Gender , religion and caste

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GENDER , RELIGION & CASTE : 

GENDER , RELIGION & CASTE How these social divisions and inequalities are expressed in Indian politics and whether these expressions based on these differences are healthy or not . . .

GENDER AND POLITICS : 

GENDER AND POLITICS

SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR: 

SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR A system in which all work inside the home is either done by the women of the family, or organised by them through the domestic helpers. The result of this division of labour is that although women constitute half of the humanity, their role in public life, especially politics, is minimal in most societies. Earlier, only men were allowed to participate in public affairs, vote and contest for public offices. Gradually the gender issue was raised in politics. Women in different parts of the world organised and agitated for equal rights.

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There were agitations in different countries for the extension of voting rights to women. These agitations demanded enhancing the political and legal status of women and improving their educational and career opportunities. More radical women’s movements aimed at equality in personal and family life as well. These movements are called FEMINIST movements

Political expression of gender question helped to improve women’s role in public life. We now find women working as scientists, doctors, engineers, lawyers, managers and college and university teachers which were earlier not considered suitable for women. Ours is still a male dominated, PATRIARCHAL society. Women face disadvantage, discrimination and oppression in various ways: The literacy rate among women is only 54 per cent compared with 76 per cent among men. The proportion of women among the highly paid and valued jobs is still very small. On an average an Indian woman works one hour more than an average man every day. Yet much of her work is not paid and therefore often not valued. The Equal Wages Act provides that equal wages should be paid to equal work. However in almost all areas of work, from sports and cinema, to factories and fields, women are paid less than men, even when both do exactly the same work. 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 child sex ratio (number of girl children per thousand boys) in the country to merely 927. 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 : 

WOMEN’S POLITICAL REPRESENTATION Issues related to women’s well being or otherwise are not given adequate attention. One way to ensure this is to have more women as elected representatives. In India, the proportion of women in legislature has been very low. For example, the percentage of elected women members in Lok Sabha has never reached even 10 per cent of its total strength. Their share in the state assemblies is less than 5 per cent.

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One way to solve this problem is to make it legally binding to have a fair proportion of women in the elected bodies. This is what the Panchayati Raj has done in India. One-third of seats in local government bodies – in panchayats and municipalities – are now reserved for women. Now there are more than 10 lakh elected women representatives in rural and urban local bodies.

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Women’s organisations and activists have been demanding a similar reservation of at least one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women. A bill with this proposal has been pending before the Parliament for more than a decade. But there is no consensus over this among all the political parties. The bill has not been passed.

Religion & Politics : 

Religion & Politics

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Ideas, ideals and values drawn from different religions can and perhaps should play a role in politics. People should be able to express in politics their needs, interests and demands as a member of a religious community. Those who hold political power should sometimes be able to regulate the practice of religion so as to prevent discrimination and oppression. These political acts are not wrong as long as they treat every religion equally.

Communalism:: 

Communalism: The problem begins when religion is seen as the basis of the nation. The problem becomes more acute when religion is expressed in politics in exclusive and partisan terms, when one religion and its followers are pitted against another. This happens when beliefs of one religion are presented as superior to those of other religions, when the demands of one religious group are formed in opposition to another and when state power is used to establish domination of one religious group over the rest. This manner of using religion in politics is communal politics.

Communalism can take various forms in politics: : 

Communalism can take various forms in politics: The most common expression of communalism is in everyday beliefs. These routinely 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 often fail to notice it, even when we believe in it. A communal mind often leads to a quest for political dominance of one’s own religious community. For those belonging to majority community, this takes the form of majoritarian dominance. For those belonging to the minority community, it can take the form of a desire to form a separate political unit. Political mobilisation on religious lines is another frequent form of communalism. This involves the use of sacred symbols, religious leaders, emotional appeal and plain fear in order to bring the followers of one religion together in the political arena. In electoral politics this often involves special appeal to the interests or emotions of voters of one religion in preference to others. Sometimes communalism takes its most 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.

Secular State : 

Secular State There is no official religion for the Indian state. Unlike the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, that of Islam in Pakistan and that of Christianity in England, our Constitution does not give a special status to any religion. The Constitution provides to all individuals and communities freedom to profess, practice and propagate any religion, or not to follow any. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion. At the same time the Constitution allows the state to intervene in the matters of religion in order to ensure equality within religious communities. For example, it bans untouchability .

CASTE AND POLITICS : 

CASTE AND POLITICS

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Unlike gender and religion, caste division is unique to India. All societies have some kind of social inequality and some form of division of labour. In most societies, occupations are passed on from one generation to another. Caste system is an extreme form of this. What makes it different from other societies is that in this system, hereditary occupational division was sanctioned by rituals. Members of the same caste group were supposed to form a social community that practiced the same or similar occupation, married within the caste group and did not eat with members from other caste groups. Caste system was based on exclusion of and discrimination against the ‘outcaste’ groups. They were subjected to the inhuman practice of untouchability .

Current Status of Caste Related Prejudice: : 

Current Status of Caste Related Prejudice: Partly due to efforts of our great leaders and partly due to other socio-economic changes, castes and caste system in modern India have undergone great changes. With economic development, large scale urbanisation, growth of literacy and education, occupational mobility and the weakening of the position of landlords in the villages, the old notions of caste hierarchy are breaking down. Now, most of the times, in urban areas it does not matter much who is walking along next to us on a 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. Yet caste has not disappeared from contemporary India. Some of the older aspects of caste have persisted. Even now most people marry within their own caste or tribe. Untouchability has not ended completely, despite constitutional prohibition. Effects of centuries of advantages and disadvantages continue to be felt today. 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 behind. 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 : 

Caste in Politics When parties choose candidates in elections, they keep in mind the caste composition of the electorate and nominate candidates from different castes so as to muster 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. Each caste group tries to become bigger by incorporating within it 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.

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Thus, caste plays different kinds of roles in politics. In some situations, expression of caste differences in politics gives many disadvantaged communities the space to demand their share of power. In this sense-caste politics has helped people from Dalits and OBC castes to gain better access to decision making. Several political and non-political organizations have been demanding and agitating for an end to discrimination against particular castes, for more dignity and more access to land, resources and opportunities. At the same time exclusive attention to caste can produce negative results as well. As in the case of religion, politics based on caste identity alone 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.

Caste Inequality Today: 

Caste Inequality Today The average economic status (measured by criteria like monthly consumption expenditure) of caste groups still follows the old hierarchy – the ‘upper’ castes are best off, the Dalits and Adivasis are worst off, and the backward classes are in between. The proportion living in extreme poverty (below the official ‘poverty line’) is much higher for the lowest castes and much lower for the upper castes, with the backward classes once again in between. The upper castes are heavily over-represented among the rich while the lower castes are severely under-represented.

The End : 

The End Thank you