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India Pits Affirmative Action Against Castes

As India's economy grows and its society modernizes, the government faces a crucial question: How do you make a vast and diverse society more inclusive, so that the fruits of progress can be enjoyed by all? How do you raise up the two-thirds of the 1.1 billion members of the population who are lower-caste?

An affirmative action quota system has been in force since Independence from the British Empire, in which a quarter of university places are set aside for those on the bottom rung, including what used to be the "untouchables". But now the government is planning to raise that level to nearly 50 per cent.

When the proposal surfaced in the spring, there were student strikes and protests; opponents say it makes it even tougher for talented candidates to get places and lowers standards. But now it's been approved by the cabinet -- and this week, a bill is expected to be tabled before the monsoon sitting of Parliament.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.