There is a very fundamental difference between 'affirmative action' and the so called 'quotas'

There is a difference between quotas and affirmative action do we get itImage: Vice President of India website
news Friday, September 04, 2015 - 17:29

By Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

"Affirmative action" is a governmentally required positive effort, beyond elimination of discrimination, to seek out and employ persons of groups that have been discriminated against.

It is a requirement now imposed on all Federal contractors, which includes almost all employers. Now required as part of a program of affirmative action are "goals" and "timetables" - how many of each protected group the employer hopes to add in a given period of time.

The failure to reach a goal in a given time will not necessarily be considered evidence of discrimination if the contractor can show "good faith" efforts to reach the goal.

There is no reason why the principle of affirmative action should not apply to the admissions practices of institutions of higher education--they are also prohibited from discriminating--and goals and timetables imposed on them, too, though up to now that has not been done.

Thus I consider not only the special problems of the use of goals and timetables to hasten the employment of faculty in universities and colleges, but the validity of this approach in general, for all employers, and for the processes of admission to institutions of higher education.- Nathan Glazer ,Harvard University

I have been listening to the voluble debates on 'affirmative action'  triggered by Vice-President Hamid Ansari's remarks that the Muslims in India have been left so much behind on all socio-economic parameters that an affirmative action initiative was called for to ensure that they do not lose out any further.

These debates have been fierce and bad tempered. The Vice-President was censured by a section which had drawn the inference that this was a call for institution of Muslim quotas which they were vehemently opposed to. Arnab Goswami seemed to belong to this group. On the other hand were politicians from the MIM and similar organizations who again believed that this was indeed a call to introduce Muslim quotas which were justified and needed.

Both groups were way off the mark. There is a very fundamental difference between 'affirmative action' and the so called 'quotas' . As the renowned sociologist Theodor Adorno had to say - An affirmative action goal provides a target to strive for and to measure the success of your recruitment efforts.A quota indicates that the result is pre-determined and inflexible.

Having lived in the United States for several years, I have myself been a witness to the efficacy of affirmative action in that country. Most Afro-Americans, Hispanics and women now in positions of authority would not have made it had it not been for affirmative action measures -and they freely acknowledge it. The remarkable feature here is that most of these disadvantaged groups have fiercely opposed quotas as a solution. Martin Luther King Jr.and Malcolm X were completely opposed to quotas.

It was therefore with a sense of disbelief I witnessed the tenor of the these recent debates in India. Even a senior journalist like Arnab did not seem to appreciate the difference between the two widely different concepts.

It is widely accepted that Muslims indeed have lost out and are consequently not in position to collectively enjoy the benefits of the rights the Constitution generously confers upon them. We can have a debate on how to ameliorate this -affirmative action or some other measure.

But let us understand the Vice-President's anguish - that about one sixth of the total population is in throes of backwardness and we ignore this at our own peril.