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Noah Feldman

Affirmative-Action Lessons From India's Castes

A flexible constitution allows preferences to change over time.
In support of Patels.

In support of Patels.

Photographer: Shailesh Raval/India Today Group/Getty Images

Think affirmative action is controversial in the U.S.? The American debate is nothing compared with the fight over caste-based preferences in India, where police smashed heads in the aftermath of last week's 500,000 strong anti-preference rally in Gujarat.

In both countries, the debate centers on the national constitution, but in subtly different ways. In the U.S., the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws, and the question is whether affirmative action is compatible with this command. In India, the constitution affirmatively enshrines preferences in employment and education for members of historically disfavored castes, and amendments to the original constitution have entrenched and intensified the practice.