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Routes to Social Justice

Ashwini Deshpande

Edited by Zoya Hasan  and Martha C. Nussbaum
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. xii+273, Rs.745.00


This volume is the product of a conference with the same title jointly organized by the University of Chicago and Jawaharlal Nehru University, held in New Delhi in 2008. Given that affirmative action (AA) in the two countries being considered by this volume, indeed the world over, is extremely contentious, any scholarly input which sheds some light to illuminate the tortuous routes to social justice is indeed welcome. This volume contains essays by scholars such as Thomas E. Weisskopf and Satish Deshpande, who have a longstanding, constructive engagement with the plethora of issues related to understanding the contemporary nature of caste disparities and discrimination, and possible remedies to these problems. Most essays talk about either one or both countries; there is one essay which comments on the South African experience. The various essays raise important issues, well known in the international AA literature. The first set of issues relates to the conceptualization of justice. Henry Richardson, in the opening essay, outlines three ideas. The first one is the Rawlsian notion of basic needs for all. The second one is the injustice of domination, which is defined as some individuals being subjected to the arbitrary will of others. This produces vulnerability, but may or may not produce actual harm to the groups or individuals being dominated. The third one is the injustice due to subordination, which unlike the previous one, not only produces vulnerability, but actual harm based on what is called ‘misrecognition’. There are, of course, other notions of justice or fairness, over and above these three. The one that Richardson examines specifically is that of ‘equality of opportunity to all individuals’ which underlies several of the Indian legal debates, and is specifically used not only by proponents of AA but also its opponents, viz., the argument that quotas based on caste deny individuals from non-beneficiary groups a fair chance to compete. Richardson shows how this idea, what he calls a simple fairness requirement, is a necessary component of social justice, but might not be sufficient to shape AA or positive discrimination policies. In addition to his other suggestions, Richardson draws our attention to the fact that the simple fairness requirement neg-lects other requirements of justice, specifically the three elements which he outlines in the beginning of the chapter—ensuring basic needs, removal of domination and subordination. He also highlights the need to define justice by the site where it would ...

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