Corrective and Affirmative Action in India – a Critical Look

“If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago, and a racist today.”
-Thomas Sowell

Shocked? No, one should not! This is the truth and is quite appropriate to the present caste, religion, region base political equation in India, where equality is by and large replaced by Corrective and Affirmative Action. This is a post independent phenomena, recently hyped and politicized by the politicians; simply one has to accept this without much uproar.

In the recent past, there was a debate and huge uproar on some thing similar, that sparked after the new reservation policy on Higher Education and Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh’s statement on reservation on private sectors in India. Some argue that these are Corrective and Affirmative Action and are necessary, some say that these are preferential treatment to a section of the society. Since, quite a large part of the society do not understand the terms Corrective Action and Affirmative Action, let us first understand these terms and then discuss critically Corrective and Affirmative Action in India.

Corrective Action is a change or correction that is desired and implemented by the management of the system to counter the weakness or nonconformity or abnormalities of the system. In practice, it is implemented in response to the abnormalities of the system; has two basic steps, (a) identifying the abnormalities and (b) identifying the countermeasures. Depending upon the nature of the abnormalities and the response of the management, corrective actions are either temporary or permanent. Though corrective action should address the root cause of the nonconformity of the system, it does not happen in most of the cases due to various reasons.

On a similar note, Affirmative Action is a set of policies or remedial measures to counter the dominant part of the system, by promoting the non-dominant or minority (be in caste or religion or race) of the system through education and/or employment. Eventhough both corrective action and affirmative action are controversial and are not acceptable to a majority of the system, they are being implemented to counter the imbalance of the majority vs. minority in the system; some times desired, some times politically motivated.

Those who are opposing corrective and affirmative action, used to argue, that the evils or the social injustice of the past were committed by and against the persons of the past which are irreversible. By the means of corrective action, one can neither punish the perpetrators of the past nor can compensate the victims of the past. The injustice was already done in the past, needs to be checked at the present. But, by promoting a particular section of the society as a means of affirmative action, we are also repeating the evils of the past on a different set of people. One has to remember that the march of social justice does not begin with the proposal of affirmative action, and it will not end with its entrenchment. In fact, in the name of social justice and affirmative action, the possibility of sacrificing justice to its negation is very high.

So far so good. Both parties are right in their argument. But, what is important at this stage is how to proceed with both parties; with equal measure or with corrective and affirmative measure? This is quite relevant at this stage and is a matter of concern for all of us. It is true, that any civilized person will not oppose to the uplift-ment of the backward, poor and minority section of the society, if, that does not happen at the cost of the progress of the other. Therefore, it is critical and crucial; how to proceed with both the majority and the minority, the poor and the rich, the backward and the forward and to achieve social justice in the society. The relevance of this in Indian context is the point of debate here.

The major affirmative action or corrective action in Indian context one can think of is “Education for all and 100% literacy“. No one in India will deny that we lack in terms of basic education and literacy as compared to others. The country wide literacy rate is around 60%, whereas it is even less than 50% in some parts of India. With 60% or less literacy how do we expect to reach the every Indian? When the youth literacy rate is around 71%, how do we prepare ourselves to counter countries like China (where youth literacy rate about 99%) in future? When the illiterate common man does not understand and does not know the schemes drafted for him, how do we expect reaction for him? By drafting the schemes at the parliament or at the planning commission level, our responsibilities do not get over. In fact responsibility starts at that very point; to complete the process and to implement the scheme.

In this scenario, the first and foremost task of ours is to bring all kids to school (though we succeed by enrolling 96% kids) and teach the illiterate through different means. This will at least make them in a position to understand the schemes designed for them and can get benefited out of that. But, what have we done in this direction? We spend just 3.5% of our GDP on education, way below China’s 8%. If you see the statistics, there are people in India who are still untouched by the modern society; modern education system has not reached them, forget about sanitary condition and health care. The number of schools we have in India are not enough; forget about the quality of education there. English medium education is still confined to the cities. In the name of free primary education, wasting of taxpayers’ money is enormous. Education for girl child is still a far reach and that too is not encouraging even in the civilized section of the society. Don’t we think we need corrective action on the above issues?

The other problem we witness is the shortage of quality teachers. Not that we do not have quality people available, but the attitude of us towards teaching is not there. The salary structure for the teachers is not at all encouraging. In the name of Sarvasikshya Abhijan (Education for All), new teachers are getting appointed at a monthly salary of Rs 600/- (i.e., Rs 20/- per day 😦 ) at the primary school level, which is even less than the monthly remuneration of unskilled labors. Even then, 20+ people apply for a single teaching post, not because they all are interested, but because of the un-employment in the society. Corrective action too is required on this issue.

The facilities for the students at the school level is also not at all encouraging. Many schools do not have even the basic infrastructure; no chair, no table, no toilets and even no roof. The midday food programme is also not properly implemented in many schools (mid day food programme is in fact the main attraction for the kids to come to school in many places). To attract more kids to school, we need to motivate their parents first and the society second through social awareness. Once we get more students (even though not 100% success) we can motivate them for higher education through proper guidance. But, we lack at this very basic point. We do not have a planned guidance system/scheme for the students and we do not do much to stop the dropouts of students at various level. The percentage of dropping of students is about 40% at the primary level and over 33% high school students complete graduation. This has to be looked into. Without proper education, we cannot grow. For the growth of the country, we need trained man power, be it trained labor in the industry sector or trained farmer in farming or trained educators at various places or the intellectuals. The number of trained manpower needs to increased. Unless, we stop the dropouts at or after school, and provide education to all through corrective and affirmative actions, where do we get the required manpower?

College education is also necessary for growth. But, in India, college education is not that accessible to all. Even if it is accessible, the quality of education is not that good as compared to that of developing countries or developed countries. Technical education is still a far away reach for the common man. The present form of college education does not ensure any form of employment opportunity in most of the cases. We still do not give enough importance to basic research. The faculty crunch is clearly visible. Encouraging the youth to opt for teaching and/or research is not exhibitive. If we need 10% GDP growth, don’t we need to have more corrective measure by giving importance to value based education and affirmative measure by encouraging the youth to opt for research and teaching?

The other major problem which we are facing is the caste based reservation policy. Yes, it is right, that there are people from various castes who are underprivileged and are backward. They have still not come at par with their other fellow Indians. It is our responsibility to bring them to the main stream, to bring them to the mass. But, why to make that politicized? Why to make caste as the only factor for reservation? There are people form other castes too who cannot afford to be a part of the main stream and are socially and economically backward. Don’t we think we too have the responsibility to bring them to the main stream? But, does that happen in the corrective or affirmative steps we are taking through reservation? Don’t we think it is too crucial for the growth? In fact, with caste based reservation we too support castism, further divide the society based on caste and add fuel to the age old caste based divisions. Those have already availed the reservation and have joined the mainstream, don’t we think we should not give further reservation to them? Let the people who are really underprivileged and need reservation avail this, not the privileged ones. A serious discussion and brainstorming thought is of curse required on this.

Many of us still do not understand the rationality of reservation at higher education level and that too after 60 years of independence based on some 70 years old data-base. Simple political! When we do not give as much opportunity as required to the unprivileged at the school level and bring them even to secondary school level, what is the rationality of reservation at higher education? Instead of giving reservation at the higher education level, let us give opportunity to them and prepare them at the primary school level, at higher secondary level and at the under graduation level. By stopping the dropouts at the school level and bringing them to higher education level, we can reach to the mass in a more effective way, which will have definitely better impact than giving reservation at higher education.

On a slightly different note, there were concerns and differences in the recent past arose due to reservation at the private sectors. Most of the private sectors are opposing to the caste based reservation at their places. To survive in a competitive market, they should be given a fair chance to decide their own action and whom should they hire? They should not be forced with reservation. Instead, they should be encouraged and directed to provide resources for better school and other facilities at least till the higher secondary level. This is similar to forcing the major telecom operators to provide basic services in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharastra and Rajasthan, which is definitely a success in India. Similar schemes can be duplicated by various sectors and the affirmative action or corrective action can reach to the ground level.

For better implementation, let there be an independent survey by a group comprising representative from NGOs, Govt and Private industries on the need and method of affirmative action or corrective action required in India. Taking a decision based on some recent survey, not on 70 years old survey, is definitely desired, if we are serious about the development and social uplift-ment in the society.

Aamjunta – what do you say? It is time for you to act!

PS: The author is grateful to many like minded people who shared their thoughts through various means during the course of the writing of this article.

6 Responses

  1. Being an outsider, I think reservation are pretty bad. If you look at the USA, it has african americans who are not in a well placed position, Imagine how bad it will go it USA administration where to pass reservations to them. It will not work. What should be done is extend money or supprort at primary level education.

  2. In the dirty game of politics,is anyone really concerned about the aamjunta????They only recognize “Note” and “Vote”,nothing else.How does Reservation matters to them,b’coz their children and near n dears are never going to be affected.
    Here nothing is as per their definition.We all can see that daily.We say we are developing,bt in wht terms????Everyday we see the faces begging in the signal,child labour,homeless old parents….a lot more…..Laws and clauses are made everywhere, but who is ensuring these are implemented.Even that 3.5 % of our GDP is not properly utilized on education.Visit aSchool in remote villages,you can better understand.
    If we talk about quality of teacher in Govt. Primary school, i am sorry to say they are not by choice bt by chance.tht Rs.600 is worth livelyhood for them.for quality you Govt need to increase Salary,provide infrastucture…etc bt still who is going to opt for this option???U,I, he or she????wht abt our abitions ,our parents dreams???? we all think big, who among us will think of moving to a remote village to produce qualitative human resource for Future India????Start thinking now, if u cant atleast ask the next generation???Everything thing here is under process, soon will be realized.if not,then dont worry, the best quality we Human have, we never stop dreaming.Still we hope,learn from mistakes,fight against time,struggle with luck and life moves on.The one thing we all can do boost the morality of our People to move ahead to achieve their dreams inspite of all the odds.”Mann mai hai Biswas ,pura hai biswas Hum honge kamiyab ek din.Jay Hind”.

    Thanx for this lovely article,i would request the readers plz give a thougth while you are reading.

  3. The Common man always suffers. See, how “(a)dhikkar diwas” was celebrated in UP. Both the ruling party and the opposition are fighting with each other, creating hells for the common man. The funny thing is that the same parties gets united, when they want power. Garibi bhagao ki nara unki ghar se hi suru hota hai… shame on them. Jago aamjunta 🙂 jago…

  4. corrective action in India means division in the line of caste, religion and culture. Affirmative action means subsidy. This is our vision. yehi vichar chal aa raha hai.

  5. Great pieces. Keep writing such kind of information on your page.
    I’m really impressed by it. You have performed an excellent job.

  6. Hi there, I log on to your new stuff regularly.
    Your story-telling style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

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