• A social movement is defined as sustained collective action over time. Such action is often directed against the state and takes the form of demanding changes in state policy or practice.
  • Collective action must be marked by some degree of organization. Spontaneous, disorganized protest cannot be called a social movement. This organization may include a leadership and a structure that defines how members relate to each other, make decisions, and carry them out.
  • Those participating in a social movement have shared objectives and ideologies. A social movement has a general orientation to bring about (or prevent) change.
  • These defining features are not constant, and may change over the course of a social movement’s life. India has witnessed much social movement, the characteristic of which is changing with time in this chapter we will see different movement and their changing characteristic in India.

Farmers movement in India

Farmer’s movement in India can be classified in 3 phases.

Peasant Movements

  1. After independence, two strands in farmer’s movement developed. Big and middle farmers looked for support of the government in various field like, irrigation, farmers Mandis and other institutional supports.
  2. However, with the failure of land reforms and Community development programme, peasant and small farmers were t the receiving end. The failure of land reform created considerable discontent among the poorer peasantry and landless labour and, according to some, turned the vast majority of the peasantry into an agrarian proletariat. Left parties took advantage of this to mobilize ‘land grab’ movements in West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 1960s and 1970s. While the amount of land gained by peasants was negligible, it created political consciousness among them and put pressure on the government, contributing to legislation such as the Ceilings Act 1974. Further, this created the problem of left extremism in India.
  3. However, by the late 1970s, issues of land distribution and equity were overshadowed by capitalist developments in the agricultural sector.

Rich farmer’s movement

  1. The 1960s witnessed the emergence of movements led by a rich peasant/capitalist class, following the introduction of a new agricultural policy popularly described as the Green Revolution. This policy marked a shift from institutional based model (land reforms, irrigation) to technological based model (bio-chemical and mechanical based innovation), in a very selective approach. This resulted in class differentiation among the farmers. At one side there were surplus-producing farmers, also known as “bullock cart capitalist”, and other side were small farmers who were getting increasing impoverished and started migrating to urban areas in search for better livelihood.
  2. The increasing class differentiation made bigger landowners conscious of their interests, leading to rich farmers’ movements in the 1970s. The leadership was provided by rich farmers’ organizations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in western UP, Punjab, and Haryana; and the Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangha (KRRS) in Karnataka and the Shetkari Sangathan (SS) in Maharashtra.
  3. Unlike earlier movements, they were directed against the state and not the landlord. As big farmers began to produce for the market, the nature of demands changed: higher prices for agricultural produce and lower prices for technological inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, electricity, and water charges, and easier terms for loans. Hence, they were not ideology-based , but issue-based, to safeguard and promote the interests of the farmers.
  4. These farmers’ organizations preferred to remain nonpolitical, and were described as a form of ‘rural unionism’, which brought supra-local politics to the countryside. Generally , the farmers’ discourse during this decade centred on the issues of ‘urban vs rural,’ ‘Bharat vs India’, remunerative prices, writing off of loans, agrarian backwardness, industry-oriented policies, etc. It was during the 1980s that the movements largely retained their ideological cohesion.
  5. Broadly, the farmers’ movement during the 1980s believed that India’s prevailing structural backwardness was mainly due to external linkages, i.e., capitulation of India to western capitalism. It was a deliberate ploy and a larger strategy to perpetuate subjugation of the Third World countries, including India. It is in this context that Third World countries have not been able to escape or delink themselves from the western world.
  6. It is here that one can locate the discourse on conflict between Bharat and India operating—the native and traditional nomenclature of the country. For them, ‘India corresponded to that notional entity that has inherited from the British the mantle of economic, social, cultural and educational exploitation while Bharat was that notional entity which is subject to exploitation for the second time ever since the termination of the external colonial regime.
  7. These movements employed various kind of method, from Gandhian: satyagrah at Meerut Commissionerate to violent methods like Delhi Ghero, in realization of their goals.

Globalization and farmers movement

  1. The onset of Globalization saw a vertical fragmentation in Farmers movement. This division made the movement refashion its tools and strategies to address the issues emerging from globalisation; it also made the farmers’ movement defend opposite ideological streams — liberalism/capitalism on the one side and Gandhian on the other; it made the farmers’ movement form larger collectives at the international level and thereby helped them to address the issues; it helped them to construct new discourses/debates about the identity , paradigm of development, cultural practices, etc.
  2. Flowever, it had one adverse effect: it diluted the militancy of the farmers’ movement at the all-India level. While some farmer’s organisation supported Globalization (RSSS-Sharad Joshi), Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh farmers’ organisation opposed it . Three multinationals— Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Cargil India, and Monsanto (cremating Monsanto) —were attacked in Karnataka, as MNCs symbolise the larger design of globalisation.
  3. Also, later period of farmer’s movement in India (in 80s and 90s) showed convergence with Political allegiances, thus weakening the farmer’s movement in a systematic way.

Farmer’s movement in post 2000 era

  1. Quest for a rural-agrarian identity: Socio-economic transformations post-liberalisation have created a dual identity crisis among farmers which has manifested in large-scale protests. The present protests are a political manifestation of the increasing quest for a new identity.
  2. This identity is a mix of an individual (being and dignity) as well as a collective sense of belonging. This also emerges from a sense of disillusionment from the urbanisation process but also a desire to reimagining the rural in newer ways with more space for individual freedom.
  3. Multiple dimension of the crisis: even though the recent protests appear to be very similar to the farmers’ movements of the 1980s, it is critically different in the sense that weight of agriculture in the national economy. The urban and non-farm sector of the economy has not only seen a corresponding expansion but has also been growing at a much faster pace than the agrarian economy, thus creating a sense of relative deprivation. It demanded welfare state support, which was forgone with Globalization.
  4. Structural changes in Indian agriculture: With capitalistic transformation of agriculture, producer ceased to be dependent on the landlord and instead was now dependent on the market. Although a majority of the producers in this new regime were subsistence farmers, they nevertheless found themselves in league with the minority, who controlled large tracts of land and cultivated predominantly for the market.
  5. The state as a venture capitalist: With paradigm shift of policies from land reform to land acquisition, the welfare state emerged as a venture capitalist. This shift created movement at both sides: At one side landless labour demanded for land (Jan Andolan), on the other hand middle and rich farmer were protesting against land acquisition (West Bengal, Punjab ).

Women’s Movement

The women’s movement in India goes back to more than a hundred years but its composition, its agenda, its form and style, its outreach, its inclusiveness have been changing over the years. Women’s movement in India can be classified under three phase .

Pre Independence

  1. The origin of the women’s movement can be traced to organized struggles by women in the nineteenth century aroundissues of social reform. The nature andcontent of the debates and organizational activities around women’s self determination (stree-swadhinata) were determined largely by the colonial condition, even when colonial government was experiencing a growing crisis of legitimacy.
  2. The foundation for stree-swadhinata and equality was laid down through reforms in education and the removal of practices like child-marriage, sati, purdah or seclusion, and resistance to widow remarriage. These reforms, however, worked within the limits of the reigning patriarchal ideology, where women were seen as passive recipients of the measures of improvement. This period was led by men like Raja Ram Mohan Rai, Ishwarchand VidyaSagar karve etc. Even though women like Bethune and Savitri Phle were present but their initiative was limited in scope and extent.
  3. The period of social reforms was followed by the nationalist period, which is generally seen as one in which the ‘activist’ woman made her appearance in various forms, as Gandhi’s satyagrahi. The visibility of women in the public sphere in this period was, however, surrounded by a discourse of’ true womanhood’ and ‘women’s proper place’, which, in the course of legitimizing and facilitating women’s participation, limiting them within an essentialist construction of femininity. Thus, while it may not be denied that in the early twentieth century saw women participation in large scale, but this participation was limited by the narratives of domesticity and public sphere.
  4. Thus, while the nationalist discourse widened the scope of women’s public participation, unlike the period of social reforms, it maintained public silence on women’s issues.
  5. The nationalist silence on the women’s question was ruptured by women’s organized struggle for equal political rights vis-a-vis voting and sitting in legislatures, and for reforms in personal laws, women activists petitioned provincial legislators, colonial officials, and the committees set up periodically by the colonial government to deliberate on matters of political reforms.
  6. The question of women in women’s movement was 1st addressed with the setting up of the National Council for Women in India (NCWI) in 1926, an organization based and ran by primarily women. The NCWI aimed at securing women’s rights through social reforms and women’s and children’s welfare. The All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) was set up in 1927 in Poona, took up the question of women’s education, and it was at its initiative that the
  7. Lady Irwin College for women was set up in Delhi in 1932. A significant concern for women’s groups in this period, in particular the AIWC, was the campaign against child marriage. As a result of these struggles the Sarada Act was passed in 1929, fixing the age of marriage at fourteen for girls and eighteen for boys. In the 1930s, the AIWC directed its energies towards fighting for women’s equal rights in inheritance and marriage, and reforms in the personal laws of different communities. The idea that there should be a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for the whole of India was proposed at this point . However, the, these initiative got lost in increasing voices of communalism, nationalistic struggle for freedom and vehement opposition from the orthodox section.

Post Independence

  1. The women’s question after Independence was reframed in a context of widespread discontent with the development policies of the government. Development planning in India in the years after Independence continued to show a disregard for women’s productive functions, placing women in roles as symbols of cohesion and continuity amidst the turbulent flux of modernity. The sexual difference inherent in ‘welfare’ measures envisioned for women did not dismantle structural inequalities and sexual hierarchies within public institutions and society.
  2. With the institution of National Federation of Indian Women in India (NFIW), and its publication of report Towards Equality, drew attention to the hierarchized and unequal status of women after three decades of planned development, shattering the complacency which had accompanied the nationalist resolution of the women’s question. Consequently, demand for explicit provisions for the imperative development needs of women in the Sixth Five-Year Plan’ grew, thus giving voice to the new women’s movement.
  3. Women’s activism in the 1970s and 1980s was one among several democratic rights struggles in the period, all of which stressed the need to redefine development. The emergence of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in 1972 is often cited as an important development of the decade. Women also participated actively in the peasant struggles in Bihar and the Chipko movement, which challenged developmental policies. Still the question of, autonomy and agency was missing from these developments.
  4. With the 1980s, however, both mass-based and affiliated women’s organizations as well as the autonomous women’s groups invigorated the struggle for women’s rights. A number of women’s groups like Manushi (1979), Saheli (1981), Jagori (1984), the feminist press—Kali for Women (1984)— were set up all over the country.
  5. Drawing their members from the urban, middle-class, educated, and professional women, these groups set up documentation and resource centres, and organized and coalesced activities including agitation against specific issues of violence against women, and provided legal and humanitarian aid. These groups prioritized the alleviation of poverty, promoting literacy, and availability of jobs as the primary needs of women, the autonomous groups raised issues of violence against women in all its manifestations— rape (including custodial rape), dowry deaths reproductive choice, sexual division of labour and patriarchy as it manifested itself in several forms, in particular in the family, the power relations that inform it, and the legal and institutional practices that sustain women’s subordinate familial roles.
  6. These helped in sustaining movements after Mathura rape case, Vishaka guidelines Hindu undivided families’ reforms etc.

Post liberalization era

  1. In the context of the liberalization of the economy and the abdication of ‘social’ responsibilities by the state to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there has been a proliferation of autonomous organizations.
  2. Resultantly, several networks seem to come alive as they coalesce, react to specific issues, and subsequently relapse into inaction till another issue propels them into action making the whole women movement issue based, as observed in the recent Shani sanctum and Sabrimala case.
  3. This NGO facilitated activism has claimed the political space has led to a filtering out of women’s issues from the public domain into a depoliticized and domesticated domain of negotiations and welfare.

Information technology and women’s movement

  1. Identities perform an important role in bringing people together, building solidarities and propelling them towards action. Internet and Social media has played a critical role in shaping political identities in the movement. With internet providing a medium to women to communicate the nature and identity of women movements changed. Now, the feminist movement isn’t concerned only with empowering women; its primary goal is transforming the “male” identity and stripping it off of its normative status, hegemony and power.
  2. Given the relative independence and accessibility of online media, a number of campaigns have gained immense traction in online spaces. And apart from organised campaigns, feminists have begun using networks online to build solidarities. Two such campaigns are illustrative — Pinjra Tod by university students in Delhi and Chalo Nagpur, by autonomous women’s organisations across India. Such campaigns the digital dualism that was prevailing conflating online and offline activism in one strand.
  3. Irrespective of women’s activism within or autonomous of political organizations, political parties have been desultory in prioritizing, promoting, or giving importance to women’s concerns. This is most evident from women’s insignificant presence in the organizational structures of political parties, the insubstantial numbers given party candidatures in elections, and their extremely meagre representation in Parliament.
  4. The conditions of women in a society can only be improved when the power imbalance breaks down. To achieve that political representation is as much important as economic empowerment. Affirmative action’s in favour of women can end the anomaly of power imbalance in the society and will make the Stree truely Swadhin.

Dalit Movement


Since long attempts were made to eradicate the Indian society of the practice of untouchability. Many reformers like Buddha, Ramanuja, Ramanand, Chaitanya, Kabir, Nank, Tukaram and others made efforts to end the practice but it continued for centuries without much change. However, the genesis of the Dalit movements can be dated back to the middle and Late nineteenth century onwards, when breaches began to appear in the caste system due to various factors such as:

  • Economic: Changes such as Commercialization of agriculture, emergence of new employment opportunities outside the villages, emergence of contractual relations, opportunities in government jobs specially in Army, together contributed to a shift in the position of untouchables.
  • Social Reform: Movements, such as those of Sri Narayan Guru in Kerala and Jyotirao Phule in Maharashtra which started to question the caste inequality and efficacy of caste system.
  • Western Education, which introduced the Indians to modern ideas of equality, justice and liberty, among others also spread to the people belonging to the Dalit community. They began to use the modern values to critique the caste system on the whole and untouchability in particular.
Adi Hindu Movement
  1. In the twentieth-century, Bhakti re-emerged as a castebased religious expression solely of the untouchables. This newly-emerged expression of Bhakti was an egalitarian religion exclusive to the untouchables which developed into a religious movement in the early 1920s, and argued that ‘Bhakti’ was a religion of the original inhabitants and rulers of India, the Adi-Hindus, from whom the untouchables claimed to have descended.
  2. The new generation of literate untouchables, who led the movement, argued that the social division of labour based on caste status was an imposition forced on Indian society by the Aryan conquerors, who had subjugated the AdiHindu rulers and made them servile labourers. It can be averred that this new ideology was a direct response to the social constraints imposed on the untouchables which stymied their socio-economic advancement.
  3. The Adi Hindu ideology attracted the mass of the untouchables and was espoused by them, for it provided a historical explanation for the poverty and deprivation of the untouchables and presented a vision of their past power and rights, and hopes of regaining such lost rights.
  4. The Dalits began to call themselves Adi-Hindus in Uttar Pradesh, Adi-Andhras in Andhra, and Adi-Dharmis is Punjab.
Gandhi and Dalit Movement
  1. In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi for the first time brought the practice of “untouchability” into the national movement and a matter of public concern by inserting an appeal to eradicate Hinduism of the scourge of “untouchability” in the Nagpur resolution of the Congress. He even launched a campaign for the welfare of the “untouchables”, which failed to get much support from the upper caste Hindu.
  2. He later used the term Harijan meaning people of Hari or God to refer to the untouchables. He became a part of Vaikom (1924-1925) and Guruvayur satyagrahas (1931- 32), which challenged the practice of untouchability. He made constant efforts to make the caste Hindus realize the severity of injustice dealt to the Dalits through the practice of untouchability.
  3. He even opposed the idea of separate electorate, as provide by the communal award in 1932, because he believed that once the depressed classes were separated from the rest of the Hindus there would be no ground to change Hindu society’s attitude towards them.
Ambedkar and Dalit Movement
  1. B .R . Ambedkar, an educated Dalit belonging to the Mahar community, emerged as a major leader of the Dalits in late 1920’s. He organized various movements challenging the practice of untouchability. In 1927, he publicly burnt a copy of Manusmriti, the Hindu law book, which authorized untouchability. He demanded a complete overhaul of the Hindu society and theology; the Dalits to focus on education and politics rather than seeking redress within the Hindu religion.
  2. In line with his political solution to the problem of untouchability he demanded a separate electorate for the Dalits in the Second Round Table Conference which led to a major showdown between him and Gandhi. Although Ambedkar’s demand was honoured in the Communal award (1932), he later reached an agreement with Gandhi to withdraw his demand of separate electorate for the Dalits.
  3. He formed the All India Schedule Caste Federation and Independent Labour Party to mobilize the untouchables. The constitution of All India Schedule Caste Federation claimed the Dalits to be distinct and separate from the Hindus. He was critical of the Congress and the approach of its leaders and their refusal to recognize caste as political problem.


  1. India has suffered social injustices for centuries. Under the traditional Hindu laws, the untouchables (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) could not use public places and common provisions such as ponds, pools, parks, wells etc. in addition to many other forms of discrimination.
  2. Despite sincere efforts from a number of reformers, practice of untouchability has been prevalent in India. In order to safeguard the interests of the Depressed Castes, the Indian Constitution made special provisions to remove their social disabilities and enable them to catch up with the rest of the Indian people in the process of development.
Constitutional Provisions
  1. The Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens’ equality before law and equal protection of the law. This standard of equality does not permit any discrimination based solely on the caste- characteristics of a person.
  2. However, this guarantee is not merely a restriction on state action. It also confers a positive obligation on the state to create a society free of all practices, customs, laws, policies and conditions that impose or have the effect of imposing disabilities on sections of society based on their caste characteristics. The state is duty bound to secure social, economic and political justice for all, and provide for an atmosphere congenial to growth for all.
Ambedkar and Dalit Buddhist Movement
  1. Ambedkar had considered converting to Sikhism and even appealed other leaders of scheduled castes but he rejected the idea after meeting with leaders of the Sikh community and concluding that his conversion might result in him having a “second-rate status” among Sikhs.
  2. In 1956, he went back to conversion, as being the only feasible option to ameliorate the conditions of the Dalits. First he, his wife and some of his followers converted to Buddhism and then he himself led close to half a million people, mostly Mahar’s, into Buddhism. This conversion gave rise to Dalit Buddhist movement, wherein Ambedkar radically re-interpreted Buddhism and created a new sect of Buddhism called Navayana.
  3. The Buddhist movement was somewhat hindered by Dr. Ambedkar’s death shortly after his conversion. It did not receive the immediate mass support from the untouchable population that Ambedkar had hoped for. Division and lack of direction among the leaders of the Ambedkarite movement have been an additional impediment.
  4. Later in 1980, the Dalit Buddhist movement in Kanpur gained impetus with the arrival of Dipankar, a Chamar bhikkhu. Dipankar had come to Kanpur on a Buddhist mission and his first public appearance was scheduled at a mass conversion drive in 1981.
Dalit Panthers
  1. In the early 1970s, an organization calling itself the Dalit Panthers was formed with the project of instituting class based Dalit politics. Dalit Panther as a social organization was founded by Namdev Dhasal in April 1972 in Mumbai, it was a part of countrywide wave of radical politics which reflected in use of creative literature to bring out the plight of Dalits. Though the movement took birth in the slums of Bombay, it spread out to cities and villages throughout the country, proclaiming revolt.
  2. The Panthers gave a call to for the unity of Dalit politicians under Ambedkar’s movement, and they attempted to counter violence against untouchables in the villages.
  3. They also stirred public attention through the emerging Dalit Sahitya, the literature of the oppressed. The Dalit Panthers rapidly became popular and mobilized Dalit youth and students and insisted that they use the term Dalit as against any other available term for self-description. In course, the Dalit Panthers became an important political force, especially in the cities.
  4. Post Emergency serious differences started to emerge in the organization over whether or not to include non-Dalit poor and non-Buddhist Dalits.
Bahujan Samaj Party
  1. In North India a new political party called Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) emerged in 1980’s under the leadership of Kanshi Ram (and later Mayawati who went on to become the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh). BSP declared electoral power as its basic strategy and aim, which can be seen in its political history, where BSP (mostly a Dalit-based party) is willing to ally with any mainstream political party to further its political power.
  2. The BSP succeeded in gaining sufficient political base in northern states such as Uttar Pradesh Madhya Pradesh and Punjab which raised its significance in coalition politics.
  3. In 2007 Mayawati was successful in winning clear majority in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections becoming the first Dalit party to do so without any external support.
Dalit Capitalism
  1. At conference in Bhopal in 2002, Dalit intellectuals argued that the retreat of the state in the era of globalization will bring diminishing returns if they depended only on reservations. Since then, Dalit intellectuals have espoused that capital is the best way to break caste in the modern economy. The argument has been supported by the fact that successive census reports on non-agricultural enterprises show that Dalits own far fewer businesses than they should, commensurate with their share of the total Indian population.
  2. Dalit control of means of production, more broadly referred to as Dalit capitalism, has also been proposed as means to Dalit emancipation from the clutches of social discrimination prevalent in India even after six decades of various noble constitutional provisions guaranteeing SCs (Dalits) equality and justice in the country.
  3. In recent years this attempt to be entrepreneurs among the Dalits has been gaining momentum. The government too has initiated a number of schemes such as MUDRA Yojana, under which loans up to Rs. 10 Lakhs would be provided to small businesses, and Stand-Up India, under which loans between Rs. 10 Lakhs and Rs. 1 Crore would be facilitated to SCs, STs and at least one women per branch.

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