Society and Identity
The issue of social inclusion/exclusion has become a focal point in the political and economic transformation of South Asia. Several factors underlie this phenomenon. First, the debate over who should be included in and who should be excluded from the definition of “national citizen” has been heating up in the recent global trend of rising nationalism. This debate has exacerbated friction and violent conflicts among different ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. Some of these conflicts can be traced to a second factor, namely, the increased disparity between the rich and poor. The social exclusion of the poor is a serious problem. It has also become clear yet again that there is a rigid structure of exclusion in which there is no rise in social status to reflect the rise in economic status. The third important factor is the democratization. Underprivileged people who have been politically disempowered in the past, such as individuals from lower castes, tribes, and women, have become influential. However, again, there is still a strong structure of exclusion in that there has not been a rise in social status to reflect this rise in political power.
Since the colonial era, in South Asia, various group categories based on “religious,” “caste,” and “ethnic” differences have been formalized and strengthened, and how people have formed their identity along the boundaries of each group has been the source of various social effects. Many people who were discriminated against and marginalized, have been empowered by reservation policies, which provide quotas for certain underprivileged communities in the fields of political participation, employment in the public sector, and admission to higher education. Ironically, to harness the opportunities provided under reservation policies, these people must assert their own identities based on their caste or tribe. Thus, in spite of constitutional provisions for the equality of status and opportunity for all national citizens, people tend to have an increasingly strong sense of belonging to a caste or tribal community, thereby obtaining a better status or opportunity.
Specific examples from those papers in the second panel include the restriction of access to development and sacred places against the backward caste people in western India, the political participation of Muslim people in India, the minorities and riots in the urban areas of southern India, the Buddhist movement in northern India, and the anti-caste movement of R. M. Lohia.