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Crisis of democracy and the Caste System in India

by Mr. Lenin Raghuvanshi of PVCHR

India is a land of diversity with great and long History populated by many different peoples, from many different origins, and who have many different religious, political and philosophical views. Many abuses are committed against peoples due to their caste or their religion and nature is more and more systematically ransack for privates interests.

The mains problems facing the country came from two things: the implementation of a “culture of impunity based on mind of caste with silence ” – which is a sharing believe that few can act without be accountable for their actions – at the social, economic and political level, and the meet of this cognitive problem with a context of market democracy and economic globalisation.

India is the world’s largest liberal democracy. After its independence from the British colonial rule in 1947 India adopted the path of social and economic development and modernisation. The growth process led to increased levels of literacy, education, wealth, and social mobilization. Decades after the economic reforms in 1990 India achieved the economic status which is often portrayed as among the success stories of the developing world. This national progress was not without its pitfalls. Almost after more than 60 years of independence, a large section of Indian population still complain for not availing the benefits of development. The most marginalised sections of Indian society mainly the Dalit, tribal, minority communities especially the Muslims and lower castes also known as Untouchables still live in stark poverty and without any civil and political rights.

India may be known as one of the world’s oldest living civilisations with a vibrant culture and diversity of its people and languages. Paradoxically, this enormous Indian diversity also hides a darker side in the shadows of its culture known as the caste system. Embedded in Indian feudal culture based on mind of caste for the past many centuries, the Hindu caste system is considered as one of the world’s longest surviving forms of social stratification. It divides society into social classes or castes and this graded inequality has the sanction of classical Indian religious scriptures.

In India the caste hierarchy dictates the lives of its citizens even today. The tribals, Muslims and the lower caste or untouchable communities face discrimination and oppression due to their social status. As a result they have been further marginalised in the society and denied their basic rights.

Harinath Musahar a survivors of police torture from Musahar (Mouse-eater) of Varanasi in India says in his testimony, “Day and night, family’s worries used to bother me. I used to think, if my wife visits me in the lock up then she would be upset seeing my condition. On the eighth day I was sent to the jail. Then I stayed there for two and half months, where I was treated. When I was in jail, I became desperate enough to see my wife and children. It always crossed over my mind, what fate had befallen on me and I am suffering for whose sins, is it not that I am facing it for being born as a ‘Musahar’.[i]”       

Musahar[ii] means “mouse-eaters”. They are considered “Untouchable” – people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human. Musahar are relegated to the lowest jobs and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighbourhood is a life-threatening offence. The main business for them, even today, is to kill rats.

Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in 1950, discrimination against lower castes and Musahar has remained so pervasive.  In order to prevent discrimination based on caste and religion, the government passed legislation in 1989 known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat faeces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes. Many of the youngest in the community do not found entry in the schools since the upper castes do not want their children to study along with the Musahar children. Since then, the violence has escalated largely as a result of the emergence of a grassroots human rights movement among Musahar to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability.

The severest human rights violations in India, as the widespread use of custodial torture, are closely linked to caste-based discrimination. In the context of crime investigation, suspects are tortured to enforce confessions. Due to the absence of an independent agency to investigate cases, complaints are often not properly proofed and perpetrators are nor prosecuted and punished. The discrimination of women and gender based violence which includes domestic violence, dowry linked violence, acid attacks, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex-selective abortion is one of the most relevant human rights issues in India.

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Unequal access to education

Unequal access to education

by Ms. Pallavi Gupta

Education is one of the most powerful tools to bring positive socio-economic change in the country. In India, where educational access has traditionally been confined to upper caste males, the spread of education among socially disadvantaged groups and women has had extremely significant implications for the economic progress of these groups.

Lack of education or inadequate education robs a person of equal opportunity to develop one’s capability to function effectively in society. Education increases one capability of achieving freedom to choose and contributes to one’s development, resulting into improved functioning and sustainability of democracy in both rich and poor countries. Education also has resulted into lower crime rate and not to mention has been one of the most important way of combating HIV and AIDS, both in developed and particularly developing countries.

How important is female education?
Female education is the key to transformation of the society. It is very well known, for instance, that there is a strong link between lower fertility rate and female education. Mothers’ education is an important determinant of health care and sanitation in a household, which reflects in, among other things, lower infant and child mortality levels. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, each extra year of a mother’s schooling reduces infant mortality by 5 to 10%.

Education results into better participation of women in the workforce, expanding the income earning opportunities for households and resulting into participation of women in financial decisions, making them more confident in defining their place in the society. The World Bank points out that an extra year of secondary school increases a girl’s potential income by 15 to 25%.

State of education in UP
Uttar Pradesh paints a grim picture of education attainment. Although literacy levels have improved in recent years, more than two out of five of the 7+ population of the state and more than three out of five of the female population in this age group were still illiterate in 2001. The state is second lowest among all states in terms of literacy.

Uttar Pradesh’s showing in terms of the percentage of the male/female population completing elementary schooling is considerably poorer than the national average. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) 55th Round (1999-00), only 16.2 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population above five years in the rural areas, and 32.4 per cent in the urban areas had completed middle school, compared to 18.4 per cent of the all- India rural population and 41.8 per cent of the country’s urban population. This, taken together with the literacy profile and other indicators of educational access, implies a high inequality in the access to education across socio-economic groups.

The availability of schooling opportunities in India and especially in UP varies on so many factors – geography, gender, caste, religion, social status etc. According to the numbers shown in Social development report of the planning commission, there are more than 20% fewer women getting access to education than men. As it is the percentage is way below the national average.



 In 1991, as depicted in the chart, only 20% (national average is 32.1%) of total girl population was educated where as the male education stood at 44.7% (national average is 52.8%); this number was even worse in rural areas where only 15% of girls had access to education as opposed to 41.5% of boys. Social group disparities in literacy also continue to be very large in the state. The literacy rate among SCs and STs has increased at a healthy rate when compared to the general population, but the deficit is still substantial, especially among women belonging to these groups.

By 2001, Uttar Pradesh had achieved an overall literacy rate of 57.4 per cent (70.2 % for males and 43% for females). Yet it still ranks 17th among 20 large Indian states, with three-fifth of the women still reported as being illiterate.

Differences in enrollment across socio-economic groups
Besides the geographic location and gender of the child, religion and caste too play a very significant role in determining the availability of schooling opportunities. Enrollment rates among SCs and Muslims are very low in UP. The World Bank survey of two regions of UP – Bundelkhand and Eastern UP, showed that the enrollment among boys increased from 58% in the lowest quintile to 74.6% in the highest quintile, while enrollment among girls increased from 35.3% to 53.8% in the highest quintile. Enrollment among Muslims and SCs is much lower compared to other social groups, while children belonging to high caste groups enjoy nearly universal access to education. Thelargest difference being between SC girls in the lowest consumption quintile and boys belonging to the high castes in the highest consumption quintile.

As we see, UP has a long way ahead in terms of providing equal and abundant educational opportunities to boys and girls from different economic and social backgrounds. Reaching the goal of Universal Elementary Education would require community involvement, building awareness, putting local need in the center of planning education programs and effectively managing the resources. Closing accountability loop should also be a big focus of govt. and private planning in this area.

There are several challenges that UP needs to overcome:

  • Challenges in terms of access. School dropout still remains a big challenge in the state. Most of the children that do not have access to the education setup or are for any reason forced to drop out, belong to poorer and socially deprived groups, and girls, obviously, bear a disproportionate burden of educational deprivation.
  • A big percentage of schools still lack infrastructural prerequisites, and worse, teachers’ presence.
  •  Quality of education, remains one of the biggest concerns where the content is designed keeping the teacher and teaching methodology in mind but not the learning capacity of the child. In addition to that, different groups of students have different access to schools of variable quality, with poor students and those belonging to socially deprived groups accessing the poorest quality schools
  • There is lack of focus on accountability on the administrators and teachers, which in turn results into bad quality of education imparted at low efficiency.
  • Many education reports also mention that – Per capita and per student public resources allocated to education in Uttar Pradesh continue to be very low. Government perhaps should rethink their allocated budget and resources.


Lets define development

Lets define development

by Ms. Pallavi Gupta

When we talk about development, it is very important to understand what does development mean exactly. There are many prominent theories and perspectives on it, but the one that stands out the most is the concept of Development as Freedom (of choice) by Amartya Sen.

There are many ways to gauge development: one can assess it on the basis of the economic indicators, human development indicators, MDGs etc. But whats interesting about development as freedom is the perspective, that all-round and true development should result into an enhanced capability of a person to choose and decide what’s good and bad for herself and for her children- to “lead the kind of lives they value”.

Sen emphasizes five types of freedoms – political freedom, which include civil rights, an uncensored press and free democratic elections; economic freedom includes both free markets and fair and equal access to resources required to participate and benefit from market economy; equal social opportunities, refers to the arrangements that the society and the government in a country makes for ensuring education, health care, etc which greatly affect a person’s capability to improve her situation; transparency  guarantees, which lays down norms for people to deal openly with each other and under the guarantees of disclosure and lucidity, help to prevent corruption and financial irresponsibility; protective security refers to the social safety net (e.g. unemployment benefits, income supplements for the poor) that prevent abject poverty and deny people of their freedom as mentioned in four parameters above.

All the indicators mentioned above enhance one’s capability to function effectively in the society, and any reason that may result into lessening such capability of an individual, results into poverty. This multidimensional interpretation moves far beyond the notion of poverty as being solely related to a lack of financial resources. For example, Sen’s viewpoint would suggest that inadequate education could, in itself, be considered as a form of poverty in many societies.

Naturally the next question is what is the appropriate methodology to bring developmental change and eradicate poverty providing people their freedom of choice to choose the lives they want to live.

There are many schools of thoughts in this area as well. Some consider government with its immense reach can be the only organization that can execute projects having measurable impact. Others think private sector, not limited by issues like bureaucracy or political interference, can be the sole impactful body.

Both the sectors have their limitations and both have their virtues.

Government with their strong reach has a better understanding of the problems and a soft infrastructure or framework in place to implement impactful concepts, while private sector with its good grasp of market forces and ingenuity can devise innovative and affordable solutions to the issues. It has been ascertained by many development theorists that the best way of having a developmental impact is when the two forces join hands. Private sector can be the source of innovative technology and solutions while public sector can provide guidance in terms of implementing those solutions in a way so that it can impact millions.

This PPP (Private Public Partnership) model has been of great significance in the fight against poverty around the world. In the western world, it is not a concept anymore but a recognized way of implementing government schemes and services. India too has experimented with this model and has achieved great success in the area, especially in Kerala.

There is no one model that will work well everywhere. However it should be easy to see that that any model that puts the onus on the people to solve their own problems and lead their own development using both the free market forces and government support is the best way to achieve impact.