Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says his government must do more to combat discrimination against lower castes and minorities
He told an international conference in Delhi the steps were necessary for the disadvantaged to benefit from the country's economic growth.
A move by the government to extend affirmative action policies has sharply divided the country.
Many argue that it could hurt India's rapid economic rise.
Nearly 60 years after India's independence, the prime minister said that those at the lowest rung of Indian society continued to face widespread discrimination.
That was why his government was committed to removing inequities so that everyone could enjoy the fruit of India's economic growth, he said.
Mr Singh was speaking at an international conference of minorities and Dalits - formerly known as untouchables who are at the bottom of India's complex caste system.
The government has recently pushed a bill through parliament in which places at some of the country's best-known professional colleges are set aside for students from lower caste and disadvantaged communities.
And it is considering asking the private sector to institute some kind of affirmative action and also extend the benefit to the country's Muslim minority.
A recent study suggested that India's Muslims were economically and socially worse off than Dalits.
But the move is being opposed by many who feel that it will lower standards and endanger India's economic growth.
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