Enraged mobs from one of India's myriad lower castes blocked roads with fiery barricades, stoned police and battled rival castes across a wide swath of northern India for a week to make a single, simple point: They want to be even lower.
With 25 people dead, the unrest spread to the fringes of the capital before the Gujjars — a class of farmers and shepherds — called off their protests.
They did so only after officials agreed to consider their demand to be officially shunted to the lowest rung of India's complex hereditary caste system, so they can get government jobs and university spots reserved for such groups....
Discrimination under the system was outlawed soon after independence from Britain in 1947, but its influence remains powerful and the government has sought to redress discrimination against those on the lower rungs by setting up quotas for government jobs and university spots.
But instead of weakening caste affiliations, the result has been a fracturing of politics along caste lines, with each of the lower groups vying for its share of the quotas....
"Nowhere in the world do castes queue up to be branded as backward," [the Indian Supreme Court] said. "Nowhere in the world is there a competition to become backward."
Affirmative action has its good points and bad points, but I think it's undeniable that when government distributes benefits based on particular characteristics, lots of people will want to be identified as having those characteristics, there will be lobbying to ensure that the relevant characteristics become legally immutable at a minimum ,or broadened, and people will organize and lobby around their common claim to the relevant characteristic. This all makes it a lot less likely that the relevant societal distinctions that led to the need for the affirmative action policies to begin with will wither away.
Query: If the Irish, Scandinavians, and Italians in the United States--all groups that were once suffered a great deal of discrimination and were relatively disadvantaged compared to the Anglo-Saxon/German majority (plurality?)--had been offered government benefits based on their ancestry one hundred years ago, would these groups be as integrated into American life as they are today? If not, then this is a cost to such policies that must be weighed against the benefits.
Thanks to my colleague Lloyd Cohen for the pointer.
UPDATE: The Comments function seems to be malfunctioning, at least for now. Sorry.