With Affirmative Action, India’s Rich Gain School Slots Meant for Poor
Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times
CHENNAI, India — The two women both claim that affirmative action cost them coveted spots at elite public universities. Both cases have now reached the Supreme Court.
One of the women, Abigail Fisher, 22, who is white, says she was denied admission to the University of Texas based on her race, and on Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court is to hear her plea in what may be the year’s most important decision. The other woman is from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and two weeks ago the Indian Supreme Court ordered that she be admitted to medical school pending the outcome of a broader court review.
“When I came to know that I could not get into any medical college, I was really shocked,” C. V. Gayathri, the Indian student, said in an interview. “I didn’t speak to anyone for a week. I cried. I was very depressed.”
Though the outlines of the two cases are similar, differences between how the world’s two largest democracies have chosen to redress centuries of past discrimination are striking. While affirmative action in the United States is now threatened, the program in India is a vast system of political patronage that increasingly works to reward the powerful rather than uplift those in need.
By SARA RIMER and KAREN W. ARENSON
Published: June 24, 2004
At the most recent reunion of Harvard University's black alumni, there was lots of pleased talk about the increase in the number of black students at Harvard. But the celebratory mood was broken in one forum, when some speakers brought up the thorny issue of exactly who those black students were.
While about 8 percent, or about 530, of Harvard's undergraduates were black, Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, pointed out that the majority of them -- perhaps as many as two-thirds -- were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples.
What concerned the two professors, they said, was that in the high-stakes world of admissions to the most selective colleges -- and with it, entry into the country's inner circles of power, wealth and influence -- African-American students whose families have been in America for generations were being left behind.
Isn't the President of the United States of America a classic example of the Gates-Guinier theorem in action? He didn't decide he was black until his mid-20s.
On the other hand, the First Lady is an exemplary African-American, with all four grandparents descended from American slaves. But her expensive Harvard Law School education turned out to be mostly a waste as she dropped her law license long ago to go into the diversity business (other than she did meet her husband through her ill-fated law career).
The rest of the article about India is pretty interesting about how the affirmative action program in India has made being an Untouchable a coveted legal distinction. However, I can never quite tell what to make of articles about the Indian caste system since the Indians in the American media almost all come from the upper castes. There are virtually no Untouchable-Americans.