Affirmative Action for Muslims? Arguments, Contentions and Alternatives

Date01 December 2014
Published date01 December 2014
Subject MatterArticles
Military-Madrasa-Mullah Complex 215
India Quarterly, 66, 2 (2010): 133–149
A Global Threat 215
Affirmative Action for Muslims?
Arguments, Contentions
and Alternatives1
Mohd. Sanjeer Alam
India is one of the most unequal societies of the world. At the same time, it has the distinction of
having the longest history of affirmative action programmes for alleviating socio-economic inequalities.
Currently, three social groups—the Scheduled Castes (SCs), the Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the Other
Backward Classes (OBCs)—enjoy the benefits of affirmative action programmes, of reservation in par-
ticular. However, the demands to get acknowledged as ‘disadvantaged’ and for inclusion in the system of
affirmative action have not stopped. Of late, the demands for reservation for disadvantaged minorities,
Muslims in particular, have ignited intense and polarized debates. All this has not only complicated the
politics of ‘recognition’ and ‘redistribution’ but also affected the discourse on and capacity of existing
affirmative measures to tackle the issue of group-based disadvantages. Against this backdrop, the objec-
tive of this article is two-fold: (a) to get into the complexities underlying the idea of affirmative action for
Muslims; and (b) to move the debates on affirmative action beyond ‘one policy fits all’ perspective.
Affirmative action, backwardness, disadvantage, equal opportunity, minority, Muslims, OBCs, reservation
India has had a long history of social iniquities. It also has the distinction of having most comprehensive
and longest-running affirmative action programme (Galanter, 1984, 2004). Of late, while many countries
practicing one or the other form of affirmative action for the disadvantaged groups have succumbed to
criticism and backlashes, India has not only persisted with the system of reservation (the dominant form
of affirmative action), it has even gone ahead to expand reservation and affirmative action (Hasan and
Nussbaum, 2012; Sowell, 2004). And yet, affirmative action continues to ignite fierce and polarized
debates in academic and political circles. Demands to get acknowledged as ‘disadvantaged’ and for
inclusion in the system of affirmative action are put forth every now and then even by communities/
groups that have traditionally been relatively prosperous.2 Oddly enough, there are groups which wish to
be seen more disadvantaged than others and therefore they demand being moved from one ‘disadvan-
taged’ category to the other.3 In recent years, the demands for inclusion of the Muslim community as a
Mohd. Sanjeer Alam, Assistant Professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.
Studies in Indian Politics
2(2) 215–229
© 2014 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
Los Angeles, London,
New Delhi, Singapore,
Washington DC
DOI: 10.1177/2321023014551877

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