India is a nation with a population of over 1.3 billion, where a significant proportion of the populace confronts socioeconomic disparities. To combat these issues, India has adopted affirmative action measures aimed at providing opportunities to underprivileged groups that have been historically disadvantaged. The efficacy and ethical implications of this policy have been the subject of extensive discussions. In this article, we will examine the advantages and disadvantages of affirmative action in India, and assess its effectiveness in promoting a more equitable society.


The idea of affirmative action in India was introduced through the Constitution of 1950, which mandated reservation or preferential treatment for certain groups. Originally, the primary focus of this policy was to address the challenges faced by Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), who have endured systemic discrimination and poverty. Subsequently, the policy’s scope   was broadened to include other marginalized groups like women, religious minorities, and people with disabilities.[1]

Despite its potential to promote greater social equity, the policy of affirmative action in India has been the subject of intense debate. On one hand, supporters argue that affirmative action is necessary to counteract long-standing inequities and promote social justice. On the other hand, opponents claim that the policy leads to ‘reverse discrimination’ by denying opportunities to individuals who are not part of the designated groups. Moreover, there are concerns about the effectiveness of affirmative action in achieving its intended goals. Some critics argue that it has failed to address deep-rooted social inequalities and instead created a system of quotas that do not account for merit-based selection. Others argue that the policy’s focus on specific groups has resulted in resentment and tensions between communities.

Despite the controversies surrounding the policy, affirmative action in India remains a crucial tool in addressing historical injustices and promoting greater social inclusion. Nonetheless, there is a need for ongoing evaluation of the policy to ensure that it remains relevant and effective in addressing the needs of the most marginalized communities.


Affirmative action in India has several advantages. Firstly, it provides a much-needed boost to historically disadvantaged groups, helping to level the playing field and promote greater equality. Education, employment opportunities, and other resources become more accessible to these groups through the policy. Another positive outcome of affirmative action is the reduction of discrimination in India. The policy eliminates discriminatory practices by offering opportunities that were previously denied to certain groups, promoting a more inclusive society.

Lastly, affirmative action fosters a sense of unity among different groups in India by emphasizing the importance of creating an equal society. This helps to eliminate the perception of certain groups as ‘different’ and creates a feeling of solidarity among all citizens.[2]


There are several critiques of affirmative action in India. Firstly, it is argued that the policy creates a system of ‘reverse discrimination’ by giving preferential treatment to certain groups, which could potentially deny access to opportunities for those who are not part of the designated groups. Another criticism is that the policy fails to address the root causes of poverty and inequality in India. By solely focusing on providing preferential treatment to certain groups, the policy may not adequately address the underlying causes of inequality in the country.

Finally, some critics argue that the policy is a form of ‘tokenism’. This means that certain groups are given preferential treatment to give the impression that action is being taken to address inequality. However, in reality, little is actually being done to tackle the issue.[3]


Despite facing some criticisms, affirmative action in India has generally been regarded as a success. Empirical studies have demonstrated that this policy has had a positive impact on enhancing employment and educational opportunities for those belonging to disadvantaged groups. Furthermore, the policy has contributed to mitigating the prevalence of discrimination in Indian society.[4] Moreover, affirmative action has also helped to enhance the Indian economy. It has led to the creation of a more competitive labour market where employers are increasingly willing to hire workers from historically underrepresented groups. As a result, this inclusive approach has promoted higher levels of economic productivity and growth, leading to a reduction in poverty and inequality across the country.


The affirmative action policy in India has encountered several challenges, despite its successes. One significant challenge has been the difficulty of implementing the policy effectively and equitably. This is because the policy must be executed in a way that avoids creating a system of ‘reverse discrimination’, while still ensuring that individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to resources and opportunities. Furthermore, the policy has also faced legal challenges in recent years. It has been the subject of multiple court cases, with opponents arguing that it violates fundamental principles of equality and fairness. Consequently, the policy has been weakened in some cases, and its effectiveness has been limited.


The policy of affirmative action in India has been a subject of significant moral and ethical debate. While some people believe it is a necessary tool to fight discrimination and promote equality, others view it as a form of reverse discrimination that denies opportunities to individuals who do not belong to designated groups. It is important to recognize that the policy’s ultimate goal is to create a more equal society. However, its implementation must be both effective and equitable to achieve this goal. Therefore, it is up to each individual to form their opinion on affirmative action in India, keeping in mind its intended purpose and how it should be executed to maximize its impact.


In conclusion, the policy of affirmative action in India is a complex and contentious issue. On the one hand, the policy has been credited with helping to reduce discrimination and inequality in the country. On the other hand, it has been criticised for creating a system of ‘reverse discrimination’ and for failing to address the underlying causes of poverty and inequality. Ultimately, it is up to individuals to decide whether or not they support the policy, but it is important to remember that its primary goal is to create a more equal society.

Author(s) Name: Arnab Sarkar (O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat)


[1] S Biswas, ‘Is Affirmative Action in India Becoming a Gimmick?’ (BBC News, 10 January 2019) <>  accessed 27 February 2023

[2] Janhit Abhiyan v Union Of India (2022) Writ Petition (Civil) No 55/2019

[3] Mukesh Kumar v The State of Uttarakhand (2020) Civil Appeal No. 1226/2020

[4] R. Kapoor, ‘The Shortcomings of Affirmative Action in India- a Chapter on Caste’ (Feminism in India, 18 September 2019) <>  accessed 27 February 2023

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