Tuesday, June 6, 2006


For a just & competitive society
From The Statesman

Quotas and reservations in India are merely populist measures to win votes for the next election; they would never churn up the backward classes to the fore. Even if some people were put on the creamy surface, they would go down unless they are intellectually prepared and enabled to stay on the top in a competitive environment.
The quota and reservation system is one of the biggest frauds being committed against historically deprived classes. This is the way to keep them down forever. The best way to raise them high is through a system of challenge and response; by providing them access through merit and need-based scholarships so that backward class kids can compete in the marketplace. Let’s keep in mind that historically deprived people are not genetically deprived.
Like India, the USA is an imperfect and messy democracy. The goal of inclusiveness, not merely desegregation, has been a struggle for every generation. Time and time again, the US Supreme Court has played a critical role in bringing the American people back to the basics, the vision of the founding fathers of an integrated society.
The Supreme Court is not only the ultimate authority in the interpretation of the Constitution; it has become the supreme moral authority in the USA. “In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.”
That was the opinion of the US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor regarding the affirmative action admission policy of the University of Michigan (23 June 2003). Justice O’Connor, who occupied a middle-of-the road open-minded position on the US Supreme Court, has retired but her legacy lives on.
When the Supreme Court speaks, the question of what is right and what is wrong is settled until the next time when another crisis brings the nine justices together to ponder over and argue once again what the Constitution means, after all. Its decisions are seldom unanimous and the voice of dissenting justices is never lost.
Even a lone dissenting opinion might become the voice of the Court majority in another time when the mode of consciousness of the society changes. That’s why there is so much partisan political struggle as to who gets appointed to the Supreme Court.
But by and large the Court is both a reactive and creative institution. It listens and questions; but when it does speak everyone listens.
That’s how it bonds American society whenever it seems to be coming apart, for example, in the 2000 presidential election. On 23 June 2003, the Supreme Court spoke about the affirmative action policy of the University of Michigan and its decision has impacted every private and public institution as well as businesses in their recruitment practices. Its decision has not gone unnoticed by Indian commentators struggling with the recently proposed nationwide quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) for admission to Central universities.
One of the US Supreme Court decisions involved the University of Michigan Law School that used a method of admission in which race was included as one of the factors. The Court upheld the practice thus affirming the 1978 (the Bakke case) decision that allowed race to be considered as one of the many factors, a “plus” factor, for admission, emphasising that diversity enriches the educational environment.
The Court did not endorse the idea of a quota for any race. The Court was, however, troubled with the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts, which used a point system that automatically granted 20 points to a minority student (Blacks, Hispanics or Native Americans) toward a minimum of 100 (on a scale of 150) required for admission. The plaintiffs had complained of reverse discrimination that disqualified otherwise qualified white students. In this case a 6-3 majority led by the late Chief Justice Rhenquest called the numerical system not good enough to enrich diversity.
An individualised admission programme would consider the whole person, including race as a factor among others. In the Law School case, Justice O’Connor wrote for the 5-4 majority: “Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civil life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realised…. Access to legal education (and thus the legal profession) must be inclusive of talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity so that all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational instructions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America.”
Since the enactment of Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans have been given a legal recourse to fight against discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex or national origin. It has opened many doors for minorities to advance in fields that were shut on them. The United States Military wouldn’t be what it is today without affirmative action. It is the biggest field of “the American Dream” and minorities are drawn to it with the hope that service to the nation would open up opportunities for them.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell, a retired army general, exemplified what a person could achieve once affirmative action opened a door. But his successor, secretary of state Dr Condoleezza Rice, another black person, has risen to international prominence on sheer guts and merit.
American businesses, too, have embraced diversity as something good for them to succeed in a multi-cultural global environment. The Supreme Court heard myriad briefs filed in support of the University of Michigan, and the Court’s decision embodies their collective voice: Diversity is a compelling national interest. But neither corporate America nor any social group has ever advocated that diversity and social justice should be achieved through a system of quotas and reservations for historically deprived classes, as it is being done in India.

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog


    "No! Let’s join the self-proclaimed snobs protesting with slogans “Remember your place”, polishing shoes and cleaning premises? Let’s pretend not to see it at all! Damn Reservations!"