Affirmative action in political science

Affirmative Action and its Impact on Diversity Upsc

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is a principle to promote societal equality through the preferential treatment of socially and economically disadvantaged people.

Mostly, these people are disadvantaged for historical reasons, such as oppression or slavery.

Support for affirmative action has sought to achieve a range of goals:

  • Bridging inequalities in employment and pay;
  • Increasing access to education;
  • Enriching state, institutional, and professional leadership with the full spectrum of society;
  • Redressing apparent past wrongs, harms, or hindrances and in particular addressing the apparent social imbalance left in the wake of slavery and slave laws.

For example, a 2017 study found that affirmative action in the United States of America “there is an increase in the share of black employees over time: in 5 years after an establishment is first regulated.”

History of affirmative action

Affirmative action has a long history in the USA, which dates back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The first major action case was Brown vs Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court rules that segregated schools were unconstitutional.

United States of America

There was still sustained discrimination on the basis of colour till the later period of the Twentieth century. This raised Civil Rights agitations there.

Following this Affirmation Action was introduced by John F. Kennedy in the 1960s in the United States of America. This was called Executive Order 10925.

Executive Order 10925

Through this order, Govt requested the employers not to discriminate against their employees or candidates on the basis of race, creed, colour, or national origin.

This order was replaced by another order 11246 in the year 1965. By this, the Federal Government commit “to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each executive department and agency”.

In the U.S., affirmative action’s basic purpose was to pressure institutions into compliance with the nondiscrimination mandate of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Affirmation Action was extended to women in 1967.

United Nations

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stipulates that affirmative action programs may be required for all countries that ratified the convention, in order to rectify systematic discrimination.

It states, however, that such programs “shall in no case entail as a consequence of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives are achieved.

“The United Nations Human Rights Committee states that “the principle of equality sometimes requires State parties to take affirmative action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which cause or help to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Covenant.

Social Justice Laws in South Africa

Following the transition to democracy in 1994, South Africa chose to implement affirmative action through legislation to correct previous imbalances.

As such, all employers were compelled by law to employ previously disenfranchised groups (blacks, Indians, and Coloured).

By this, the companies employing more than 50 people have to design and implement plans to improve the workforce demographics and report them to the Department of Labour.

Employment Equity also forms part of a company’s Black Economic Empowerment scorecard. Moreover, the Supreme Court has ruled that in principle blacks may be favored.


China followed some sort of affirmative action in education for minority nationalities.


Quota systems existed in the USSR for various social groups including ethnic minorities, women, and factory workers for access to university education, and offices in the former Soviet Union.

Affirmative Action in India

Affirmative action in India is commonly known as reservation. It is a form of affirmative action designed to improve the well-being of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and other backward classes (OBC). This reservation is based on caste.

As per the constitution of India, in Government run education institutions and in government jobs, 50% of seats are reserved for SC/ST and OBC. Also, 10% of seats are reserved for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS).

History of affirmative action in India

The history of affirmative action in India dates back to the British period. The British colonial government started to implement policies to improve the status of the so-called “Untouchables“.

These “Untouchables” were at the bottom of the Hindu caste hierarchy. The policies made by the British colonial government include:

  • Establishment of separate schools and colleges for untouchables.
  • Quotas for Untouchables in government jobs.
  • Also, Panchami lands are assigned to Dalits.