Author: Gauri Budhiraja
Research Coordinator, GCTC
Areas of interest: Internal Violence, Counter-Terrorism, India, the Middle East Region,
Defense,Strategic Studies and Global Peace
Affirmative action essentially refers to policies and practices that seek to increase the representation and welfare of particular social groups based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed, nationality, and caste (in India) in social spheres in which they are underrepresented. Affirmative action policies have been set up to bridge inequalities, promoting diversity, and amending past wrongs. The reservation system in India is one such striking example of affirmative action policies. It uses a quota system whereby a certain percentage of govt jobs, political positions, and school vacancies are reserved for SCs, STs, OBCs, people belonging to the EWS category, and in some cases, the women as well.
Since independence, India, from time to time, has witnessed various instances of internal violence. The major incidents include the 1969 Gujarat riots, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the 1989 Bhagalpur riots, 1989 Kashmir violence, Godhra train burning, 2002 Gujarat riots, 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, 2020 Delhi riots, and the most recent one being the post-poll violence in West Bengal.
A close study of the latest incident reflects that among the 28 Indian states, West Bengal has a considerable share of SCs, STs, and OBCs as a part of its population. When it comes to policies for affirmative action, the state might have exceeded its 50% cap on reservations for welfare, representation, and upliftment of such social groups on papers. Still, the reality paints an opposite picture. In recent years, the rich Bengali fraternity that comprised an amalgamation of art, literature, social reforms, and politics has been tainted by communal violence. The recent Bengal assembly polls in which TMC emerged victoriously have left in their wake offenses of rape, sexual harassment and assault, targeting scheduled castes and tribes, and plunder of homes and shops. These are the worst manifestations of post-poll violence ever witnessed by the nation.
Media reports indicate this being an act of violence in electoral vengeance against the individuals who exercised their democratic right to vote in favour of one ideological group over the other. The pivotal question raised here is why do those affected belong to the lowermost rungs in the societal hierarchy? Despite affirmative action policies, the beneficiaries are the ones that stand to lose the most.
A close examination of the victims of such events presents a picture that strongly supports this communal bias while simultaneously undermining the strong foundation stone of democracy on which the constitution of India is based. Thus, such events are essentially weakening the institutional buffers of both democracy and federalism.
The mass violence of people due to state-supported violence has caused pressing humanitarian issues linked to their survival. They are compelled to live in terrible conditions, in violation of their fundamental rights embodied in the Constitution of India under Article 21.
To prevent further deterioration, the Supreme Court has constituted a special investigation team to probe the issue of no investigation and police inaction and take action against the culprits in the alleged “state-sponsored” violence. The NHRC and NCW are parties to the same, considering the large share of Dalits and women among the victims.
Furthermore, providing long-term relief to the internally displaced persons affected due to the brutality by rehabilitating them in the society, equipping them with livelihood, property and compensating them for the loss of their family members, mental and emotional, should be done. In addition, establishing fast-track courts for quick redressal of problems related to violations of rights of SCs, STs and OBCs can also be considered a positive step in affirming their rights.