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Stigma or Red Tape? Roadblocks in the Use of Affirmative Action

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Affirmative action in India is largely caste-based and takes the form of quotas or reservations of seats in public institutions of higher education, government jobs and elected positions. Using a mixed methods research design, this paper examines whether and to what extent, additional stigmatization adversely affects the use of reservations for higher education or jobs. The quantitative analysis is based on a primary survey conducted by the author in the city of Delhi in 2014-15. The empirical analysis focuses on differences in perception of additional stigma of affirmative action between two groups: individuals from the Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Dalits, who belong to castes that are already highly stigmatized, to those from Other Backward Classes (OBCs) who belong to castes and communities that might be low-ranked, but not necessarily stigmatized. The results indicate that a greater proportion of SCs use reservations at least once as compared to OBCs, and a higher score in Class XII (the school leaving examination) increases the probability that individuals will avail of reservations. As a reason behind the non-use of reservations, between 9 and 16% of the non-users cite stigma as a reason. Overall, bureaucratic red tape and lack of information constitute much more substantial reasons for the non-use of reservations compared to stigma. Non-use of quotas due to possible additional stigmatization is a bigger factor for OBCs compared to SCs. The paper also contains qualitative accounts based on in-depth interviews of 61 individuals, who got into college on reserved seats, and successfully completed their chosen course of study. These detailed accounts give insights into institutional barriers that pose challenges to the full assimilation of affirmative action beneficiaries, as well as highlight the multiple layers of disadvantage that they battle with.

Image: IRD