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Mitigating Differences

Rama V. Baru

Edited by Elaine Kennedy-Dubourdieu
Ashgate, London, 2006, pp. 200, price not stated.


The book under review brings together the experiences of affirmative action from different parts of the world and offers rich insights from a comparative perspective. The countries covered include the United States, Britain, Canada, India, Britain, Northern Ireland, Australia and South Africa where various forms of state led affirmative policies have been implemented for varying periods. The underlying motivation of these policies has been to promote greater social cohesion and equality for ethnic and racial minorities who are socially excluded and discriminated.   World over, affirmative policies have evoked debate and in many cases violent reactions from the upper and middle classes. This has been seen in the debate over race and affirmative action in the US and more recently in India with the extension of reservations in higher education to backward castes. In the latter there has been protests led by middle and upper caste students who have been vociferous in their opposition to the new affirmative policies. In many of these situations affirmative action has been reduced to the implementation of quotas hence the public debate has been polarized between those who support or oppose quotas. The essence of affirmative action that is supposed to address social exclusion and promote cohesion and equality gets sidelined. The country experiences in this book highlight the complexity of the subject where quotas are just one of the many issues that are included under affirmative policies. This book is therefore an important contribution to the ongoing debate on affirmative action in favour of racial and ethnic groups across these selected countries. While it is true that the historical circumstances that warranted policies for promoting social cohesion is extremely varied across these countries, the recognition that discrimination and inequality exist, they need to be corrected and what are the strategies that have been tried to correct it, is sufficient ground for cross country experiences.   Each of these country studies provides the historical context that necessitated affirmative action and also the praxis of the policies. Whether in the US, Canada or India the need for affirmative policies was seen as necessary and conscious efforts were made in the social, judicial and legal domains to define and implement it. It has not been a smooth process in any of these countries because it is being constantly contested by the upper and middle classes who want to maintain status quo.   The two basic principles that are at ...

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