10. Social Movements in India – Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective


Social Movements in India

There are various definitions of the term, ‘social movement’. The term, ‘movement’ has been used with different connotations by social activists, political leaders and academicians in their writings. Some scholars use the term, ‘movement’ interchangeably with organization or union. Some use it to mean a historical trend or tendency such as renaissance, ‘analytical movement’, ‘empirical movement’, etc. it is fashionable for political leaders and social reformers to call their activities, which are essentially confirmed to lobbying or advocacy, as ‘movements’ even though their activities are restricted to forming organizations with less than a dozen members. Some claim to launch movements by issuing press statements on public issues.1

The term, ‘social movement’ was first popularized in the early nineteenth century in European languages. The political leaders and academicians were concerned with the emancipation of the exploited classes and the creation of a new society by changing the property relationship. However, since the early 1950s various scholars have defined the term social movement. Many scholars such as Rudolf Heberle, Neil Smelser, John Wilson and others have tried to define the concept ‘social movement’, but the definition given by Paul Wilkinson has been accepted widely.2

According to him social movements are, thus, clearly different historical movements, tendencies or trends. It is important to note, however, that such tendencies and trends, and the influence of the unconscious or irrational factors in human behaviour, may be of crucial importance in illuminating the problems of interpreting and explaining social movement.

A social movement must evince a minimal degree of organization, though this may range from a loose, informal or partial level of organization to the highly institutionalised and bureaucratised movement and the corporate group. Indeed, it will be shown that much of the literature of social movements has been concerned with natural histories, models or theories of movement development. Such models have attempted to simulate changes in movement structure and organization ranging from states of initial social unrest and excitement and the emergence of charismatic leadership, to a revolutionary movement's seizure of power.

A social movement's commitment to change and the raison d’etre of its organization are founded upon the conscious volition, normative commitment to the movement's aims or beliefs, and active participation on the part of the followers or members. This particular characterisation of social movement in terms of volition and normative commitment is endorsed by something approaching a consensus among leading scholars in this field. Heberle, for example, conceives of these belief-systems as an expression of the collective that it is the element of volition of individuals acting collectively that brings about the embodiment of ideologies in social movements.3

There are various components of social movements such as objectives, leadership, organization, ideology and programmes. All these are interdependent, and they influence each other from time to time. The objectives of the movement change from narrow issues to broad aims of social transformation. Sometimes, a movement which begins with broad objectives may, in the process, get bogged down to one or two issues. Ideology also undergoes a change. It provides direction for evolving strategies and programmes and also keeps the participants together by developing feeling of ‘we-ness’. Various strategies and programmes are evolved to mobilise the people. They sustain the movement for a long duration. Leadership which emerges or initiates in the course of growth of the movement plays a crucial role in articulating ideology and objectives, evolving strategies and programmes and maintaining the spirit of the participants.

None of these components are static and a priori. They evolve and keep changing according to the context or situation. Ranjit Guha has pointed out that though these components are found in all types of movements or insurgencies, including the so-called ‘spontaneous’ rebellions, their forms vary–from very unstructured to well organized. He challenges the contention of some historians, who opine that the peasant insurgencies were spontaneous and they lacked political consciousness and organization. Such insurgencies lacked ‘neither in leadership nor in aim nor even in some rudiments of a programme, although none of these attributes could compare in maturity or sophistication with those of the historically more advanced movements of the twentieth century’.4

According to M. S. A. Rao, a social movement undoubtedly involves collective action as distinct from individual action. However, only when the collective action is somewhat sustained, as distinct from a sporadic occurrence, does it take the form of a movement. This collective action, however, need not be formally organized but should be able to create an interest and awakening in a sufficiently large number of people. Hence, a social movement essentially involves sustained collective mobilization through either informal or formal organization.5

Secondly, a social movement is generally oriented towards bringing about change, either partial or total, in the existing system of relationships, value and norms, although there are efforts which are oriented towards resisting change and maintaining the status quo.

More often than not, political scientists and sociologist do not make a distinction between ‘social’ and ‘political’ movements. Sociologists assume that social movements also include those movements which have a clear objective of bringing about political change. Rudolf Heberle (1951) argues that movements of all kinds have political implications, even if, their members do not strive for political power. Political scientists too, are not inhibited in using the term, ‘social movement’.6

In the contemporary social science literature, the term, ‘new social movements’ is in vogue. It is largely West-European-centric, deprived from some of the social movements there. Though, there is no precise definition of the new social movements, generally such issues are related to the ‘post-modern’ society. They are not raising economic issues and not concerned with the state power. These movements are primarily concerned with protecting and enlarging the autonomy of civil society. These movements are not class based. These movements raise the issues of humanity cutting across the interests of all the classes. In that sense, the new social movements are social and not political.7

The immediate response of the state to all movements, pressuring or challenging its authority, is negative. The state assumes the responsibility of holding sovereign power which is the repository of wisdom for common good and manages the public sphere. It has, therefore, the tendency to resist any collective action, which by nature either exerts pressure on the authority for certain policy and action/or protest against the decision and action of the state. The state looks at the social movements as a challenge to its legitimate governance. Neither the capitalist state overtly representing the propertied classes, nor the communist state, claiming to be the state of the working classes, prefer to face the movements of the classes it supposedly represents.

After the initial response, the state uses different measures to deal with the movement. The measures vary from soft-paddling and leniency involving dialogue and negotiations to brutal repressions: torturing and killing the activists and creating fear among the participants. Simultaneously, the state also uses the tactics of appease and co-opts the participants. The state is softer with those movements, which have reformist demands within the institutional framework than those movements which aim at overthrowing and replacing the state. However, when the state realises that mere brutal force would not work and lead to counter-productive results, the state changes the strategies; which includes the co-option of leaders, infiltration in the movement, evolving counter ideology and use of all kinds of gimmicks to pacify and divert the attention of the participants and the movement's supporters.8

Some scholars assert that mass movement or protests are redundant in the Indian culture and civilisation due to its multi-linear character and all-pervasive hierarchy. Because of the Brahminical ideology and hierarchical social structure, the oppressed classes have become docile, obedient and fatalist. Such assertions are refuted by other scholars who point to a number of struggles by the oppressed classes in the pre-independence India. Some are of the view that protests and agitations in post-independent India are the result of the conflicts between tradition and modernity. According to them, the parliamentary democracy has been transplanted in India, where there is no tradition of voluntary effort. People have developed an ambivalent attitude towards authority, they take the advantage offered by the political authority, but at the same time do not legitimize it.9

The scholars who adhere to the theory of political development consider that the rising aspiration of the people is not adequately met by the existing political institutions which are rigid or incompetent. As the gap widens between the two, political instability and disorder, leading to mass upsurge increase.

Social theorists such as Rudolf Bahro sought to incorporate the new surge of movements within a reworked framework of socialist politics, others such as Jurgen Habermas and Alain Touraine argue that the ‘new social movements’ demonstrated that class had become redundant as an organising form of social identity and action. New social movements were the products of the post-industrial social formation where the welfare state had made classic forms of exploitation and deprivation obsolete, but where modern society created new forms of alienation. These movements reflected and responded to the dis-content, they were communitarian in that they sought to reclaim a ‘lifeworld’ disenchanted by modernity, and universalistic in their politics exceeded class struggle and the problem of distribution, and addressed the very grammar of forms of life.10 This meta-critique demanded a new conceptual apparatus.11

Farmer's Movement

India being primarily an agricultural society has witnessed a wide variety of movements related to land. The farmers’ movements form part of a wide variety of social movements witnessed in the post-independence India. However, unlike the women's movement or the environment movements, which also address civil society, farmers’ movements have been directed at the state. The centrality of state in a developing country characterised by agricultural backwardness means the farmers’ movements are largely a response to change in agricultural policy. A second determining factor has been a growing capitalist tendency and class differentiation in the agrarian sector, which has helped shape agrarian mobilization. These features have determined the trajectory that farmers’ movements have taken in the country.12

The agrarian mobilization in India may be divided into two types. First is of the poor agricultural labourers and marginal farmers; and secondly, of the more prosperous and independent owner-cultivators, who produce a considerable marketed surplus. The very rich capitalist farmers are generally with the richer farmers, and are looked upon as exploiters by the agricultural labours, who work on their fields-either as wage labourers or as share-croppers. In other words, modernisation and such changes that have taken place in its wake in rural India are because of the effects of the urban world. The urban world exists, as does the national economy, but its effect on rural India is not simply a consequence of proximity but rather of the nexus which embraces both town and country.13

Sudha Pai has based the agrarian movement on five criteria:

  1. The pattern of land ownership, which determines the mode of production, class structure, and the prevailing agrarian relations.
  2. State policies, as major shifts in the agrarian economy have occurred due to the introduction of new policies. Also, most of the movements are either against particular state policies or make demands, that the state cannot ignore.
  3. Technology-based change, which is powerful and independent force, although researches show that there is no automatic connection between improved technology and political consciousness and action. The impact varies over time, by region, crop, and the organization of the productive process.
  4. The pattern of mobilization which is based on class, and at times caste.
  5. Leadership, together with strategies, issues and demands.

Based on these criteria, agrarian movements in post-independence India fall into three categories:-

  1. Anti-feudal movements against exploitation by landlords or against the state, demanding redistribution of land, higher wages for the labour, lower rent to small peasants, and an end to other exploitative practices. In the immediate post-independence period, discontent arising out of the failure of the state to fulfil its promises of land reforms resulted in a number of ‘land grab’ movements led by peasant leaders, who in many cases belonged to Socialist and Communist parties/organizations. While agitations against landlords continue in form of ‘Naxalite’ movement, the issue of land redistribution lost importance with the shift from an institutional to a technological agrarian policy in the mid-1960s.
  2. Movements by rich peasants / capitalists farmers following the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s, and the resulting commercialization of agriculture and the class differentiation. Led by rich farmers, these movements acted as pressure groups upon the state, and demanded policies beneficial to them. A section of the bigger farmers, who benefited from the Green Revolution became the new power holders in the countryside. The state, and not the landlord, was viewed as the ‘enemy’, and larger issues such as urban versus rural interests and terms of trade with industry have been central to these movements. Based primarily upon economic interest, some employed a caste-class strategy, reflecting the specifities of the Indian context.
  3. Since the early 1990s, due to a general crisis in Indian agriculture that resulted in a slow down in the rate of agricultural growth, and the structural adjustment programme (SAP) leading to the globalisation of the Indian economy and the resultant changes in the policy regime, farmers’ movements have entered a new phase. There have been few large, organized rich farmers’ movements in the 1980s rather, movements are smaller, largely against the state governments that have introduced market-oriented policies, and no longer attract the small/marginal farmer as issues have undergone considerable changes. However, in recent months, with the deepening of economic reforms, movements attracting smaller farmers have emerged against the acquisition of agricultural land by the state governments for the industrial / mining projects of private national and international companies.14

During the colonial period, the peasant uprisings were against the zamindari, mahalwari, ryotwari, and jagirdari systems, which charged higher land revenues from the peasants. There were various other reasons for the peasants to revolt against the existing policies such as cultivation of a particular type of crop, exploitation of money lenders, to get the revenue waiver in cases of crop failure. Some of the important peasant uprisings in this period are as follows-Santhal movement (1855–56), Pabna uprising (1872–75), Moppilla Rebellion (1836–1920), Deccan riots (1875), Punjab Agrarian riots (1907), peasant movement in Oudh (1918–1922), movement against Indigo cultivation in Bihar (1860, 1907–09, 1917–18), Kheda (1918) and Bardoli movements (1918), Telengana rebellion (1946–51), etc.15

The formation of Congress ministries in a majority of the provinces in the early 1937 marked the beginning of a new phase in the growth of the peasant movement. These different ministries also introduced varying kinds of agrarian legislations such as for debt relief; restoration of land lost during the Depression, for security of tenure tenants, and this provided an impetus for the mobilization of the peasantry either in support of proposed legislation or for asking for changes in its content.16

In the decade preceding the advent of independence, three significant peasant movements took place: Tebhaga movement in Bengal, Telengana outbreak in Hyderabad and Varlis revolt in western India. The Tebhaga movement was a protracted peasant struggle involving lower stratum of tenants such as bargadars i.e. the share-croppers, adhiars and poor peasants, against not only the zamindars, but also a section of the rich peasants i.e. jotedars, against the money-lenders, traders and the British bureaucracy. The Bargadari Bill introduced by Suhrawardy's government provided some relief to the rent-paying tenants. The insurrection in the Telengana during 1946–51 was launched in the territory of Nizam's state of Hyderabad against intense exploitation and oppression of landlords, money-lenders, traders and the Nizam's officials. The movement was linked to the States people movement under the leadership of the Praja Mandal and had the sympathy of the Congress, Arya Samaj and the linguistic demand for a Vishal Andhra state. Later on, this movement was led by the Communist party, and it was withdrawn in October 1951 with the change in the tactics by the Communists in India. The revolt of the Varlis, tribal people near Bombay, was a struggle against exploitation of forest contractors, money-lenders, rich farmers and landlords on the tacit support of the British bureaucracy. The Kisan Sabha took up their cause and launched a struggle in May, 1945. The police oppression failed to terrorize the Varlis. The Varlis, later on, came under the influence of the Communist Party.17

On the eve of independence, India inherited an antiquated agrarian system, which called for drastic structural changes and a dynamic tiller-oriented infrastructure for agricultural development. The peasant movements in the post-independence era can be studied with the help of three approaches, namely, Marxist, Nationalist and Subaltern. A. R. Desai and Dhanagare broadly employing the Marxist approach questioned the notion of the Indian peasant in the works of Barrington Moore and Theodore Shahin as ‘passive’ and the non-existent within a subsistence economy. Such an approach failed to take into consideration the fact that in the former colonies, commercialization of agriculture had started a process of differentiation, which created landlords, rich, middle and poor peasants, and led to agrarian struggles. Dhanagare argued that the peasant movements in India needed to be studied along two axes: the class character of the actors involved, and the historical factors which contribute to the progressive development of the political consciousness of the peasantry.18

The Naxal movement of the late 1960s demonstrated that the poor and landless could be as assertive as the rich peasantry, and redirected attention towards peasant insurgency in the colonial period. It promoted the Subaltern approach to write a history from below of the poorer peasantry, the reproduction of the small peasant economy, and the sources of revolt. It challenged attempts to explain all peasant resistance in terms of essential class interests or moral economy. The Naxal movement had started in March, 1967 in a small village called Naxalbari in West Bengal to reclaim their land from the landlords. The revolutionary leaders formed the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCR) in May 1968. It worked on two main principles, namely, to wage armed struggle and secondly, boycott of elections. Under the leadership of Charu Majumdar the movement spread throughout India. In the late 1970s, the movement split, mainly led by N. Prasad in Bihar and Kondapalli Seetharamaiah led in Andhra Pradesh who formed the People's War Group in 1980, which worked on the principle of building mass organizations.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the movement split many times, but at the same time various leaders tried to bring unity amongst its leaders and branches. There was an increase in the violent incidents also. The India governments at the centre and at the state levels did not form uniform policies to deal with the Naxal movement which led to the spread of this movement.

The Green Hunt operation against the Naxals began in 2009 in Chhatisgarh, which later on spread to Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh to fight against the naxals. About 70000 paramilitary people were involved in the operation. The forces had achieved some success, but the Naxals also retaliated and counter attacked the police and police informers. The operation Green Hunt wanted to secure the roadways and other highways as they had been attacked frequently by the Naxals. This operation may not be successful as the informers of the police are being attacked by the Naxals, on the other side the tribals, who become friendly to the Naxals are being tortured, and questioned by the armed forces. Therefore, it's a precarious situation for the tribals inhibiting the Red Corridor.

Chatterjee held that in India, peasants have conceptualised the relationships of power and the ensuing conflicts in terms of the idea of community,19 or as a collective form of consciousness arising out of the existing bonds of caste and community. Some underlined the role of peasant consciousness in revolts in the colonial period.20 While others, argued that the assertive rich peasant as a class, mobilising the poorer peasantry, was a creation of the post-independence technological shift in agriculture.21

The Nationalist approach, like in many countries emerged from colonialism, focused on the land reforms. At the same time, agrarian upheavals in many parts of the country led by the Communists, such as the Telengana revolt on the eve of transfer of power, made land reforms an issue of urgent action by the government.

The failure of the land reforms created considerable discontent among the poorer peasantry and landless labour, and according to some, turned the vast majority of the peasantry into an agrarian proletariat.22 The anti-feudal movements were described as providing a model of agrarian transformation for India that relied not on a single revolutionary leap, but on the dynamic interdependence of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary action following each other in quick succession. The latter created possibilities for further legislative action, and the limitations of the former could release forces for further extra-parliamentary action. However, by the late 1970s, issues of land distribution and equity were overshadowed by capitalist developments in the agricultural sector.23

During the 1960s farmers’ movements were led by rich peasants and the capitalist, with the implementation of new agricultural policy known as the Green Revolution. This was a change of strategy / policy by the government from land based reforms to technology based reforms to meet the ever growing demand of agrarian products. In contrast to the Nehruvian policy of transferring food at cheap prices to urban areas through state trading, in mid-1960s the Congress party decided to follow a different path to industrialisation: make agriculture productive, through investment in technology, but transfer resources through taxation or terms of trade.24

However, since the Green Revolution accompanied with capitalists agriculture, penetration of market economy and globalisation, the peasant struggles have undergone change. Farmers’ organizations such as the Shetkari Sangathan in Maharashtra, Bhartiya Kisan Union in Uttar Pradesh, Khedut Samaj in Gujrat, Tamil Nadu and Punjab have come into existence with political clout. They demand remunerative prices of their produce, concessions and subsidies in the prices of agricultural inputs, electricity charges, irrigation charges and betterment levies, etc.25 They have raised the slogan “Bharat against India” which was coined by Sharad Joshi. Bharat is the indigenous name for India representing the peasant community, and India is the westernised name, representing the urban centres with industrial production. They assert for a change in the development paradigm from industrial development to agricultural development.26 However, the benefits of the Green revolution were not evenly distributed, and at the same time, it increased the existing class and regional inequalities.

The increasing class differentiation made bigger land owners conscious of their interests, leading to rich farmers’ movement. The leadership was provided by rich farmers’ organizations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in western UP, Punjab, and Haryana; the Karnataka Rajya Ryot Sangh (KRRS) in Karnataka; and the Shetkari Sangathan (SS) in Maharashtra. Unlike the earlier movements, they were directed against the state and not against the landlords. These big farmers’ organizations preferred to remain non-political and were described as a form of rural unionism, which brought supra-local politics to the countryside, or as agrarian lobbies or pressure groups to voice their demands. Some scholars described them as ‘new social movements’ part of the new social movements of the 1980s, as they had distinct characteristics.27

Along with the spread of the Green revolution, a specific caste-class combination and clan-based leadership also contributed to the successful mobilization of the small and medium peasantry in parts of north India, particularly in UP. Charan Singh mobilised a substantial section of the cultivating middle/backward castes-Jats, Gujjars, Tyagis and so on-both as kisans and backward castes.28 In the late 1980s, attempts were made by farmers’ organizations to form an apex organization, the BKU, and enter into electoral politics, but both proved unsuccessful.29

With the adoption of liberalization policy in 1991, the agricultural policies also underwent major changes such as removal of subsidies and price support, a move towards market forces, freeing of controls and the opening of the economy, leading to the freer import and export of agricultural commodities,30 and in external arena, the establishment of a multilateral trading system in agriculture, following the Dunkel text.31 While no new agricultural policy was announced in 1991, these changes were reflected in the National Agricultural Policy announced by the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party on 28 July 2000, the main goal of that was to make agriculture an industry. Secondly, there has been an increase in the fragmentation of land holdings. Thirdly, agricultural sector has experienced several unfavourable trends such as decline in agricultural growth rate; widening disparity between the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors; steep worsening of the economic status of the farmers. All these have led to farmers’ suicides which has been a worrying trend for the farmers. The farmers are driven to the extreme steps not only because of the borrowings at high rates of interests, leading to debt trap, but also due to the expectations of the high yielding crops and good prices after high investments, and because it widens the gap between aspirations and achievements.32

There was a serious issue of farmers’ suicide in two states namely Maharashtra (Vidharba region) and Andhra Pradesh. In the Vidharba region, over one thousand farmers committed suicide in the years 2006, 2007, 2008 and 966 in 2009 due to crop failure. The crop failure occurred due to incessant rains. They could not repay the loans from money-lenders and the banks. This problem still continues in this region. The government had taken some steps to provide relief to the farmers through loan waiver schemes, but they were not sufficient.

In Andhra Pradesh the farmers have been committing suicide due to drought, which has led to crop failure. The reasons are the same, that is, heavy borrowings from the private money lenders which they are not able to repay due to crop failure.

In the recent years, the rich/better off farmers are also opposing the government's policies of SEZs (Special Economic Zones) and also protesting to increase the support prices of the crops and to reduce tariffs on water and electricity. The farmers are unhappy with the government (state/ central) as they have withdrawn their responsibility to protect the interests of the rural farmers, land reforms and market forces. The poor peasants are suffering the most with decline in their yield and they are not even able to organise themselves also. The movements of the peasant would intensify in the future, if the government does not respond in positive manner to their problems.

The government has to implement policies, which would help the small farmers. The government has to protect the indigenous farmers from the onslaught of multinational corporations, which use hybrid seeds, which require more usage of fertilizers. This led to the increasing of the cost of production as well as less output causing burden on the small farmers. This leads the farmers to fall in the trap of perpetual indebtedness.

The government should implement policies whereby the small farmers can benefit by borrowing from the banks. As the Indian farmers are dependent on the Monsoon, the dependence on Monsoon should be reduced, and at the same time, monsoon water should be stored for the future usage. Therefore, people should learn about the proper management of water. The farmers should be encouraged to use technology for better yields. The small farmers should also look to supplement their income through alternate means and the government should help them by providing training to enhance and supplement their income by other means. The farmers should also look at the possibilities of merging their farm lands as the larger farmlands yields are higher.

Women's Movement

The women's movement in India, like most social movements is made up of strands that differ on the relative primacy of issues, strategies of mobilization, and forms of collective actions. While specific issues have taken precedence at different historical moments, more often than not, there has been a broad consensus within the movement over what constitutes ‘transformatory’ change for women.33 Among the contemporary movements, a lot has been written, researched from different perspectives and the various strategies adopted by the women's movement have been analysed.

Different scholars classify women's movements according to their theoretical perspectives. According to Neera Desai, the women's movement is the organized effort to achieve a common goal of equality and liberation of women, and it presupposes sensitivities to crucial issues affecting the life of women. On the basis of ideological paradigm, Gail Omvedt classifies women's movement into two types; firstly, women's equality movements; and secondly, women's liberation movements. The former may not directly challenge the existing economic or political or family structure, but rather aim at attaining an equal place for women in it, and at abolishing the most open remnants of the feudal patriarchy; whereas the women's liberation movements directly challenge the sexual division of labour itself.34 Jana Everett classifies women's movements on the basis of two different ideologies of feminism. They are: firstly, Corporate Feminism claiming a larger role in politics for women on the grounds that they have a special contribution to make as a women; and secondly, Liberal Feminism, claiming that the right of men should be extended to women on the ground that women are equal to men, and thus, should have the same rights.35 Kalpana Shah divides the women's movements into three categories on the basis of their approach toward explaining women's unequal positions in the contemporary society and ways to liberate them from subjugation. They are: firstly, Moderate or Women's Rights Position; secondly, Radical Feminism; and lastly Socialist Feminism.36 Sangari and Vaid have divided the women's movements into two theoretical categories: firstly, modernising of patriarchal modes of regulating women; and secondly, democratising of gender relations both at home and the work place. According to them, movements by working class and peasant women have a greater potential for democratising patriarchal power relations than the modernising movements.37 Women's movements in India are also divided into periods or waves.38 They are: (1) social reform movements during the freedom movement; (2) the movements from 1947–75; and (3) the movements emerging during and after the International Women's Decade.39

The position/status of women in the Indian society has been changing from time to time. During the Vedic period, girls or women were desired, and they were provided proper education. Some of the women even wrote hymns. The position of women deteriorated during the Smiriti period. During the colonial period, women were encouraged to participate in the freedom struggle movement. The various social reformers such as Rammohan Roy, Vivekanand, Ramkrishna, Gokhale, Naoraji, Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo, Gandhi, Ambedkar, etc. voiced their concerns about the plight of women in the Indian society, and championed some of the reforms like raising the marriageable age, abolition of Sati, promotion of widow remarriages, women's education, etc.

The national Council for Women in India (NCWI) was formed in 1926, which was first all India Women's Organization. The NCWI tries to secure women's rights through social reforms and women's and children's welfare. The All India Women's Conference (AIWC) was established in 1927 with members from the upper and upper-middle classes, princely families, women members of the Indian National Congress party (INC), the Communist Party, and professional women like, educationists, doctors and social workers. The AIWC took up the cause of education, and the result was the establishment of the Lady Irwin College in Delhi in 1932. It also organized many literary schools and handicraft centres which helped women to become economically independent. Most of the women's movement during this period campaigned against child marriages.

After independence, the Constitution of India provides legal parity and respect for women in general in the society. There are various provisions in the Indian Constitution, which protects the rights of women such as Article 14 ensures that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law of equal protection of the laws, Article 15 prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, or place of birth, Article 15(3) gives power to the states to make special provisions for women and children, Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity in matters relating to public appointment, Article 23 prohibits traffic in human beings, which includes prohibition of prostitution or immoral traffic in women and girls and also the system of devadasis.

The directive principles of the Indian Constitution provides directives to the state to ensure that:

  • Men and women equally have the right to an adequate means to livelihood (Article 39a).
  • Constitution provides for equal pay for equal work for both men and women (Article 39d).
  • The health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter a vocation unsuited to their age or strength (Article 39e).
  • The state has also been directed to provide for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief (Article 42).
  • The 42nd constitutional Amendment Act, of part-IV-A declares that it shall be the duty of every citizen ‘to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women’ (Article 51A-E).
  • Under Article 325 of the constitution, every citizen irrespective of sex, has been provided the right to vote and get elected to public office.

The sexual difference inherent in welfare measures envisioned for women did not dismantle structural inequalities and sexual hierarchies within public institutions and society. This period, saw the emergence of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW). It was founded in 1954 as the women's wing of the Communist Party of India, with Aruna Asaf Ali as its prominent leaders.

The report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India set up in 1971 titled as ‘Towards Equality’ to study the impact of development and nation-building on women, drew attention to the hierarchical and unequal status of women after three decades of planned development. Women's activism in the 1970s and 1980s was one among several democratic rights struggles in the period, all of which stressed the need to redefine development. The emergence of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) is often cited as an important development of the decade. Women also participated actively in the peasant struggles in Bihar and Chipko movement, which challenged developmental policies.40

The drive towards autonomy became a central motif of the women's movement in the 1970s and 1980s, giving it the label of the ‘autonomous women's movement’. The label manifested the desire to disengage the women's question from the dominant theoretical framework of the left and democratic rights movements, which focussed solely on class and the repressive states, respectively. It expressed the concerns of the women's movement woven mainly around women's interests, gender-centred issues, and the control of female sexuality, all of which were critical aspects of institutionalised male domination, as understood within the conceptual framework of patriarchy. With the 1980s, however, both mass-based and affiliated women's organizations as well as the autonomous women's group invigorated the struggle for women's rights. Delhi became the headquarters of most of the national-level women's organizations, including the AIWC, YMCA (Young Women's Christian Association), AIDWA (All Indian Democratic Women's Association), NFIW, MDS (Mahila Dakshita Samiti). Bombay became the centre for protest against rape and violence with the setting up of the Forum Against Rape, in 1981, which later emerged as a sustained network of autonomous women's group in the form of Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW).41

The late 1990s, and the period thereafter, saw rallying of forces among women's groups on the issue of reservation for women in the elected bodies. The struggle to enhance women's representation in the elected bodies had emerged first in the 1920s and 1930s. The National Perspective Plan for Women, issued by the government in 1988 under pressure from the women's movement, recommended 30 percent reservation of seats for women at the Zila Parishad levels. In 1993, the Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth Constitutional Amendment Acts provided constitutional recognition and status to locally elected bodies in villages (the Panchayats) and cities (the municipalities), respectively.

Women empowerment basically means that women have the power to regulate their lives in the political, social and economic sphere. The government of India had declared the year 2001 as the ‘Women's Empowerment Year’ whereby declaring that women are equal partners like the men. This was done because of the policy changes the government was trying to bring about regarding the women and also due to the mobilization of women themselves regarding the policies, which affect them. Women empowerment means that women are not exploited by any means: household work, agricultural labour, providing education, providing healthcare facilities, equal wages and rights, better educated, have the decision making power, etc.

The women have become politically active, in terms of political participation and decision making, but they need to be represented equally in the political institutions as well. The Women's political reservation policy bill has been tabled in the Parliament, but due to the apathy of the male-dominated political parties has not been passed yet. In principle all the political parties agree for the reservation of seats for women in the Parliament, but in practice they do not follow it. However, they have been provided with reserve seats in the Panchayati Raj Institutions through the Seventy-Third and Seventy-Fourth Constitutional Amendment Acts, 1993.

The Women's reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 9 March 2010, and is now pending in the Lok Sabha. There are many leaders who are opposing the passage of this bill such as Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh on the ground that Muslim and the lower caste women would not get adequately represented. The male politicians are also not in favour, because their seats will get reduced and there are no clear cut position on the seats to be reserved would be permanent or on rotation basis.

The National Commission for Women (NCW) was set up as a statutory body in January 1992 under the National Commission for Women Act 1990 to look into the following issues:-

  • Review the Constitutional and Legal safeguards for women.
  • Recommend remedial legislative measures.
  • Facilitate redressal of grievances.
  • Advice the government on all policy matters affecting women.

In keeping with its mandate, the commission has initiated various steps to improve the status of women through out the country and working to improve their economic empowerment. The commission has visited almost every state and union territory except Lakshwadeep to know about the status of women. The NCW has taken up various issues such as Child marriage, sponsored legal awareness programmes, Parivarik Mahial Lok Adaalats, and reviewed laws such as Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, PNDT Act, 1994, Indian Penal Code, 1860, the National Women Commission Act, 1990, to make them more effective and stringent. The NCW conducts workshops/seminars to make women aware about their rights and against the social evils prevalent in the society.

  1. The commission shall perform all or any of the following functions, namely :-
    1. Investigate and examine all matters relating to the safeguards provided for women under the Constitution and other laws.
    2. Present to the Central Government, annually and at such other times as the Commission may deem fit, reports upon the working of those safeguard.
    3. Make in such reports recommendations for the effective implementation of those safeguards for the improving the conditions of women by the Union or any state.
    4. Review, from time to time, the exiting provisions of the Constitution and other laws affecting women and recommend amendments so as to suggest remedial legislative measures to meet any lacunae, inadequacies or shortcomings in such legislations.
    5. Take up cases of violation of the provisions of the Constitution and of other laws relating to women with the appropriate authorities.
    6. Look into complaints and take suo moto notice of matters relating to:-
      1. Deprivation of women's rights.
      2. Non-implementation of laws enacted to provide protection to women and also to achieve the objective of equality and development.
      3. Non-compliance of policy decisions, guidelines or instructions aimed at mitigating hardships and ensuring welfare and providing relief to women, and take up the issues arising out of such matters with appropriate authorities.
    7. Call for special studies or investigations into specific problems or situations arising out of discrimination and atrocities against women and identify the constraints so as to recommend strategies for their removal.
    8. Undertake promotional and educational research so as to suggest ways of ensuring due representation of women in all spheres and identify factors responsible for impeding their advancement such as lack of access to housing and basic services, inadequate support services and technologies for reducing drudgery and occupational health hazards and for increasing their productivity.
    9. Participate and advice on the planning process of socio-economic development of women.
    10. Evaluate the progress of the development of women under the Union and any State.
    11. Inspect or cause to inspected a jail, remand home, women's institution or other place of custody, where women are kept as prisoners or otherwise and take up with the concerned authorities for remedial action, if found necessary.
    12. Fund litigation involving issues affecting a large body of women.
    13. Make periodical reports to the Government on any matter pertaining to women, and in particular various difficulties under which women toil.
    14. Any other matter which may be referred to it by Central Government.42
  2. The Central Government shall cause all the reports referred to in clause (b) of subsection (1) to be laid before each House of the Parliament along with memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the Union and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any such recommendations.
  3. Where any such report or any part thereof relates to any matter with which any State Government is concerned, the Commission shall forward a copy of such report or part to such State Government who shall cause it to be laid before the Legislature of the State along with a memorandum explaining the action taken or proposed to be taken on the recommendations relating to the State and the reasons for the non-acceptance, if any, of any such recommendations.
  4. The Commission shall, while investigating any matter referred to in clause (a) or sub-clause (i) of clause (f) of sub-section (1), have all the powers of a civil court trying a suit and, in particular in respect of the following matters, namely:-
    1. Summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examining him on oath.
    2. Requiring the discovery and production of any document.
    3. Receiving evidence on affidavits.
    4. Requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
    5. Issuing commissions for the examination of witnesses and documents.
    6. Any other matter which may be prescribed.

The Khap Panchayats have been instrumental in regulating the behaviour of young people in the rural areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, especially amongst the Jats. Love marriages are considered to be a taboo in the Khap Panchayat areas. They govern the social behaviour of the males and females. The Khap Panchayats do not allow marrying in the same gotra and even in the same village. The Khap Panchayats impose its will on the people through social boycott and even by imposing fines and sometimes asking the convicts to leave the village and sometimes honour killing the couple; the couple is, sometimes, forced to commit suicide. The government at the centre and the states have not done enough to control the power and misdeeds of these Khap Panchayats; in fact, they have become more powerful after the seventy-third Constitutional Amendment relating to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.

While violence was the rallying issue for women's movement, the marginalisation and impoverishment of a large majority of women within the existing development framework, and limitations in the theories, concepts and research methods had spurred academics, especially the women academics into the movement. The growth of women's studies and its induction into the university system runs parallel to the growth of the movement. Unequal distribution of social resources other than economic resources and forms, locations, agency and sources of exploitation and oppression, had been unveiled through the women's movement and research in women's studies.43

The major issues of women's movement have been varied in India such as campaigns and protests for amendments in the existing laws and redrafting new laws related to sati, rape, dowry murders, proper acts related to punishment for sex detection and sex preselection tests, protests against the harmful contraceptives and test trials, and the population policies in the last thirty odd years. The other issues on which the women's movement have been mobilised are the demand for just laws i.e. the Uniform Civil Code, the right to matrimonial homes, the right to quality health care, sustenance, survival and livelihood, the elimination of domestic, communal and social violence against the women, the access to education, employment and natural resources.

Over the years, women's movement in India has grappled with the issues that have required the delineation of a unified feminist political subject and feminist politics, while simultaneously taking into account the different and layered lived experiences of women. The women's movement, exhibit both ideological diversity and a continual effort to build radical alliances within and outside the movement in a concerted struggle for liberatory change.44

Enviornment Movement

Classical Indian literature and myths depict environment as an integral part of the human kind. The environment movements in India are not necessarily for ‘green’ or ‘clean’ earth or for saving mankind's heritage and endangered species as in the West, but for the very survival of the poor local people.45 The United Nations Conference on Human Environment, Stockholm, in 1972 paved the way for a number of studies and reports on the condition of environment and its effect on the present and future generations. It expressed concern to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.46

The development of ‘green movement’ in Germany and North America in the early 1980s boosted the formation of the ‘green network’ and the ‘green movement’ throughout the world, including India. A number of action groups, research institutes, documentation centres have been established to study and mobilise public opinion on environmental situation in general and in certain sectors such as air, land, forest, water, marine resources, etc. has proliferated in different forms from popular literature to ‘scientific’ studies.

The Bhopal Gas tragedy in December 1984 served as an alarm signal to bring to the notice of mass awareness. The media, NGOs, and agitations against big dams and deforestation have been ahead of the government and the industry in bringing the issue of ecological protection to the forefront of the public consciousness.47 The Indian government set up the Department of Environment in 1980, which later in 1985 was expanded into a new Ministry of Environment and Forests. Under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Ministry of Environment and Forest has the responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies.

India Development Report of 1997 had warned that the environmental problems have become serious in many parts of the country. The main environment problem in India relates to air and water pollution, particularly in the metropolitan and industrial zones, degradation of common property resources which affect the poor adversely due to a degeneration of their life support system, threat to biodiversity and inadequate system of solid waste disposal and sanitation with consequent adverse impact on health, infant mortality and birth rate.48

The reports on India's environment, published by the Centre for Science and Environment, has provided valuable material not only on various aspects of the environment, but also on various aspects of people's resistance and struggles. The media also frequently report on the struggles of people at the local level on the issues of land, water, marine resources, forest products, etc.49 The environmental movements in India is constitued by several movements discussed below.

Chipko Movement:   The continuation by the government of independent India of forestry practices inimical to local needs generated a certain amount of discontent. In 1958, a committee was formed to ‘investigate the grievance of the people’ of Uttarakhand concerning forest management. It deplored the situation in the hill tracts where, even after the attainment of independence, ‘not only great discontent against the forest department prevails at several places, but it is also looked upon with extreme suspicion and distrust’. While recognising the need to locally develop the resources of the hills, the committee considered as inevitable the continuance of restrictions viewed by the people as a ‘forfeiture of their hereditary natural rights’. The committee gave priorities to the preservation, development and extension of the forests and to meet the genuine needs of the local people. It also asked the government to respect village rights over forests and that, along with forest preservation; it would provide every opportunity for the economic progress of the people.50

The undercurrent of protests against forest management was combined with opposition to other facets of commercialization and the continuing underdevelopment of the hills. In April 1981, Sunderlal Bahuguna went on an indefinite hunger strike against the felling of green trees in the Himalayas above the height of 1000 meters. The government constituted an eight-member committee. The government agreed to ban felling of trees for commercial purposes for a period of 15 years. By successfully bringing commercial forestry to a standstill, the Chipko movement marked an end of an epoch for the people and the landscape of the Indian Himalayas.

With the increase in the resource exploitation of the Himalayas in Uttrakhand, the Chipko movement has mobilised and made the peasants more aware and conscious of importance of this area. The movement against creation of big dams, sale of illicit liquor and unregulated mining has been widely protested by the Chipko movement supporters and well wishers.

Bahuguna had held the policy of commercial forestry and the close links that existed between the contractors and the forest officials were responsible for the deteriorating Himalayan environment. Sunderlal Bahuguna's group was active in the Bhagirathi valley and the group headed by Chandi Prasad Bhatt was active in the Alaknanda valley.

Both the leaders affirm alternative systems of environmental activism. Bahuguna believed and worked by writing articles, delivering lectures and organising protest marches, which helped him to make the people aware and conscious of the environmental issues in the region. Bhatt worked by organising afforestation camps, by establishing bio-gas plants and other low-cost energy-saving techniques. There is a third group, Uttarakhand Sangharsh Vahini, is active in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas. This group follows the Marxist ideology. This group believes that social and economic redistribution is logically prior to the ecological harmony. This group does not associate with the state-sponsored developmental programmes.

All the three groups have questioned the feasibility and technological modernisation in the Himalayan region. The Chipko movement has helped the government to protect the forests and save the environment through its policies and programmes.

Narmada Bachao Andolan:   The movement against the Narmada River Valley Project had been the most popular movement in the environment history of India. The Sardar Sarovar dam is the largest amongst the 30 dams to be constructed on the river Narmada. The people under the leadership of Medha Patkar have been protesting for more than last three decades, through a series of dharnas, and satyagraha. The people have been protesting as this project would displace nearly 3.5 lakhs people and also affect their livelihood. The people have been raising questions related to rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced people, the environmental problems, and the huge cost of the project as well as the benefits it would accrue. Though the movement had started in the late 1970s as the project got clearance, but it gained momentum only in the late 1980s. In the initial stages, the movement was only concerned with the human rights violations. It was only due to the improper rehabilitation of the displaced people that the human rights activists raised voice against the construction of the dams on the river Narmada.

The movement gained momentum once prominent social leaders like Medha Patkar, Sunderlal Bahuguna and others joined the movement. It also got a wide coverage in the world media as the people of three states were going to be affected. Under the pressure of the world media the World Bank also withdrew its funding to this project.

The Tehri Dam Project:   The longest movement against anti-big dam projects has been the opposition to the Tehri Dam Project on the river Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand. Veerendra Datta Saklani, a freedom fighter, founded Tehri Baandh Virodhi Sanghrash Samiti, against this project. They have been opposing this project for various reasons, such as the submergence of forest areas along with the Tehri town, seismic sensitivity of the region, etc. The movement has not been able to gain popular support at the local, national and international level and the government is committed to complete this project. In 2003, the Supreme Court directed the government to remove all obstacles in completing this project along with proper rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced people.

The POSCO Controversy:   POSCO signed an MoU in June 2005 with the Orissa government to set up steel plant in Orissa. POSCO agreed to invest in Orissa to set up an integrated plant to manufacture steel, mine iron ore and other ores, as well as develop infrastructure necessary for its operations in Orissa. Due to controversies, it could not get environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India due to the passage of a new law known as the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forests Rights) Act, 2006, which is also commonly known as the Forests Rights Act. Orissa files a case in the Supreme Court of India against this law and the court ruled in favour of the state of Orissa, considering the economic development requirement of the state. The court also directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to reconsider the law and if appropriate to allow POSCO to establish its plant in Orissa. The Ministry of Environment and Forests gave clearance in January 2011 to POSCO with a directive to look for another site to establish the steel plant.

In June 2010, POSCO signed a MoU with the Karnataka government to establish a steel plant in the state, but with caution that it has not made its plan yet to invest till the state provides the land. The state of Karnataka had announced in July 2011 that it is trying to acquire land for POSCO-INDIA Project.

The main reason for the suspension of the POSCO steel plant was due to the displacement of tribal population at site of this steel plant and disturbance of their livelihood. In 2010, a Committee was formed to relook at the establishment of the plant and it was found that not many local population would be displaced, and thus, permission was granted to establish the plant for sustainable development in the area.

Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project Controversy:   An agreement was signed between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India and the French company Areva to establish nuclear fuel generation project in the state of Maharashtra. Once this project starts, it would provide electricity at a cheap rate.

This project is controversial in terms of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 passed by the Indian Parliament in August 2010 about which the French firm is not clear. The Bill says that in case of nuclear accidents, only the operator i.e. the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited can sue the manufacturers and the suppliers and the victims will not be able to sue anyone.

The project has been opposed by the environmentalist because the proposed site is in the earthquake prone zone, damages caused to the project by Tsunami occurrence, not clear about the disposal of nuclear waste from this project, the fishery may suffer in the area and the environmental damages that it will cause have not been discussed and analysed in detail. The very important issue is the land acquisition policy. The villagers are not happy with the compensation rates, and they have been refusing to accept the money, which the government is paying to them. The local people, environmentalists and activists have been protesting regularly and some times the protests have turned violent which has led to deaths of protesters.

The awareness about the environment has not spread to the general public. The focus on the environmental concerns has been limited to specific issues rather than taking a holistic view.

The Workers’ Movement

During the British period, the Indian working class suffered from all forms of exploitation including low wages, long working hours and unhygienic conditions in the factories, employment of child labour and absence of all amenities. The Indian working class has to face two basic antagonistic forces, namely an imperialist political rule, and secondly, economic exploitation at the hands of both the foreign and native capitalist classes. The first ever demand for the regulation of conditions of workers in the factories in India came from the Lancashire textile capitalist lobby: apprehending the emergence of a competitive rival in the Indian textile industry under conditions of cheap and unorganized labour, they demanded the appointment of a commission for investigating into the conditions. The first factory commission was appointed in 1875, and the First Factory Act was passed in 1881. Under similar pressure from the British textile interests, the Factory Act of 1891 was passed which limited the working day to 11hours with an interval of one and half hour for women labour.51

The first decade of the 20th century witnessed the first ever demonstration of the emerging political consciousness among the Indian working class: the Bombay workers went on a political six-day strike on the issue of conviction and imprisonment of Lokmanya Tilak in 1908. The initiative in organising a Trade Union was taken by the nationalist leaders which resulted in the formation of All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) on 31 October 1920 under the Presidentship of Lala Lajpat Rai.

The Trade Union Act, 1926 recognised trade unions as legal associations, laid down conditions for registration and regulation of trade union activities, secured their immunity, both civil and criminal, from prosecution for legitimate activities, but also put some restrictions on their political activities. The Trade Union Act, 1929 provided for compulsory appointment of Courts of Enquiry and Conciliation Boards for settling industrial disputes, made strikes illegal in public utilities like, Postal Services, Railways, Water and Electricity Departments, unless each individual worker planning to go on strike gave an advance notice of one month to the administration and forbade trade union activities of coercive or purely political nature and even sympathetic strikes.52

The granting of provincial autonomy and formation of popular ministries during 1937–39 by the British also helped in mobilizing the workers in this period. The Communists had also rejoined the All India Trade Union Congress in 1935. One of the principal factors which gave a fillip to the trade union movement in this period was the increased civil liberties under the Congress Governments and the pro-labour attitude of many of the Congress ministries. The majority of strikes in this period ended successfully, with full or partial victory of the workers.53

The post-independent trade union movement did not stand up to the expectations of leading a revolution on behalf of the workers. The movement revolved around the economic demands of the workers and their demands were met by the independent welfare state. The state tried its best to mediate between the trade unions and the capitalist class so that the industrial output is not hampered in the post-independent India, as it was very crucial for the development of the country. The state also promoted trade unions, and almost all the national parties had their affiliation to one or the other trade union in the country. The Left Party dominated almost all the trade unions.

Today, there are four central All-India Trade Union Organizations i.e. the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), and the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC). The objectives of all the four organizations are same that is to promote the economic, political, social and cultural interests of workers, but they have certain principles based differences according to their political affiliations. The trade union organizations are also now-a-days trying to be a part of the unorganized sectors. The trade unions have been organized and led by the middle class, having affiliation to the national political parties.

The major issues that the trade unions have been working on are the problems of Child Labour, rights of the trade unions, discrimination and forced labour. The Indian constitution has provisions which safeguard the interests of the trade unions and child labour, such as Article 24 of the constitution prohibits the employment of children below the age of 14 years in any factory or mine. The Child Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act, 1986, abolishes the employment of children in certain industries while regulating in others. The National Policy on Child Labour—1987, provided for rehabilitation of children who had been withdrawn from the prohibited employment. Article 19 of the constitution guarantees freedom to form unions, which is a Fundamental Right in the country. The Trade Union Act, 1926, also provides for the formation of trade unions by the workers for the redressal of their grievances. Article 16 provides that no citizen will be discriminated on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, etc. for employment. All the people will be paid equal salary for the same kind of work done irrespective of the sex, religion, race, or caste under the Minimum Wages Act. Article 23 forbids forced labour of any kind. However, various studies show that the practice of force labour and child labour is still prevalent in the country.

Most time, the trade union movements in the country have gained momentum for the revision of wages and salaries. In July 1960, the central government employees went on a strike under the banner of Joint Council of Action. Their demands included payment of dearness allowance on the basis of the recommendations of the First Pay Commission, grant of a national minimum wages. The strike was declared illegal under the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Ordinance of 1960, and thousands of employees were arrested. Despite all the state oppressive measures, the strike lasted for five days. Another significant strike was of the Railway Workers, in May 1974. Their demands included, increase in wages and salaries, increase in dearness allowance, payment of annual bonus, etc. Some of the demands of the striking employees were agreed upon. The Bombay Mill Workers strike under the leadership of Samant in 1981 was not able to get any concessions due to the division within the supporting trade unions, which led to the collapse of the movement.

In the phase of liberalization of the Indian economy in the 1990s, the focus of trade unions shifted to the security of the industrial workers. There were repeated strikes in the Public Sector Undertakings, banks and insurance sector. The move of privatization proved detrimental to the trade union movement.

The State Employees in Tamil Nadu went on a strike in 2003. The state government dismissed almost all the striking employees under the ESMA without giving the employees the right to be heard. The Supreme Court directed the state government to reinstate the employees, but at the same time asked the employees to apologise in writing to the state government, and also state that they will not go for strike in the future.

In 2006, the casual workers of Hero Honda at the Gurgaon plant went on a strike in April 2006 against the anti-workers stand of the management. Their main demands have been increase in wages, granting of casual leaves, providing medical facilities, job regularization, etc. Most of their demands were agreed upon by the management in a three party negotiations, which included the Haryana government labour commissioner, Hero Honda management and the representatives of the striking labours. They again went on strike in October 2011, and their demands have been the same to regularise the casual labourers, provide medical facilities etc.

With liberalization of an economy, government control over various sectors of the economy is minimized; hence, it is felt that it may affect the vulnerable sector adversely. Some conclusion can be made by observing trends in labour market because that is mainly composed of the poor people and most vulnerable section after unemployed people. So, lets us examine favourable and unfavourable impact which liberalization had on labour.

Although the labour market was not deregulated then and is not even now, most writers feared that the short-run impact of stabilization and liberalization of trade, industry and capital market would be both harmful and unjust. It would be harmful because stabilization would reduce the rate of growth, and unjust because the cost of adjustment would fall disproportionately on the poor.54 These predictions implied a fall in either real wages or employment, possibly both, and an increase in unemployment and inequality in the labour market.

Demand for labour did increase after liberalization, but the work on offer was intermittent, more casual and part-time than regular. In villages, the rate of unemployment for men and women was lower after liberalization than it was before. In cities, men experienced a tighter and women a looser labour market after liberalization than before. The fact that the female participation rate and unemployment rate should both be higher needs an explanation. Women enter the labour market and withdraw from it for various reasons. Their entry often depends on the state of the labour market. According to the encouraged worker hypothesis, women enter when they find that work is available readily. Not all entrants can be absorbed into employment instantaneously. Work participation and unemployment could both be high. On the whole, the data do show an improvement in availability of work for both rural and urban men and women, more for the former than for the latter.

Labour laws and unions restrict the freedom of the employer to hire and fire, to deploy labour as she/he likes and pay it what she/he deems fit. She/he is likely to look for ways and means to bypass and, if need be, to break the laws. Casualization, feminization, job and labour contracting are some of the many practices used by employers to achieve the flexibility they desire.55 It is alleged that employers have started resorting to these practices to a greater extent after liberalization, though the labour market is not formally deregulated.

In a liberalized economy employers would tend to substitute the cheaper, non-unionizable regular women workers for regular men workers and casual for regular workers irrespective of gender. Increase in demand for labour caused by liberalization is likely to be reflected in increase in casual employment defined by the weekly status rather than by the usual status. In short, it is liberalization that explains the casualization in the urban market consistently and as is expected.

As pointed out earlier, liberalization in south-east Asian economies led to a substantial increase in female participation. The relentless pressure of international competition in domestic and export markets prompted employers to substitute women for men workers in existing employment and prefer them to men in new employment. Increase in female participation prompted by employers’ search for flexibility has been noted in developed and developing countries. Hence, there is expectation that Indian employers would follow the same strategies on liberalization.56 In the Indian context, the government needs to bring in labour reforms, so that the interests of workers are protected.