Gender, Religion and Caste

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04 Gender, Religion and Caste

Gender, Religion and Caste are the three pillars on which social divisions and inequalities of human civilisations lay.

Gender and politics

Public/private division

  • The Indian society is a male-dominated, patriarchal society where women face discrimination, disadvantage 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. An average Indian woman works one hour more than an average man every day.
    • The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 provides that equal wages should be paid to equal work.
    • Parents prefer to have sons and find ways to have the girl child aborted before she is born, in many parts of India.

Women’s political representation

  • India is among the bottom group of nations in the world, even below the averages for several developing countries of Africa and Latin America.
  • Women’s organisations and activists have been demanding a minimum of one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women.
  • But a bill with this proposal has been pending before the Parliament for more than a decade, has had no consensus over this among all the political parties.

Religion, communalism and politics

  • Social division based on religious diversity is prevalent in many parts of the world.
  • India too, has a mix of people of different religions and religious differences are often expressed in politics as in the following cases:
  • Ideas, ideals and values of different religions should play a role in politics.
  • People, as a member of a religious community, should be able to express in politics their needs, interests and demands.
  • People vested with political power should be able to regulate the practice of religion at times, so as to prevent discrimination and oppression.



  • Communal politics considers religion as the principal basis of social community.
  • Communalism can take various forms in politics:
    • The most common expression of communalism can be seen in religious prejudices, stereotypes of religious communities and belief in the superiority of one’s religion over other religions.
    • A communal mindset is responsible for a quest for political dominance of one’s own religious community.
    • Political mobilisation on religious lines is another frequent form of communalism.
    • The most ugly form of communalism is communal violence, riots and massacre.

Secular state

  • The makers of our Constitution were rightly aware that communalism can prove to be a major challenge to democracy in India and thus chose the model of a secular state, reflected in several constitutional provisions:
  • Secularism constitutes one of the foundations of our country rather than being just an ideology of some parties or persons.
  • Communalism is a threat to the entire nation and needs to be combated in everyday life
  • Mobilisation based on religion needs to be opposed in the arena of politics.

Caste and politics

Caste inequalities

  • Large scale urbanisation, growth of literacy and education, occupational mobility and the weakening of the position of landlords in the villages due to economic development has led to the breaking down of old notions of caste hierarchy.
  • The Constitution of India prohibited any caste-based discrimination and laid the foundations of policies to reverse the injustices done by the caste system.

Social and Religious Diversity of India

  • The Census of India includes two social groups: the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.
  • These groups include hundreds of castes or tribes whose names are listed in an official Schedule and hence have the prefix ‘Scheduled’ in their name.
  • About two-thirds of the country’s population and about three-fourths of the Hindu population are accounted for by the SC, ST and the OBC.

Caste in politics

  • Caste is so dominant in politics that elections can sometimes be considered to be all about caste which is not true.
  • Although caste is a factor of electoral politics there are other factors, like strong attachment to political parties, assessment of the performance of the government and the popularity rating of the leaders
  • People within the same caste or community have different interests depending on their economic condition.

Caste inequality today

  • The relationship between caste and economic status has certainly changed a lot and the National Sample Survey shows, caste continues to be very strongly linked to economic status in many important ways.

Politics in caste

  • Politics too influences the caste system and it is not politics that gets casteridden, but the caste that gets politicised in several forms.

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