weight to students’ potential capabilities along with their realized capabilities reflected in high grades and scores on the basis of final examinations or common entrance tests.

 

Under the new measures, once admitted, the costs of poor performance are borne to a greater extent by the beneficiaries of affirmative action themselves and to a lesser extent by others. Enhancing access, equity and diversity in higher education do not mean that all must be treated as equal or exactly the same. Nor does it imply equal or proportional representation in all areas of jobs, higher education and institutional operations. It simply implies being systematically fair. Consideration for all on an equal footing requires that inequities, when they occur, should be justified by overall benefit and gains to all concerned and that they should be in the public interest. Some alternatives to affirmative action should also be devised to strike a balance between equity and equality, on the one hand, and individual gain and public accountability, on the other hand.