Social empowerment is understood as the process of developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence, and acting individually and collectively to change social relationships and the institutions and discourses that exclude poor people and keep them in poverty. Poor people’s empowerment, and their ability to hold others to account, is strongly influenced by their individual assets) and capabilities of all types: human, social and. Also important are people’s collective assets and capabilities, such as voice, organisation, representation and identity. Also, empowerment requires agency along Trinitarian dimensions, economic, political, and legal. In Indian society there are many factor for disempowering citzens. We will study these factor in detail hereunder.

Social Discrimination and Exclusion

Social Inequality

  • Every society exhibits some degree of unequal access to social resources, like material assets, educational qualifications, network of contacts and social associations, termed as social inequality. While some social inequalities could be a result of natural differences between individuals, by and large, social inequality is not the outcome of innate or natural differences between people, but a product of the society in which they live.

Social Stratification

  • Peoples’ identity and experiences, their relations with others, as well as their access to resources and opportunities shaped by a system called social stratification, which categories people in hierarchical ranks. It has been seen that such social hierarchical ranking persists over generations, with the support of belief or ideology.
  • Social stratification, when entrenched, engenders prejudices (pre-conceived opinions or attitudes held by members of one group towards another). Although the word is generally used for negative pre-judgements, it can also apply to favourable pre-judgement. Such judgements can often be traced to stereotypes (fixed characterisation of a group of people).

Social Exclusion

Stereotypes fix whole groups into single, homogenous categories; they refuse to recognise the variation across individuals and across contexts or across time. They treat an entire community as though it were a single person with a single all-encompassing traits or characteristics. The above mentioned attitudes and opinions when translated into behaviour result in discrimination, the practice of disqualifying members of one group from opportunities open to others.

Overtime, individual discrimination can lead to an individual being cut off from full involvement in the wider society or social exclusion. Social exclusion is not accidental but systematic, i.e. it is the result of structural features of society. Generally when we talk about social exclusion, we mean social exclusion at the bottom i .e. vulnerable section of the society which is not able to access the societal resources. It can manifest itself in various forms

  • Political Exclusion: When people are not allowed to vote in elections or when they face invisible barrier when competing for the top position in political leadership. For example- in present parliament, there is only 11% of the women representative. Similarly , among the major political parties, only BSP has dalit leadership at the top of party.
  • Economic Exclusion: When people are not allowed to have access to the job market, or are being denied promotions or are getting lower wages which indicate an atmosphere of cultural racism, thus reducing the economic prospects of blacks
  • Social Exclusion: In terms of housing and neighbourhood For example, dalits, Muslims and people from north east find it difficult to get good accommodation in metropolitan cities like Delhi.
  • Cultural Exclusion: It includes aspects like ban on entry of women in religious places e.g sabrimala temple Flowever there is another kind of social exclusion which percolate from the top i.e. affluent section of the society secludes them from common concerns and issues related to society. For example, many rich people see Election Day as a day to rest their homes rather than a festival to celebrate democracy. Similarly, tax avoidance through round tripping is another example.
Social Exclusion

Social Exclusion in India

India like most societies has been marked by acute practices of social discrimination and exclusion. Dalits or the erstwhile untouchables, Adivasis or ‘tribals’, women and the differently abled have been subjected to social discrimination and exclusion in India for centuries. Although, at various points of time, these sections of society have risen in protest against discriminations and exclusions they face, it has not been able to allow them their due in the society. Even the government legislation and constitutional provisions have been unable to transform the society or produce a lasting social change.

Scheduled Caste

The so-called ‘untouchables’ have been referred to collectively by many names over the centuries. Mahatma Gandhi had popularised the term ‘Harijan’ (literally, children of God) in the 1930s to counter the pejorative charge carried by caste names. In Indian languages, the term Dalit literally means ‘downtrodden’ and conveys the sense of an oppressed people. Though it was neither coined by Dr. Ambedkar nor frequently used by him, the term certainly resonates with his philosophy and the movement for empowerment that he led. It received wide currency during the caste riots in Mumbai in the early 1970s. The Dalit Panthers, a radical group that emerged in western India during that time, used the term to assert their identity as part of their struggle for rights and dignity.

Social Issues Related to Dalits
  • Untouchability: ‘Untouchability’ is an extreme and particularly vicious aspect of the caste system that prescribes stringent social sanctions against members of castes located at the bottom of the purity-pollution scale. In fact, notions of ‘distance pollution’ existed in many regions of India (particularly in the south) such that even the mere presence or the shadow of an ‘untouchable’ person is considered polluting. Despite the limited literal meaning of the word, the institution of ‘untouchability’ refers not just to the avoidance or prohibition of physical contact but to a much broader set of social sanctions. It is important to emphasise that the three main dimensions of untouchability are all equally important in defining the phenomenon.
  • Exclusion: Dalits experience forms of exclusion that are unique and not practised against other groups – for instance, being prohibited from sharing drinking water sources or participating in collective religious worship, social ceremonies and festivals. At the same time, untouchability may also involve forced inclusion in a subordinated role, such as being compelled to play the drums at a religious event.
  • Humiliation-Subordination: performance of publicly visible acts of (self-) humiliation and subordination is an important part of the practice of untouchability. Common instances include the imposition of gestures of deference (such as taking off headgear, carrying footwear in the hand, standing with bowed head, not wearing clean or ‘bright’ clothes, and so on) as well as routinised abuse and humiliation.
  • Exploitation: Moreover, untouchability is almost always associated with economic exploitation of various kinds, most commonly through the imposition of forced, unpaid (or under-paid) labour, or the confiscation of property.

Scheduled Tribes

Scheduled tribes in India are one of the most vulnerable sections of society.

Issues Related to Tribe
  • Development and Displacement: National development, particularly in the Nehruvian era, involved the building of large dams, factories and mines. Because the tribal areas were located in mineral rich and forest covered parts of the country, tribals have paid a disproportionate price for the development of the rest of Indian society. This kind of development has benefited the mainstream at the expense of the tribes. The process of dispossessing tribals of their land has occurred as a necessary by-product of the exploitation of minerals and the utilisation of favourable sites for setting up hydroelectric power plants, many of which were in tribal areas.
  • Dependency on Forests: The loss of the forests on which most tribal communities depended has been a major blow. Forests started to be systematically exploited in British times and the trend continued after Independence. The coming of private property in land has also adversely affected tribals, whose community based forms of collective ownership were placed at a disadvantage in the new system. The most recent such example is the series of dams being built on the Narmada, where most of the costs and benefits seem to flow disproportionately to different communities and regions.
  • Migration of Non Tribal into Tribal Areas: Many tribal concentration regions and states have also been experiencing the problem of heavy in-migration of nontribals in response to the pressures of development. This threatens to disrupt and overwhelm tribal communities and cultures, besides accelerating the process of exploitation of tribals. The industrial areas of Jharkhand For example, have suffered a dilution of the tribal share of population. But the most dramatic cases are probably in the North-East. A state like Tripura had the tribal share of its population halved within a single decade, reducing them to a minority. Similar pressure is being felt by Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Loss of Tribal Identity: Forced incorporation of tribal communities into mainstream processes has had its impact on tribal culture and society as much as its economy. Tribal identities today are formed by this interactional process rather than any primordial (original, ancient) characteristics peculiar to tribes. Many tribal identities today are centred on ideas of resistance and opposition to the overwhelming force of the non-tribal world.

The Paradox of exclusion

By omitting other rights and not recognizing the multiple interdependent and indivisible human rights, the goal of promoting empowerment is distorted and “development silos” are created. Such distortions and silos dovetail with the politics of agenda setting where one form justice is pitted against other form of justice. This gains further traction given the conditions present in India: condition of historical backwardness based on the ascriptive criteria of caste and gender on the axis of resources, status and power. In this situation advancement on one axis doesn’t always translate to advancement on other axis. Moreover it creates a disjunction which can be easily seen in Indian society.

The pathologies of developmental silos

  • Social empowerment: Even with the constitutional propagation of equality, there was an unequal society at the grass root level. This can be gauged from the fact that the community level development programme of 1955 was largely marred by the phenomena of elite capture. In fact, largely all the welfare schemes witness this.
    • Further, the gulf that was created by the dichotomy between constitutional values and the existing societal norms created condition that ,in many instances, led to caste conflict. For example, Ranbir Sena and MCC conflict is based around on this dichotomy only. Whereas the agriculture labour demanded the provision of Minimum wages act , the landed class in Bihar resisted this.
  • Political empowerment: With the onset of democratic India, universal suffrage was adopted. Voting right was give to all the eligible citizens. However, the grant of voting right was not well supplemented with economic or social Empowerment. This resulted in increased use of money power by the well off sections of the society, giving rise to the anomaly of vote for sale in India
    • Further, political decentralization in the form of Panchyati Raj institution promoted political empowerment. But even with the provision of affirmative action, this institution was hijacked by the dominant caste at the rural level. According to a study, Samras (consensus based election system of Gujarat) is largely captured by the dominant caste. This shows that only political empowerment in itself is not sufficient
  • Economic empowerment: Economic empowerment without commensurate increment in social and political empowerment generally led to marginalization in the society. This was largely witnessed in the case of Jews in 19th century Europe. In India, it is often argued that educating a girl will result in possible match-making difficulties. It is often argued that educated girl will become economic empowered, and wouldn’t respect the elders.
    • Even theeconomic empowerment of women hasn’t improved the position of women in social setting. Chanda Kochhar alleged that her mother-in -law expected her to complete household chores over her professional obligation, which is generally true in Indian society. This indicates towards a symptom in Indian society, where a woman is a victim as well as a carrier of patriarchy.

From above it is clear that, real empowerment can only be achieved when all the components of empowerment are in harmony with each other.


Amidst these social realities a need is being felt to make the socially discriminated and excluded sections stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights, i.e. to empower the disadvantaged groups. In wake of this realization social empowerment has gained currency as the process of developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence, and acting individually and collectively to change social relationships and the institutions and discourses that exclude people.


  • Education: Education is the basic requirement and the most effective instrument of social empowerment. It allows people to understand the nature of discrimination and exclusion they face. Moreover, through education people become thinking individuals, which allows them to control their life. They also begin claiming their rights. Thus, it continues to receive high priority.
  • Elimination of Violence: Elimination of all forms of violence, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels, including those arising from customs, traditions or accepted practices, bolsters confidence in oneself and ensures freedom that is required to developing a sense of autonomy.
  • Health and Nutrition: Most of the disadvantaged and socially discriminated section face severe health and nutritional deficiencies. A healthy body and mind are prerequisites for proper development of the Humans and for them to act and think individually or collectively.


  • Efforts are being made to ensure equal access to education for women and girls , eliminate discrimination, universalize education, eradicate illiteracy, create a gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate life-long learning as well as development of occupational/ vocational/technical skills by women.
  • A holistic approach to women’s health which includes both nutrition and health services is being adopted and special attention is being given to the needs of women and girls at all stages of the life cycle.
  • A holistic approach to women’s health which includes both nutrition and health services is being adopted and special attention is being given to the needs of women and girls at all stages of the life cycle.
  • Elimination of all forms of violence against women, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels, including those arising from customs, traditions or accepted practices has been getting top most priority.
  • With respect to elementary education, various incentives in the form of abolition of tuition fee, free supply of books, mid-day meals, and scholarships are provided. Special focus has also been on ST students in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidyalaya and National Talent Search Scheme.
  • There are also major scholarship programmes. Post-Matric Scholarships are awarded to promote higher education beyond matriculation. Pre-Matric Scholarships are given to encourage children of manual scavengers and those engaged in menial works to pursue education. Upgradation of Merit Scheme is aimed at extending remedial and special coaching. Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships for SC students provide special incentives to pursue higher studies and research.
  • Coaching facilities are provided to students preparing for various competitive examinations. Hostel facilities are provided to both girls and boys for pursuing education from upper primary stage onwards.

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