People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 05

January 29, 2006

Exclusion And Poverty

Need For Socially Exclusive Politics And Development Approach


Sukhadeo Thorat


SOCIAL exclusion and isolation is an unique feature of the Indian society, particularly that of Hindu society. Social exclusion involves "the process through which individuals or groups are wholly or partially excluded from full participation in the society within which they live on the basis of group characteristics like social origin, ethnicity and religions. Concern about exclusion and discrimination thus arises from the fact that exclusion generates adverse consequences in terms of human rights violation, deprivation and poverty that it particularly brings to the excluded groups. From the human rights perspective, it essentially means denial of basic human rights, economic, civil and others.


In India exclusion involves social processes that exclude, discriminate, isolate and deprive some groups on the basis of caste, ethnicity and religion. These excluded groups include former un-touchables (or dalits), adivasis and some religious minorities. Al-though these social groups experie-nced exclusion and isolation that caused deprivation and poverty, there are differences in sources and process of deprivation. Since among other reasons, source of poverty of these groups is rooted in economic and social exclusion, the solution to their poverty alleviation demands a somewhat different strategy.


The dalits or former un-touchables, who constitute the largest social group accounting for about one-fifth of India’s population, suffered grievously from caste and untouchability based exclusion and discrimination in economic and social spheres. Traditionally they were excluded from access to property rights: economic rights, civil, religious and other rights. Disabilities of untouchables become more severe as they are also physically and socially segregated from the rest of the Hindu society through the institution of untouchability. It is this institutionalised, comprehensive and multiple exclusion of the low-caste untouchables that has a severe consequence on their deprivation and poverty and which differentiates them from their poor counterparts from higher castes.


The adivasis are another social group which account for about eight per cent of India’s population and come closer to the dalits in terms of exclusion and deprivation. The basis of tribal isolation and exclusion, however, is not caste or religion but ethnicity. They suffer from isolation, neglect and exclusion, which cause considerable deprivation and poverty among them. Muslims, Christian and Sikhs are the main minority religious groups. The dalits among the Christians, Sikhs and Muslims and the Muslims in general suffer from the exclusion and discrimination in various degrees. The former (that is dalits from each groups) however suffered because both carryforward their low-caste status into the converted religion and religious background. Thus these social groups in Indian society suffered from physical isolation, exclusion, and discrimination, which caused lack of access to human rights, deprivation and poverty in varying degrees.




The evidence on the relative economic situation of scheduled caste, tribals and Muslims and the other sections (that is non SC/ST and non-Muslim depending on the group comparison) revealed significant disparities in deprivation in terms of poverty and its factors like access to capital assets, education, employment, wage earning, health status and political participation in 2000. The results show an expected pattern and ranking of social groups. The poverty was higher among the scheduled tribes, followed by the SCs, Muslims and others in rural areas. In urban areas the poverty was highest among SCs, followed by STs, Muslims and others. In case of other indicators, the pattern is also same but the disadvantage of social groups differs in certain indicators, bringing specific problems of each individual groups into focus.


Access to agricultural land is particularly low among the SCs, due to their traditional exclusion from ownership of property. Lack of access to land pushed them to wage labour in greater magnitude. Access to land is relatively better among the STs and Muslims. However despite better access to agricultural land, poverty among the tribal cultivators was high, reflecting low productivity of tribal agriculturists. Compared to others and SCs, the poverty among the ST wage labourers engaged in non-farm sector was high. The STs seems to suffer from discrimination and greater disadvantage in rural non-farm labour market.


The main feature of Muslims is their heavy concentration in self-employed jobs. With much less access to regular jobs, the Muslims are pushed to self-employment. All the excluded groups seem to face discrimination in regular services in the private and public sectors. It seems that Muslims and SCs, face exclusion and discrimination which could be described as unfavourable in market and non-market transactions. The STs on the other hand seem to suffer what Amartya Sen would call "Active and Passive exclusion" affected by development policies of the states and other agents causing land alienation and displacement.


STs also suffer from what Sen would call "constitutive relevance". This type of exclusion is a result of the inability of a group to relate to others and to take part in the life of the community it directly impoverishes a person’s life, apart from reducing economic opportunity that comes from the social contract. The STs being isolated and not being able to relate with others (as compared with the SCs and Muslims) face exclusion in more general ways from the network of opportunities. This possibly explains as to why poverty is highest among the STs in rural areas despite better access to agricultural land. General access to market and information that is needed in the production economy is thus lacking.


We have recognised the problem of social exclusion and discrimination associate with caste, ethnic background and religious identity and taken some initiative to developed strategies to ‘include’ the excluded groups. It is necessary to recognise that in so far as exclusion reduces the access of excluded groups to sources of income, such as land, capital, human development, social needs like education, health and amenities, it become a direct cause of low income and poverty and therefore there is need to address this issue in a more focused manner. Exclusion in political participation and in governance affects the capacity of the excluded group to use the political institutions and the state apparatus to their advantage. The excluded groups also face exclusion in due participation in political process and in the governance of political parties.


We have recognised the problem of exclusion but we have not made our party politics, the executive namely the State, decision making bodies, administration and above all our policies sufficiently inclusive enough so as to address the problem of poverty and deprivation and of participation and representation of excluded groups like Scs, STs and religious minorities that is linked with the societal process of exclusion in multiple spheres. It has to be recognised that the problem of SCs, STs and religious minorities is exclusion and isolation in multiple spheres. It is therefore essential that our politics, government as executive, governance, and developmental policies need to be socially inclusive in character. The indicator of the empowerment of these groups is therefore a degree and extent of their inclusion and participation in all spheres of economy, society and polity.


Our vision of strong and developed Indian has to be measured not in terms of raising income alone (although that is necessary), but also and more so by the fact that whether the excluded groups also have an equal share in the increased income. Also the strength of the political parties needs to be measured not only in terms of number of seats in legislature alone but by the share of excluded group. Also the success of governance will have to measure by the extent of participation of excluded group in decision making and administration. We do require efficient governance but we also require good and inclusive governance. This demand a changes in our perspective on our party politics,State as organ of executive and governance. We need to develop policies ,economic,social and of representation in a manner such that they are inclusive of all groups in society. This will require a drastic changes in our perspective .