CBSE 10 Polity Gender, Religion and Caste Notes
Social diversity does not threaten democracy, it allows Political expression of social differences. There are three kinds of social differences that take place in social divisions and inequalities to practice democracy in India. These differences are based on gender, religion, and caste. We also ask whether different expressions based on these differences are healthy or otherwise in a democracy.
Gender and politics
This is a form of hierarchical social division seen everywhere in the study of politics. The gender division tends to be understood as natural and unchangeable it is based on social expectations and stereotypes.
Boys and girls are brought up to believe that women’s main responsibility is housework and raising children.
This is reflected in a sexual division of labour in most families: women do all the work inside the home such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, tailoring, looking after children, etc., and men do all the work outside the home.
It doesn’t mean that men cannot do housework; they think that it is for women to attend to these things. Men are ready to take up work like cooking, and tailoring when these jobs are paid for.
Similarly, women can work outside their homes. In villages, women fetch water, collect fuel and work in the fields. In urban areas, poor women work as domestic helpers in middle-class homes, while middle-class women work in offices.
The majority of women do some sort of paid work in addition to domestic labour. But their work is not valued and does not get recognition.
This division of labour made women half part of humanity mainly in politics. Earlier, only men were allowed to participate in public affairs, vote, and contest for public office.
Women in different parts of the world organised and agitated for equal rights and for the extension of voting rights to women.
These agitations aimed to make the political and legal status along with improving educational and career opportunities for women.
More radical women’s movements also aimed at equality in personal and family life. These movements are called feminist movements.
The political expression of gender division and political mobilisation helped to improve women’s role in public life. Now, We find women working as scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, managers, and college and university teachers.
In some parts of the world, for example in Scandinavian countries, such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland, the participation of women in public life is very high.
In our country, women still take her lag behind men despite some improvements since Independence. That was the reason still our country is male dominating country. Due to it, Women face disadvantage, discrimination, and oppression in various ways:
- Women’s literacy rate is only 54 percent compared to men’s with 76 percent. Only a smaller proportion of girls go for higher studies. Girls drop out of school because parents prefer to spend their resources on their boys’ education.
- Small portion of Women work under highly paid and valued jobs. On average, an Indian woman works one hour more than an average man every day but they get undervalued paid.
- The Equal Remuneration Act, of 1976 provides equal wages to equal work. Women are paid less than men for the same work in all areas of work including sports and cinema, factories, and fields.
- In many parts of India, parents prefer to have sons and find ways to have the girl child aborted before she is born. Such sex-selective abortion led to a decline in the child sex ratio (number of girl children per thousand boys) in the country to merely 919. This ratio has fallen below 850 or even 800 in some States.
There are reports of various kinds of harassment, exploitation, and violence against women. Urban areas have become particularly unsafe for women. They are not safe even within their own home from beating, harassment, and other forms of domestic violence.
Women’s political representation
Yet issues related to women issue well known to everyone but no one gave adequate attention. This has led feminists and women’s movements to emphasize that women need to control power for their problems. One way to ensure this is to have more women as elected representatives.
In India, the proportion of women in the legislature has been very low. For example, the percentage of elected women members in Lok Sabha was 14.36 percent of its total strength for the first time in 2019. Their share in the state assemblies is less than 5 percent.
India is among the bottom group of nations in the world. India is behind the averages for several developing countries in Africa and Latin America.
In the government, male cabinets more than women even the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister are women. This problem is solved by making a fair proportion of women in the elected bodies.
One-third of seats in local government bodies are reserved for women in panchayats and municipalities in India. Now there are more than 10 lakh elected women representatives in rural and urban local bodies.
Women’s organisations and activists have been demanding a similar reservation of one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women.
A bill for reservation for women in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies has been pending before the Parliament for over a decade. The political parties don’t have any concerns about the bill.
Gender division is an example of social division which needs to be expressed in politics.
Religion, communalism, and politics
The social division is based on religious differences in the world today. Many countries including India have populations of different religions.
In the case of Northern Ireland, there are the same religious people but they practice religion in different ways. Unlike gender differences, religious differences are often expressed in the field of politics.
Consider the following:
- Gandhiji says that religion can never be separated from politics. What he meant by religion was not any particular religion like Hinduism or Islam but moral values that inform all religions. He believed that politics must be guided by ethics drawn from religion.
- Human rights groups in our country have argued that minorities are victims of communal riots in our country. They demanded that the government should protect religious minorities.
- Women’s movement has argued that family laws of all religions discriminate against women. So they have demanded that government should change laws to make them more equitable.
All these instances involve a relationship between religion and politics. The Ideas, ideals, and values drawn from different religions can play a role in politics.
Religious communities should be able to express their needs, interests, and demands in politics.
Those who hold political power should prevent discrimination and oppression. These political acts are not wrong as long as they treat every religion equally.
The problem begins when religion is seen as the basis of the nation.
The problem started when all religious people make their parties and their followers are pitted against one another.
This happens when one religion is presented as superior to other religions and state power established domination of one religion over the rest. This manner of using religion in politics is communal politics.
Communal politics is based on the idea that religion is the principal basis of a social community.
Communalism involves thinking along the following lines. The followers of a particular religion must belong to one community. Their fundamental interests are the same and they may have irrelevant or trivial for community life.
It also follows that people from different religions cannot belong to the same social community. If the followers of different religions have some common superficial, immaterial, and their different interest involves conflict.
Communalism leads to the belief that different religions people cannot live as equal citizens within one nation. Either, one of them has to dominate the rest or they have to form different nations. This belief is fundamentally flawed.
People of one religion do not have the same interests and aspirations in every context. Everyone has several other roles, positions, and identities. There are many voices inside every community. All these voices have a right to be heard.
If any attempt to bring all followers of one religion together in a context other than religion is bound to suppress many voices within that community.
Communalism can take various forms in politics:
- The most common expression of communalism is in everyday beliefs. These involve religious prejudices, stereotypes of religious communities, and belief in the superiority of one’s religion over other religions. This is so common that we believe it but fail to notice.
- A communal mind often leads to own religious community for political dominance. The majority community forms majoritarian dominance and makes a desire to form a separate political unit.
- Political mobilisation on religion is another frequent form of communalism. This involves the use of sacred symbols, religious leaders, emotional appeal, and plain fear to bring all followers together in the political arena. In electoral politics, this involves the interests or emotions of voters of one religion in preference to others.
- Sometimes communalism takes the ugly form of communal violence, riots, and massacre. India and Pakistan suffered some of the worst communal riots at the time of the Partition. The post-Independence period has also seen large-scale communal violence.
Communalism is one of the major challenges to democracy in our country. The makers of our Constitution were aware of this challenge. That is why, they chose the model of a secular state. This choice was reflected in several constitutional provisions that we studied:
- There is no official religion in the Indian state. Our Constitution does not give a special status to any religion in our country like other countries such as the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Islam in Pakistan, and Christianity in England.
- The Constitution provides to all individuals and communities the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate any religion.
- The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion.
- At the same time, the Constitution allows the state to intervene in matters of religious equality within religious communities. For example, it bans untouchability.
Secularism is not just an ideology of some parties or persons. This idea constitutes one of the foundations of our country. Communalism should not be a threat to some people in India. Communalism needs to be combated.
A secular Constitution is necessary but not sufficient to combat communalism. Communal prejudices and propaganda need to be countered in everyday life and religion-based mobilisation needs to be countered in the arena of politics.
Caste and politics
We have seen two instances of the expression of social divisions in the arena of politics, one largely positive and the other largely negative. The caste and politics have both positive and negative aspects.
Unlike gender and religion, caste division is special to India. All societies have social inequality and division of labour.
The caste system is an example of being passed on from one generation to another. Members of the same caste group were supposed to practice the same or similar occupation, married within the caste group, and can not eat with members from other caste groups.
The caste system was based on exclusion and discrimination against the ‘outcaste’ groups. That is why political leaders and social reformers like Jotiba Phule, Gandhiji, B.R. Ambedkar, and Periyar Ramaswami Naicker advocated and worked to establish a society in which caste inequalities are absent.
The changes in castes and caste systems in modern India are due to the efforts of political leaders and social economics.
The old notions of caste hierarchy are broken down due to economic development, large-scale urbanisation, growth of literacy and education, occupational mobility, and the weakening of the position of landlords in the villages.
In urban areas, it does not matter much who is walking along next to us on the street or eating at the next table in a restaurant.
The Constitution of India prohibited any caste-based discrimination and laid the foundations of policies to reverse the injustices of the caste system. If a person who lived a century ago returned to India, she would be greatly surprised to see the change in the country.
Yet caste has not disappeared but older aspects persist in contemporary India. Even now most people marry within their caste or tribe. Untouchability has not ended completely, despite constitutional prohibition.
The caste groups that had access to education under the old system have done very well in acquiring modern education as well. Those groups that did not have access to education or were prohibited from acquiring it have naturally lagged. That is why there is a disproportionately large presence of ‘upper caste’ among the urban middle classes in our country. Caste continues to be closely linked to economic status.
Caste in politics
As in the case of communalism, casteism is rooted in the belief that caste is the sole basis of social community. Same caste people belong to a natural social community and have the same interests which they do not share with another caste. Caste is one aspect of our experience but it is not a relevant or important aspect.
Caste can take various forms in politics:
- When parties choose candidates in elections, they keep in mind the caste composition of the electorate and nominate candidates from different castes to muster the necessary support to win elections. When governments are formed, political parties usually take care that representatives of different castes and tribes find a place in it.
- Political parties and candidates in elections make appeals to caste sentiment to muster support. Some political parties are known to favour some castes and are seen as their representatives.
- Universal adult franchise and the principle of one-person-one-vote compelled political leaders to gear up to the task of mobilising and securing political support. It also brought new consciousness among the people of castes who were treated as inferior and low.
The focus on caste in politics can sometimes give an impression that elections are all about caste and nothing else. That is far from true. Just consider these:
- No parliamentary constituency in the country has a clear majority of one single caste. So, every candidate and party needs to win the confidence of more than one caste and community to win elections.
- No party wins the votes of all the voters of a caste or community. When people say that a caste is a ‘vote bank’ of one party, it usually means that a large proportion of the voters from that caste vote for that party.
- Many political parties may put up candidates from the same caste (if that caste is believed to dominate the electorate in a particular constituency). Some voters have more than one candidate from their caste while many voters have no candidate from their caste.
- The ruling party and the sitting MP or MLA frequently lose elections in our country. That could not have happened if all castes and communities were frozen in their political preferences.
Caste matters in electoral politics and many other factors. The voters have a strong attachment to political parties which is often stronger than their attachment to their caste or community. People within the same caste or community have different interests depending on their economic condition so they vote very differently. People’s performance assessment of the government and the popularity rating of the leaders matter in decisive elections.
Politics in caste
The relationship between caste and politics is not one way. Politics too influences the caste system and caste identities by bringing them into the political arena. Thus, it is not politics that gets caste-ridden, it is the caste that gets politicised. This takes several forms:
- Each caste group tries to become bigger by incorporating within neighbouring castes or sub-castes which were earlier excluded from it.
- Various caste groups are required to enter into a coalition with other castes or communities and thus enter into a dialogue and negotiation.
- New kinds of caste groups have come up in the political arena like ‘backward’ and ‘forward’ caste groups.
This caste plays different kinds of roles in politics. The caste politics has helped people from Dalits and OBC castes to gain better access to make decisions. Several political and non-political organisations have been demanding and agitating to end discrimination against castes for more dignity and more access to land, resources, and opportunities.
The exclusive attention to caste can produce negative results as well. As in the case of religion, caste politics is not very healthy in a democracy. It can divert attention from other pressing issues like poverty, development, and corruption. In some cases, caste division leads to tensions, conflict, and even violence.
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