Social Science Baha

Caste Discrimination and Exclusion: Assessment of Affirmative Action as a Remedy

Ashwini Deshpande

The paper begins with a summary of evidence on economic disparities between broad caste groups. Measuring disparity is relatively straightforward; estimating discrimination is not. I briefly discuss some of the latest methods for gauging economic discrimination, and present the evidence on discrimination in the Indian context. What this evidence reveals is that lip-service to merit notwithstanding, contemporary, formal, urban sector labour markets show a deep awareness of caste, religion, gender, and class cleavages, and that discrimination is very much a modern sector phenomenon, perpetuated in the present, not a thing of the past, nor is it confined only to the rural areas. Thus, caste discrimination is clear and persistent, and needs targeted interventions. The paper argues that affirmative action should be seen as one of the remedies for discrimination, and not an end-all cure, and that its impact should be assessed in that light. I then present some empirical assessments of affirmative action in India, in particular, examining the debate around its impact on productive efficiency. The paper ends with a discussion of affirmative action measures which could go beyond quotas.