Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2012
The History of the Debate
The 50s and 60s saw radical changes in the very conception of civil liberties in nations all over the world. On the one hand, there were western nations like USA, where people started recognising the injustices that have been inflicted on minorities and felt the need to make up for these years of injustice. On the other hand, there were nations like India, which were just coming out of colonial rule and were feeling the need to recast the entire social network by removing discriminatory practices from society, which proved to be real obstacles to the progress of the newly formed nation. This was done again by making up for years of oppressive practices against socially disadvantaged sections like women, backward castes and tribes, and minorities. It was felt that the country could not progress as an independent developing nation if a large section of the population still lived under social oppression. Statesmen and builders of constitutions all over the world started speaking about preferential treatment or reservation policies, or what is known as ‘affirmative action’. All these involve positive steps taken by governments to increase the representation of socially discriminated sections of people like women, minorities, ethnic or racial groups or castes in areas of employment, education and business, from which they have been historically excluded. This affirmative action seemed to be at that point of history as a morally commendable effort towards rendering compensatory justice to sections of people who have for generations been subjected to abject discrimination, oppression and injustice.