India is one of the few countries in the post-colonial world to have taken up the challenge of building an inclusive democracy in a highly diverse, multicultural, multilingual and multi-religious society. The establishment of democracy and universal adult suffrage in a hierarchical society characterised by unprecedented social inequality, deprivation and oppression has been a revolutionary principle, a bold experiment in political affairs – perhaps the most significant in a country. Nearly 60 years after Independence, India remains a major success story in respect of democracy and social inclusion, essentially due to the importance given to equality and social justice as the cardinal principles of contemporary political life.
The author says that the government has taken measures like reservations in government jobs for the OBCs in order to handle the caste question. But she laments that over the last decade or so, questions of inter-group equality and minority participation in the economy and polity within the framework of governance and development have not been adequately attended to. So she chooses to focus on comparison of the disparate experiences of lower castes and religious minorities and how these have shaped the politics of inclusion.
The first chapter of the book also examines the prevailing definition of social backwardness and the criteria of affirmative action in the context of evidence of disparity and deprivation of groups beyond castes. It explores both the historical and contemporary contexts of the strategies of inclusion. It says that an analysis of the situation in terms of progress of minorities can be useful in assessing the effectiveness of existing strategies and policies.
The book explores how the State in post-colonial India addressed the question of discrimination and exclusion suffered by disadvantaged groups, notably the Scheduled Castes and religious minorities. In particular it explains the policy of framework in relation to these groups and the divergences in policy and consequences of this for the protection of the disadvantaged. It attempts to delineate the policies as well as changes in the constellation of policies for these two groups while arguing that the “well-being of minorities has suffered due to a greater lack of attention to issues of institutionalised inequality and deprivation than is commonly supposed.”
It goes on to examine the extension of reservation to the OBCs and the rationale of reservation in relation to the debate over the desirability and flexibility of reservation to them. The book outlines the political context of the mergence of the backward-caste reservation issue in the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations on OBC reservations from 1994 onwards. Another segment devoted to the field of higher education in the context of the economic reforms and the growing importance of technical and professional education in the new economy.
The book concludes asking for a re-examination of the framework of affirmative action in the context of the demands for substantive equality of minorities. What the author wants is that since rapid economic and social changes in the past 15 years along with failure of economic growth to trickle down has led to increased inequalities, a revision of the whole system with the Indian State addressing the issues of under-representation and socio-economic disadvantage of minorities.
On reading this book one gets the impression that the author is essentially concerned with offer of greater political and socio-economic powers to the Muslims, under the pretext of fighting for the cause of other minorities.
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