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Why A Debate On Social Exclusion?

By Goldy M. George

17 July, 2012

For some mysterious reasons the question of social exclusion has become the buzzword around all debates on development during the past two decades. Such discourses become prominent when the question of development and growth of a nation has to comply with that of the traditionally expelled groups of any country or society. Such aspects need closer and scientific study to evolve a better systemic process. It is understood as a systematic practice to neglect, boycott, or refuse both individuals as well as groups from manifold aspects of society; power, education, trade, privilege, opportunities and resources being the key features. Interwoven with poverty, deprivation and marginalisation, social exclusion pushes the group or individual to the worst extents of periphery.

Although exclusion is a relatively newer terminology in the political lexicon, it is not difficult to trace its root in world history. The implying addition of late has been the significant extension of the realm to other similar forms of discrimination and its application. According to Piron & Curran (2005), “exclusion is defined with reference to groups of people who are excluded from social, political and economic processes and institutions on the basis of their social identity and who experience to a greater or lesser degree significant poverty impacts as a result of their exclusion.” Thus, exclusion has not only the conceptual connection with social inequality, but also it challenges the non-cooperation of logically integrating the entire group/s into the socio-economic and political life.

Social exclusion describes a process by which certain groups are systematically disadvantaged and discriminated on the basis of caste, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, descent, gender, age, language, regional identity, migrant status, etc. However, the degrees of suppression and subjugation vary from one nation to another or from one society to another. People who suffer discrimination on various fronts – for instance disabled older women from ethnic minorities – are often the poorest. While both exclusion and discriminations are inter-exchangeable in most of the cases, there seems to be a clear distinction between the terms ‘exclusion’ and ‘discrimination’. Lee and Thorat (2008) in the following words: “exclusion” means prohibition from participation, whereas “discrimination” denotes participation with negative distinction.

Louis (2003: 39) says that it is an institutionalised attempt to keep out or to ‘outcast’ a segment of the population from the social order. In such a context it is not the case of one individual ‘ill-treating’ another, but the social cohesion in operation which convergences the physical and social space. Since social exclusion and segregation provide space for doination, discrimination and deprivation, those who benefit out of this social formation do not want to introduce any change in this structure. Significantly, this social system becomes highly resistant to change and transformation.

India has perhaps the longest history of social exclusion anywhere in the world. The graded inequality of caste, superimposed slavery has been in existence for more than 3500 years. Dalits in India continue as a socially oppressed, politically dominated, economically deprived and culturally subjugated lot. Despite the obstinate and determined struggles in history, caste remains a reality and caste system governs every aspect of our life (George 2004: iv). The historical struggles from Buddha to Ambedkar to the present speak volumes on the continuity of exclusion.

In India, this context compels a strategic, systemic and scientific study on the various dimensions of the discourse of social exclusion and seeking the possibilities of inclusive growth. Essentially, it requires a critical examination of the current socio-economic and political status of Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities, Women, people with homosexual orientation, persons living with HIV/AIDS and marginalised groups. Such an exercise will analyse the extent of participation and impending factors on the progress of these communities.


George, Goldy M. (2004) “Globalisation & Fascism… The Dalit Encounter”, Dalit Study Circle, Raipur

Lee, Joel and Sukhadeo Thorat (2008) “Dalits and the Right to Food: Discrimination and Exclusion in food related Government Programmes”, Working Paper, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi

Louis, Prakash (2003) “Political Sociology of Dalit Assertion”, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi

Piron, L & Z. Curran (2005) “Public Policy Response to Exclusion: Evidence from Brazil, South Africa and India”, Overseas Development Institute.

Goldy M. George, a Dalit activist for nearly two decades, is a PhD scholar with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.


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