Tag Archives: Group inequality

Observing ‘Public Policy response to Group Inequality in India’ through a Panel Discussion


MPP 2016-2018

George Orwell captured the fundamental dilemma that has faced all political theorists in one simple yet elegant form, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The manifestation of this phenomenon is still witnessed across the world, with some trying to remedy it, while others attempt to aggravate it. A panel discussion on the idea of this equal-ness not in terms of singular and individual inequality but in terms of inequality experienced by the virtue of a language one speaks, the caste one belongs to and the name by which one address God, happened on 11th January 2017. The panel was constituted around the idea of inequitable impacts of rule of law policy priorities on certain social groups. In asking who the drivers and direct beneficiaries of the national process of development, we must also consider interests that lie outside the “mainstream”, how stringently rights to property are protected and whether marginalised groups have a voice in shaping the economic choices that directly limit their opportunities or disadvantage them further.

The first guest was Arvind Narain, an NLSIU alumnus who is affiliated with the Alternative Law Forum in Bangalore.

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Mr. Narain began by outlining the diverse, plural and overlapping hierarchies at work in India and brought us back to the Ambedkar-Gandhi debates on how to best treat social difference in politics. From there, his focus was on the role of law in better understanding and targeting the emergent political hierarchies and the transformative promise of the Indian Constitution. He stressed that democracy must be counterweighted by legal institutions to protect the rights of minorities. However, when you have judgments like Section 377 that invoke ‘popular morality’ and seek to use them to curtail basic rights, then you have what he described as “democracy on a soil that is undemocratic”. Democracy then, isn’t populism but is the on-going creation of a framework of rights, duties and social harmonies that enable every individual to participate in and contribute to the national life. Law has clear limitations, however – when the civic and social objectives set forward in the Preamble are for liberty, equality, fraternity and justice, how can something like fraternity in society be measured or consciously used to transform our polity? The transformative goals of the Constitution are just as much the results of stronger, more vocal civil society and of understanding the essentiality of positive rights as they are of laws and institutions. In the end, Mr. Narain linked law and morality by pointing out how legal measures from fact-finding reports to legal journalism can advance the cause of civil rights, even in the contemporary scene.

The second speaker was Dr Ratnam, Coordinator at Centre for Ambedkar Studies, University of Hyderabad, who spoke about the response of Public Policy towards people categorised under Scheduled Caste in India. He talked about the altering terms which have been used to address the scheduled caste interchangeably by the state and the social movements. The use of different terms to recognise them has laid an impact on the way the issue has been constructed. The lack in clarity in recognising the issues has further impacted the affirmative action taken. In his speech, he mentioned the conflict between ensuring equality and homogeneity at the same time. He questioned that if we are all equal in front of the law then what objective does affirmative action achieve. The entire society has been stratified into castes and further into sub-castes not only because people recognise themselves with the diversity which they bring in but also because public policy recognises these categories. Public Policy thus addresses a number of questions of varied nature at the same time. The affirmative action acts as an aid in most cases but also lead to increasing differences and conflict, some of the times. The Nation strives for equality but which parameters of policy shall achieve equality is the lingering question. He stressed on the fact that under the umbrella of neo-liberalisation along with the state the forms of discrimination has also changed which has become a heavier challenge for public policy. He ended his lecture on the note that the Constitution which is the product of flesh and blood of our countrymen should be implemented in the real sense to stop the violence towards marginalised groups.

The third speaker, Dr M. C. Srinivas, Joint Director of the Social Welfare Department, Government of Karnataka has the special duty of enforcing reservations for SCs and STs. With thirty-eight years of experience in implementing government policies for the development of the Scheduled Tribes, Dr. Srinivas gave us an insider’s peek into the progress made, gaps persisting and governmental and structural deficits. The foremost issue is the problem of identification of the Scheduled Tribes.

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In Karnataka, only sixty-five out of seven hundred and five tribes have been identified as Scheduled Tribes. The main agenda of the government through the promulgation of numerous schemes and programmes is to bring these tribes out of the forest and into the ‘mainstream’. This poses a problem as the majority of the tribes do not want to join the mainstream. Although Karnataka has been a pioneer state in the adoption of the SCSP and TSP Act, 2013 which enabled the allocation, mobilisation and distribution of funds (which can be carried forward for two more years if under-utilised instead of lapsing). Karnataka has also enacted numerous schemes to take forth social services like education, PDS, residential education (KREIS), Anganwadis, housing, infrastructure and hospitals to the fringe forest dwellers who don’t want to come out. While the paper trail of schemes and programmes points to the good intentions of the powers-that-be, Dr. Srinivas admits that there are major gaps in implementation, lack of grass root level monitoring systems and of course, corruption and apathy inherent in some civil servants that ensures systemic failures and a protraction of the deplorable state of exclusion, discrimination, poverty and underdevelopment of the Scheduled Tribes.


Mr Maqbool Ahmed Siraj, Journalist, activist, and researcher on Muslim issues in India, the final speaker on the Panel gave an overview of the socio-economic conditions of Muslim communities in India.Related image Bringing his experiences as a journalist and social activist his entire work on Muslims highlights the general psyche of the rest of the population towards Muslims. Over six dynasties of Muslim rulers had flourished in India making them the oldest ruling class yet Muslims and Christians are externalised minorities while Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists are internalised minorities in India. Muslims are both religious and linguistic minority with the socio-economic realities of the community known to be grim due to low education, poor residential conditions and lack of access to sanitation and health, absence from top leadership and bureaucratic positions. In the political sphere, on an average the representation of Muslims as MP’s has been 32-34 while the required number of Muslim MP’s for proportionate representation is 75. The welfare measures for Muslims have been slightly better in South India, with states like Karnataka having 4 per cent reservation for Muslims and Tamil Nadu having 3.5 per cent reservation for Muslims and Christians. Nevertheless, in order to neutralize biases and social exclusion and increase political representation of Muslims, public policy must critically evaluate the need to consider socio-economic backwardness of the Muslims for reservation.

The panel was divided in its focus ranging from caste groups, tribal groups, religious communities and the potential impact of laws on disparities. Despite this divergence, the vision and goal were commonly shared, the panel emphasised on the need for corrective and preventative measures and of the impetus on the political elites and social institutions to stop the incessant otherisation of the entire mass of population. The impact of reservations and socio-economic schemes have been enormous, but not sufficient. The panel focused on the tools and the requirement for such an equality within the legal and political conscience of  India.  If summarised in a single sentence, the panel’s message sought an embodiment of a common identity grounded in the constitutional morality, where all humans are equal and no one is more than equal.

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Development of Social Welfare Policies: A means to address Group Inequality in India



The Development debate gained momentum as a post world war necessity. ‘Development’ emerged as a new tool for addressing the problem of poverty which was exacerbated in the years following the second world war. Harry S. Truman’s Presidential inaugural speech in 1949 marks the acknowledgement of the post-world war political turmoil. His Four Point programme was announced as a technical assistance programme towards the economic development and political stabilisation of developing countries. The United States of America thus marked the beginning of the development discourse. A combination of institutions and policies were set up to primarily address economic development. The division of the world into the first world and third world nations, the developed and the under-developed meant these policies were the attempt of developed nations to raise the status of the under-developed to that of their own. Institutions like the IMF and World Bank changed the power equations at a global level from that of coloniser and colonised to that of developed and underdeveloped, and thus began the shift from colonialism to neocolonialism.

The development discourse has since then gone on to include concepts of social justice, human development, human rights and well-being. The UNDP was set up in 1965 to promote equitable growth and democratic governance in under-developed countries. By the late 90s, it went on to include within its purview crises prevention and recovery, environment and ecology (sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals), Human Development (Human Development Index), HIV/AIDS and Innovative Partnerships.

The early 2000s saw an increasing focus on the role of the State as a ‘duty-bearer’ to its citizens (Johnson 1999; Kabeer 2005; Jayal 2013). This translated to an increasing interest in the functions of public policy and that of the State in the development process as not limited to merely economic and financial development but bringing in social justice, HDI, well-being (UNDP 2010; McGregor and Summer 2010), equity, happiness, quality of life (Frey 2008), etc. However, it is the disappointment from the lack of actual ground level accomplishment of any of the goals and policies set in place by these institutions that have shaped an interest in public policy and the development processes of the last five to six decades. It was clear that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would not be reached by 2015, neither at the aggregate level nor when disaggregated by vulnerable communities or fragile districts – with the exception of a few countries (IEG 2011). The consequences of globalisation, a fragile world economy, the protracted financial crisis, intensified food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition, crises in health and education systems all raise perturbing questions regarding this new world over-reliance on ‘the market’ and all point to a desperate need for the injection of the Human Rights discourse into that of development and growth. These circumstances have also brought in the questioning of lower-income countries leading to the generation of a new macroeconomic consensus, also termed as the Post-Washington approach (Koehler and Chopra 2014). This new model is based on the need to create and sustain demand, maintain employment and support inclusive economic growth.


India, as one of the prominent members of the United Nations, played an active role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1947-48) and became a signatory to the UNDP in 2000. The period from the early 2000s marks a focus on social policies designed to address poverty and deliver welfare at the levels of programming and design, structural changes and implementation. Indian society being extremely heterogeneous could not and cannot follow the policy structures of homogeneous developed nations. Development policies in India in the period from 2003-14 thus took the shape of social policies, reflecting the influence of social conditions on the economic potential of the populace. The Constitution of India had been framed keeping this in mind, and a transformative interpretation of the constitutional mandate directs the State to view the social policy as inseparable from economic policy. The duty of the State in these policies marks the intersectionality of poverty, rights, social policy and governance. This increasing role of State duty in welfare and social policy also marks a shift in approach from that of ‘welfare’ to that of ‘rights’.

A reference to the Indian Constitution and amendments made points to the addition of these social rights. For instance, Article 21A (April 2010) The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, making elementary education the fundamental right of children aged six to fourteen years. Articles 15, 19, 85, 87, 174, 176, 341, 342, 372 and 376 and the insertion of articles 31A and 31B, Schedule 9 (18 June 1951) added special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It fully secured the constitutional validity of zamindari abolition laws and placed reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech. A new constitutional device, Schedule 9, was introduced to protect laws contrary to the Constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Rights. Amendment to Schedule 9 (31 August 1994) enabled continuance of 69 percent reservation in Tamil Nadu by including the relevant Tamil Nadu Act under 9th Schedule of the Constitution. Article16 (June 1995) – technical amendment to protect reservation to SC/ST employees in promotions. Article 335 (September 2000) permits the relaxation of qualifying marks and other criteria in reservation in promotion for SC / ST candidates. Amendment to Schedule 8 (January 2004) included Bodo, Dogri, Santali and Maithali as official languages. While these are Constitutional innovations, a number of social policy innovations have created a dynamic shift in the social set up in India. The post-independence state-led, industry-led development focus failed to address and even reach seventy-five percent of the workforce – the workforce engaged in the informal and agricultural sectors. The shift in State policy towards that of a neoliberal market-based economy furthered the economic gap between the formal and informal and agrarian sectors. Up until recently, all successive governments since the 90’s implemented the same policies, continuing with the same measures. In Engendering Social Security and Protection, Sen (2011) speaks of the ongoing inadequacy of basic human development in India, characterised by very low public spending on education and health, that necessitates the continuity of this condition of gross inequity. It is only over the last decade that the Indian policy context speaks of ‘social protection’. The years since 2004 have witnessed increasing legislation at the National level addressing the right to work, right to education, right to health and food security.

The Right to Information Act (RTI, 2004) is the game changer that underpins most of the social policies following this period. It is the first Act which marks the shift from a welfare-based approach to a ‘rights’ based approach. The National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP) of the Congress-led UPA coalition government followed suit in 2004, stressing the need to address India’s large poor population. This was based largely on the principles of preserving, protecting and promoting social harmony, to ensure economic growth and the generation of employment with the assurance of livelihood, enhancing the welfare, well-being and livelihood of farmers, empowering women socially, economically and politically (particularly those in the unorganised and informal sectors), the provision of equal opportunity for the Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, OBCs and religious minorities in the areas of education and employment, etc. These principles address groups facing oppression and suppression for centuries on end, having to deal with a highly unequal social, economic and political set up. The question of women, Dalits, caste groups, class groups, workforce groups and rural-urban segregation is beginning to be addressed at the political and policy level. The interface of activists, politicians, bureaucrats and civil society members brought in a string of other important legislations such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA 2005), the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 and the National Food Security Act (NFSA 2013), all of which arose from a similar ‘rights’ based agenda. The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM 2005) focussed on bringing quality healthcare to the rural areas, the poor, women and children. It aimed to improve accessibility and quality of healthcare provided. The Janani Suraksha Yojana, a part of the NRHM was a safe motherhood intervention aimed at reducing maternal and neonatal mortality in poor and pregnant women (Government of India, 2005). The Right to Education Act (RTE 2009) brought in a compulsory elementary education of children in the age group of 6-14 years. The Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) scheme brought in cash transfers to girl children (along with several other social policies for women and children) to fund educational scholarships, as pensions for the elderly, destitute and widows, for people with disabilities, health related transfers like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the Unique Identification ID or Aadhar made electronic cash transfer systems accessible to the masses. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM 2005-06) was based on a combination of the Common Minimum Programme, the MDGs and the need for mission-led initiatives.

The Indian policy context, like all other South Asian nations, is a complicated and diverse field, symbolising the complexity of the contradicting and conflicting ground reality of the multitudes of groups living together. The groups living together in this context are based on deep social biases which are entrenched making the social reality a very difficult one to get out of in spite of policy intervention. The role taken on by the Indian State while largely that of Rights-based Development Welfare State raises concerns of the financial feasibility of a nation still struggling to develop economically to spend so much of tax money on making basic provisions accessible to a large majority of the population. However, the desperate need for State based social policy cannot be side-lined in their context. This need is felt on a regional scale (South Asian region) as is represented in the table below highlights the commonality in social protection policies adopted in this region.

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Source: Development and Welfare Policy in South Asia: Gabriele Koehler and Deepta Chopra

The complexity of the intersectionality of women’s oppression along with caste based, class based and work based biases makes the functioning of each policy passed a tentative affair, creating the need for constant and dynamic revision of the policies passed. The question of implementation and factors contributing to the failure of implementation such as structural problems and systemic failures such as corruption and lack of political will raise the complexity of the context of social protection to higher levels. In conclusion, policies of development and welfare in the Indian context cannot be restricted to the role of the State merely passing legislations,  Schemes or Yojanas, but necessitates the dynamic intermingling of multiple social groups and state mechanisms to bring about any success in intervention.


[Feature Image sourced from: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/7sYuSbU9ygwJ5FakaNCjBM/Choosing-the-right-development-paradigm-for-India.html]

Frey, B. (2008) Happiness: A Revolution in Economics, Cambridge, MA/London: The MIT Press

GoI. (2005) Government of India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Rural Health Mission: Mission document (2005-2012), available at http://indiagovernmenance.gov.in/files/ Mission_Document_NRHM.pdf.

IEG (2011) IEG Annual Report 2011: Results and Performance of the World Bank Group, Washington, DC: Independent Evaluation Group

Johnson, C. (1999) ‘The Developmental Welfare State: Odyssey of a Concept’, in M. Woo-Cumings (ed.) The Developmental State, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 32-60

Jayal, N.G. (2013) Citizenship and its Discontents: An Indian History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Kabeer, N. (ed.) (2005) Inclusive Citizenship, Meanings and Expressions. Volume 1 of Claiming Citizenship, Rights, Participation and Accountability, London: Zed Books

Koehler, G. and Chopra, D. (2014) Development and Welfare Policy in South AsiaMcGregor, J.A. and Sumner, A. (2010) ‘Beyond Business as Usual: What might 3D well-being

contribute to MDG Momentum?’, IDS Bulletin, The MDGs and Beyond 41(1), pp. 104-112
Sen, G. (2011) Engendering Social Security and Protection: The Case of Asia, International Policy

Analysis, Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

UNDP. (2010) Human Development Report, The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development, New York: UNDP

(Devika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at devikasingh@nls.ac.in)