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Gender, Religion and Caste Notes | Class 10 Civics

Social Divisions and their Forms

Political expression of social differences is possible and sometimes quite desirable in a democratic system.

Three kind of social differences can take the form of social differences and divisions.

1. Gender.

2. Religion. 

3. Caste 

Social Divisions based on Gender 

Gender is often thought to be natural and unchangeable but gender is based on social expectations and stereotypes. The way boys and girls are raised changes their expectation about society.

India is a male dominated society is such a society is called a Patriarchial society.

These are reflected in the sexual division of labour - where in most families women are expected to do all the work inside the home and men outside it. This division is not a result of any inadequacy among men or women but how the society has defined the roles of both genders.

The work that men and women do however is not valued or recognized equally resulting is discrimination. This division limits the role of women in public life in most societies. This was visible in limited voting and political rights to women.

What are feminist movements?

To protest these inequalities, women around the world organized themselves demanding equal political rights and legal status to improve their educational and career opportunities. These women movements aiming at equality in personal and family life are called as feminist movements.

These movements have helped in social and political mobilization of women into more active public life and and have opened up opportunities which were earlier restricted for women.

This can be seen in high participation of women in public life in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway and Finland.

What are some of the discriminations that women face in a patriarchial society?

Women face disadvantage, discrimination and oppression in various ways in a Patriarchal Society such as :

  • Low Literacy : The literacy rate among women is only 54 per cent compared with 76 per cent among men. An even  smaller proportion of girl students go for higher studies.

Girls drop out of schools and colleges because parents prefer to spend their resources for their boys’ education rather than spending equally on their sons and daughter.

  • Pay Gap : Proportion of women among the highly paid and highly 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 Remuneration Act, 1976 provides that equal wages should be paid to equal work. 

  • Female Foeticide : 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 914.

  • Exploitation and Harassment : There are reports of various kinds of harassment, exploitation and violence against women. They are not safe even within their own home from beating, harassment and other forms of domestic violence

Urban areas have become particularly unsafe for women.

  • Low Political Representation : This has resulted in feminist movements to conclusion that women will get equality and attention to their problems only when they control power. This can be ensured by having political representation from women.

In India, the proportion of women in legislature has been very low with less than 10% representation in Lok Sabha and less than 5% in state assemblies. The 73rd and 74th amendment to the Indian constitution has however reserved women representation in local bodies at 33%. 

Most ministers in the cabinet have usually been males even when the Prime Minister or Chief Minister is a woman.

Social Divisions based on Religion 

The world today has a lot of religious diversity. Unlike gender differences, religious differences are often expressed in politics.

Gandhi used to say that politics cannot be separated from religion. By this he meant that politics should be guided by moral values of all religions thus helping develop ethical political practices.

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.

Unfortunately, religion is expressed in politics as a divisive force where religious differences often result in violence in forms of riots.

The religious minorities often find themselves victimized and being persecuted. Therefore, the minorities demand that the government provide them protection to them.

They have also demanded that the government should change the personal laws/family laws of all religions that discriminate against women. There has also been a demand for Uniform Civil Code in this regard.

What is Communalism?

 It is a principle when religion forms the basis of nation. Some key features are:

  • Beliefs of one religion are presented as superior to those of other religions

  • Demands of one religious group are formed in opposition to another

  • State power is used to establish domination of one religious group 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 social community.

In its extreme form communalism leads to the belief that people belonging to different religions cannot live as equal citizens within one nation. Either, one of them has to dominate the rest or they have to form different nations.

Communalism can take various forms in politics:

  • Impacting Everyday Beliefs : The most common expression of communalism is in everyday beliefs. These routinely involve religious bias, stereotypes of religious communities and belief in the superiority of one’s religion over other religions.

  • Political Dominance and Mobilisation: A communal mind often leads to a quest for political dominance of one’s own religious community. 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.

  • Violence : Sometimes communalism takes its most ugly form of communal violence, riots and massacre.

What is a Secular state? 

There is no official religion for the Indian state. The Indian 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 as an offence.

Social Divisions Based on Caste 

Caste system was based on exclusion of and discrimination against the “outcaste” groups. They were subjected to the inhuman practice of untouchability.

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.

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.

Politics in caste

Each caste group tries to become bigger by incorporating within it neighboring 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.

Different Roles of Caste in Politics

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 and politics 

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

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.

Why is there disproportionately large presence of 'upper caste' among urban middle class in India?

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 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.


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