Foto: Michał Huniewicz/Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0

LESS DISCRIMINATION: Francesca R. Jensenius’ research shows that the quotas of the untouchables in Indian politics has led to less discrimination both in politics and in society in general. This untouchable girl is photographed in Ranakpur in Rajasthan.

Award-winning article on quotas for the 'untouchables' in India

Published: 15 Mar 2016

NUPI's Senior Research Fellow Francesca R. Jensenius is the winner of the Chr. Michelsen’s prize for outstanding development research, 2016.

‘Development from Representation? A Study of Quotas for the Scheduled Castes in India’ is the full name of the article Jensenius wins the prize for. It was published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics in July last year.

‘In India, they have had quotas since 1950, and I have looked at whether this has had any impact on the socio-economic development at the electoral district level’, says Jensenius.

‘Both in India and elsewhere there are conflicting expectations of what quotas should lead to. Many agree that diversity is a good thing in itself because it can help reduce discrimination’, she continues.


But do quotas result in major changes in policy design or implementation? Not necessarily, according to Jensenius' research. 

‘On the one hand, many expect politicians who get to power through quotas to work more for their “own” group. On the other hand, some claim that quota policies will bring less qualified people into positions of power.’

In the article she looks at electoral districts where politicians have been elected through quotas and compares them with other very similar electoral districts.


‘What my research shows is that there has been no systematic difference in the development pattern across these areas over a 30 year period, neither more development for minority groups, nor less development overall, in areas with the quotas.’

The findings are based on extensive statistical data collection and analysis, but also material from about 100 interviews Jensenius has conducted with politicians and bureaucrats in India. It is the qualitative material she relies on to explain the findings.

‘In India, they deliberately opted out of quota systems where minorities elect their “own” politicians. Quotas were not intended to create spokespersons for groups. They were rather meant to break down the strong social barriers between the "untouchables" and "the others". The hope was that they would be integrated into the political system, gain political experience and that the quotas could be removed within a few years.’

Too optimistic

It proved to be a bit too optimistic to think that the social structures could change that fast, says Jensenius.

‘There is still much discrimination against "untouchables" in India today. But the situation is much better than it was.

‘In the political sphere we see that politicians getting to power through quotas over time have become better qualified, and that they have gained more experience and more visible positions. The voters are equally satisfied with the quota politicians and the other politicians.’

‘My research shows that quotas have helped to reduce the caste-based discrimination both in politics and in society at large. These are important consequences of the quota system, but changes have occurred slowly and one is still far away from a society without caste-based discrimination.’ Jensenius concludes.

She is now working to finalize a book that addresses the long-term consequences of the quotas.

Read the award winning article