4. Power Structure in India: Institutional and Social – Indian Politics in Comparative Perspective


Power Structure in India: Institutional and Social (Caste, Dalit — Bahujan, Class, Patriarchy)

Part 1
Caste System in India

According to Gail Omvedt, caste is a dominant factor in State Politics. Caste is a system in which a person's membership in the society is mediated through his/her birth in a particular group, and which is assigned a particular status with a broad social hierarchy of such groups. This group has particular accepted occupation or range of occupation and only within it a person can marry, and carry on close social relations such as interdining.1 It is primarily a social phenomenon with the sub-caste being the most enduring element within it as a primary unit of the social system of kinship.

In the course of time, caste system has become such a predominant feature of Indian Social Structure that it is controlling and defining all social, economic and political relationship of the individual, so much so, that it has created an ascriptive system of status and hierarchy. In the words of M. N. Srinivas, ‘Caste is so tacitly and so completely accepted by all, including those most vocal in condemning it, that it is everywhere-the unit of social action’. Although caste system defines the social structure of Indian society by deciding economic position (occupation) of an individual, yet today, it is influencing political system also. Hence, a distinction has to be made between caste at the political level and caste at the social and ritual level.2 The latter is a much smaller unit than the former. To him, the Indian social structure and cultural patterns are characterized by unity as well as cultural diversity. The institution of caste may be mentioned as a typical example of paradox that is Indian society. According to him, the essence of caste is the arrangement of hereditary groups in a hierarchy. Generally, each caste is divided according to occupational differences, but no caste is invariably associated with a single occupation. Thus, caste living in a village or neighbouring villages are bound together by economic ties. Inter-caste relations at the village level constitute vertical ties. They may be classified into economic, ritual, political and civic ties. Srinivas says, ‘it is the functioning of a village as a political and social entity that brought together members from different castes’.3 The policy of the British government providing a certain amount of power to local self-governing bodies and concessions to backward castes provided new opportunities. Gradually, the characteristics of and occupation of castes are weakening in cities and towns. Even villages are experiencing a certain amount of change. This process has, however, been accompanied by the greater activity of caste in administration and politics. Adult franchise and Panchayati Raj have provided new opportunities for castes. In the course of exploitation of new opportunities, the caste system has undergone a certain degree of change. Numerically, large castes have become important pressure groups in politics at the district and state levels.4

Varna and Jati

A caste or sub-caste is an endogamous social group which is inclusive of the clans, which, in turn, include several joint families and nuclear families.5 The word ‘caste’ is derived from the Portuguese word ‘casta’ signifying breed, race or kind. The earliest use of this word can be found in 1563, when Gracia do Orta wrote that ‘no one changes his father's trade and all those of the same caste of shoe-makers are the same’. However, the term was applied to people of India by the Portuguese to denote ‘Jati’. The word has created confusion in the sense that it is used to denote both ‘Varna’ and ‘Jati’. As you must have known people saying, there are four castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. In fact, these four are not castes but are ‘Varnas’. What we find today are not ‘Varnas’ but ‘Jatis’. There are four ‘Varnas’ and about 4000 ‘Jatis’. The first mention of ‘Varna’ is found in Rig-Veda, i.e. in the Vedic era around 1500 BC. ‘Varna’ means colour. Initially, there were no untouchables. The Varna System was relatively not rigid during the Vedic era (1500 BC-1000 BC). During the later Vedic era, i.e. around 1000 BC, there has been a mention of ‘Asat Shudra’ (untouchable community). Thus, untouchability started around 1000 BC. Around 2nd Century BC to 1st Century AD, because of diversified occupations, several occupational groups emerged, and came to be known by different Jatis. Thus, Varna Vyavastha is the textual model or book view of Indian social system, i.e. it is found today only in texts. Whereas, ‘Jati’ is the contextual view of Indian social system, i.e. we find ‘Jatis’ in reality today and not ‘Varnas’. There are only four ‘Varnas’ whereas, there are about 4000 ‘Jatis’. In each region, about 200 ‘Jatis’ are found. The Varna had a pan-Indic hierarchy, i.e. Brahmins are on the top, Kshtriyas are at the second position, Vaishyas are at the third position and Shudras are found at the bottom of the hierarchy. This hierarchy was uniform throughout India, but in ‘Jati’ a uniform hierarchy throughout India is not found. In the changing situation, in some areas Brahmins are on the top, in some other areas Thakurs (Rajput) are at the top. Today, even the Dalits are found on the top in some areas. Thus, secular criteria (economic and political) are found in the ‘Jati’ system. On the other hand, in Varna vyavastha ritual criteria (religious) is found. In Varna vyavastha, initially, untouchable are not found. They are placed outside the Varna vyavastha, whereas, in the Jati vyavastha untouchables are an integral part of the system. In Varna vyavastha, a person's status was not changeable, whereas in the Jati vyavastha, one can change one's status with improved socio-economic condition. Thus one should not take ‘Varna’ and ‘Jati’ synonymously.

Historical Perspective of Caste System

The emergence of Caste System can be traced to the old Vedic tradition, wherein divisions were created when the stratification of society was caused by the problem of division of duties, which later found intellectual expression in Vedas, and was legitimized in the form of Varna System. Thus, based on duties, four Varnas emerged: the Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. All the four Varnas were compared in Rig-veda to different parts of the ‘Purusha’,6 in which there could be no question of inequality. This functional division, based on the principle of complimentarity, gave place to a division based on ‘birth’ and ‘heredity’ and destroyed the spontaneity of the conceptual scheme. The post-Rig vedic era denotes clear classification of society signifying the importance of four Varnas. According to Hindu tradition the caste system owes its origin to the four Varnas, derived from the Brahman, who sprang from the mouth of the deity; the Kshatriya, who was created from his arms; the Vaishya, who was formed from his stomach; and the Sudra, who was born from his feet.7 The Brahmans were declared to be the chief because of their creation from the mouth. The Kshatriyas were deemed vigorous, because they were created from vigour. The Vaishyas were meant to be businessmen, because of their creation from the stomach, the receptacle of food. The Sudra, because of his creation from the feet, were deemed to be the transporter of others.8 In this particular account of creation, not only the origin of the classes is interpreted theologically but also a divine justification is sought to be given to their functions and status. Different observers have different opinions about the emergence of caste system in India. Where Nesfield,9 on one hand, regards occupation as the exclusive basis of caste system and that it is the natural product of society in the creation of which religion played no part at all; Chanda,10 on the other hand traces the origin of caste to race and function; colour or race difference, real and fancied, together with hereditary functions, gave birth to the caste system. However, irrespective of reasons of its evolution the fact remains that the institution of caste has been one of the exclusive characteristics of the Indian society. In spite of great changes in the history of India, caste has continued to be an important feature of Indian social life.11 During Medieval period, the caste system and the resulted inequalities became special target of attack for various social reformers of the period like Ramananda, Kabir, Shri Chatanya and others.

There have been challenges to the caste system from the time of Buddha, Mahavira and Makkhali Gosala. Both Buddha and Mahavira preached people to break the bonds of the caste system, and severely criticised untouchability; that was prevalent throughout the society. Many bhakti period saints, including Meerabai, Guru Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya, Dnyaneshwar, Eknath, Subramanya Bharathi, Ramanujan and Tukaram, rejected all caste based discrimination, and accepted disciples from all the castes. Many Hindu reformers such as Swami Vivekananda believe that there is no place for the caste system in Hinduism. The 15th century saint Ramananda accepted all castes, including untouchables, into his fold. Most of these saints subscribed to the Bhakti movements in Hinduism during the medieval period that rejected casteism. Nandanar, a low-caste Hindu cleric, also rejected casteism and accepted Dalits. Some other movements in Hinduism have also welcomed lower-castes into their fold, the earliest being the Bhakti movements of the medieval period. Dalit politics involved many reform movements; these arose primarily as a reaction to the advent of Christian missionaries in India and their attempts to convert Dalits, who were attracted to the prospect of escaping the caste system. In the 19th Century, the Brahmo Samaj under Raja Ram Mohan Roy actively campaigned against untouchability and casteism. The Arya Samaj founded by Swami Dayanand also renounced discrimination against Dalits. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his disciple Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission that participated in the emancipation of Dalits. Upper-caste Hindus such as Mannathu Padmanabhan participated in movements to abolish untouchability against Dalits; Padmanabhan opened his family temple to Dalits for worship. Narayana Guru, a pious Hindu and an authority on the Vedas, also criticized casteism and campaigned for the rights of lower-caste Hindus within the context of Hinduism.

During the Colonial period, the Caste system underwent many changes with the introduction of new capitalist economy, judicial system, parliamentary institutions and above all western education that destroyed autonomy of the villages of pre-British times, and broke the intellectual monopoly of the Brahmans. Along with this, they established new factories, mines, new schools on the basis of formal equality. As a result, new classes came into existence and important democratic and capitalist transformation began in India. But this transformation, however, did not abolish caste or feudalism. On the other hand, in the given social milieu, caste and class continued to be heavily interlinked. The educated elite were mainly drawn from the higher castes, which had a tradition of learning, i.e. Brahmans and others. Peasants and artisans of Shudra status were a majority of factory workers. Dalits formed the work force. Merchants and money-lenders were mainly drawn from Vaishya caste. A national bourgeoisie began to shape, ultimately, from their ranks. There was, thus, a broad correlation between caste and class, which duplicated the main classes of the pre-colonial period. However, in every state there were some individuals of lower castes, who had access to education, land and better jobs. This contributed to the emergence of caste and class as separate structures, yet highly interconnected ones.

The complex structure of the colonial society affected caste system also. Prior to that, the relative ranking of castes differed from one place to another. The castes did not constitute a rigid description of the occupation or the social status of a group. The British attempted to equate the Indian caste system to their own class system, viewing caste as an indicator of occupation, social standing, and intellectual ability. During the initial days of the British East India Company's rule, caste differences and customs were accepted, if not encouraged, but the British law courts disagreed with the discrimination against the lower castes. However, British policies of divide and rule as well as enumeration of the population into rigid categories during the 10 year census contributed towards the hardening of caste identities.

The country saw numerous movements during British rule that included peasant movements, Dalit movement, agricultural labourers’ movements and others. The untouchable labourers also started organizing themselves at the same time. The late 1930s saw the emergence of a separate dalit-based agricultural labour organizations in Bihar and Andhra. At this time, Ambedkar also founded the Independent Labour Party to link Dalit, peasants and workers struggles. The Tebhaga movement in Bengal and Telangana movement (1946–50) in Andhra were in many ways a climax of these movements. But these movements remained under rich peasants and middle class hegemony. During this period, emergence of Christian Missionaries along with reformist opened their institutional spaces to the lower castes to help them get access into public offices. Jyotiba Phule and other reform-spirited men challenged these conditions of the lower-caste majority by petitioning and complaining to the British authority against the errant upper-caste men. Through all these agitations and caste based movements, caste gradually got politicized. Phule started the Satyashodhak Samaj for lower-caste men to challenge the upper-caste dominance and the sanskritizing tendencies of fellow caste men. He argued for the universalization of education for all, including men and women. His support for widow remarriage was challenged by the orthodoxy. His movement did not last long but the ideas were taken up by the reluctant nationalists.12

Western ideas of rationality, equality and scientific education were open to all sections including the untouchables. The Christian missionaries encouraged many lower castes to enter these institutions and facilitated the spirit of reform among them. Major reformists like E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker, popularly known as Periyar, actively participated in agitations and movements against caste rigidity. This period saw participation of people of lower castes in national movement led by Gandhi and others. The national movement, thereafter, took caste as a social evil and started agitations for temple entry for all Hindus. At the invitation of ‘lower caste’ Congress leader T. K. Madhavan, Gandhiji started the famous Vaikam Satyagraha in 1924 to assert the right of all untouchables to enter temples The agitation continued, and later became a national issue, and eventually resulted in the decree that guaranteed temple entry for all.13 The leadership of Gandhi and the Congress, in the end, created condition for its sustenance. Gandhi tried to achieve the eradication of untouchability through his ‘Harijan Campaign’. However, he concentrated more on social reforms; and for that, he relied more on enlightened Caste Hindu, and on propaganda, he created by his journal Harijan. The Congress programme against casteism and untouchability was to establish Harijan Colonies on Gandhian lines. The Congress reforms primarily touched the educated sections of both Harijans and upper-castes. Party passed number of resolutions about distribution of land to tiller and also against unnecessary and exorbitant rents. Though all these measures demanded aimed at economic and social reforms, but most of them remained unimplemented before independence.

After independence, certain positive measures were adopted by Government of India to bring an end to this Social Evil. These measures included abolition of Zamindari System in 1950, adoption of Constitution of India that abolished untouchability by Fundamental Right, opened doors of all religious institutions, public places, public employment and educational institution for everybody irrespective of their membership of any caste and tribe. Besides, under ‘Protective discrimination’, a reservation policy was also adopted in education, public employment and legislative representation for lower castes. These castes were now classified as the Scheduled Castes and Other Backward castes. The democratic polity based on the principle of adult franchise, mass politics and electoral politics led to the mobilization of various caste into pressure groups. Before independence caste was not considered an important feature of politics. But, in the post-independence period, castes are assuming new functions like influencing politics. It is almost playing the role of an effective interest or pressure group at various levels of the decision-making institutions. According to C. Von Furer: ‘Parliamentary democracy and the system of political parties competing for the support of the electorate developed in a society where the individual was born into a tightly organized group which demands his loyalty and affords him support in his dealing with the rest of the community’. In India, on the other hand, such groups-the castes and sub-castes dominate social life, and inevitably influence their members’ attitude to other groupings of a social or political character. In other words, the very fact that a caste is capable of functioning as an effective pressure group, and that its members cannot leave it, and join another group at will, places it into a position of a political power, which cannot be ignored by the political parties depending for their mandate on the goodwill of the voters.14 According to Rudolph and Rudolf, the relationship that caste bears to politics can best be understood in terms of three types of political mobilization, each suggestive of different phases of political development: vertical, horizontal and differential. Vertical mobilization is the marshalling of political support by traditional notables in local societies that are organized integrated by rank, mutual dependence and the legitimacy of traditional authority. In India, traditional elites were characteristically the leaders of locally dominant castes. They responded to representative government and popular politics by mobilizing what local notables in Britain called their ‘interest’. Horizontal mobilization involves the marshalling of popular political support by class or community leaders and their specialized organizations. Differential mobilization involves the marshalling of direct or indirect political support by political parties from viable but internally differentiated communities through parallel appeals to ideology, sentiment and interest. The agent of mobilization in this case is the political party rather than the local notable or community association.15 To William A. Haviland, however:

Although India's national constitution of 1950 sought to abolish caste discrimination and the practice of untouchability, the caste system remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture, and is still widespread throughout southern Asia, especially in rural India. In what has been called India's ‘hidden apartheid’, entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste. Representing about 15 per cent of India's population—or some 160 million people—the widely scattered Dalits endure near complete social isolation, humiliation, and discrimination based exclusively on their birth status. Even the shadow of a Dalit is believed to pollute the upper classes. They may not cross the line dividing their part of the village from that occupied by higher castes, drink water from public wells, or visit the same temples as the higher castes. Dalit children are still often made to sit in the back of classrooms.

Here, a special discussion about Dalit and Bahujan Samaj is necessary to have a clear picture about caste system and their political association and representation in India. This is done as under:

Dalits:   Dalit basically means lower caste people within the Hinduism who were formerly called as untouchables. Gandhiji called them Harijan (children of God) in 1933, and the other words used for them is Scheduled Castes as is used in the Indian Constitution. The term ‘Dalit’, that basically means a person who has been grounded or broken to pieces by others deliberately, is a Marathi word that was coined by Dr Ambedkar. Later, the word has been used with a wider connotation to include all the oppressed and exploited sections of society. It includes economic, cultural and social exploitation. In course of time, it has emerged as a very powerful political category. However, the term did not gain widespread currency until the arrival of the Dalit Panther movement in the Seventies.

The SCs constitute 16 per cent of India's population, of which 84 per cent of them are located in rural areas working mostly as agricultural labourers, share-croppers and self-cultivators and 36 per cent of them are workers. However, they are not concentrated in very large number in particular district or talukas, but are scattered all over the country. They are not concentrated in very large number in particular districts or talukas, but are mainly spotted in large number in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar of the Northern parts; in West Bengal in Eastern region; in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in Southern region; and in Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the Western parts of the country. The main issues around which most of the dalit movements have been centred in the colonial and post-colonial periods are confined to the problem of untouchability. For asserting their demands, Dalits have simultaneously followed two paths in the political arena: one is agitational politics or direct action through struggles; and the other is participation in parliamentary politics through elections and holding offices in various decision-making institutions. Based on the purpose/ideology of the movement, Ghanshyam Shah16 has classified them into two categories:

  1. Reformative Movements: The basic purpose of these movements is to reform the caste system to solve the problem of untouchability. These are further divided into Bhakti Movements that were started to resist brahminical hierarchical order and establish equality among all the castes. The main supporters of this movement were Ravidas, Kabir, etc.; Neo-Vedantik movements that attempted to remove untouchability; and Sanskritization Movements that justified their claim and conversion of their status into higher castes.
  2. Alternative Movements: It attempted to create an alternative socio-cultural structure by conversion to some other religion or by acquiring education, economic status and political power. Based on method, these movements are further divided into: the Conversion Movement that was led by Dr B. R. Ambedkar. When in early 1950s, he found that Buddhism was appropriate as an alternative religion for the untouchables and finally in 1956, he, along with a number of followers converted to Buddhism; and Secular Movements that discarded the dominant culture and attempted to build an alternative socio-cultural identity for the oppressed classes, for example Dalit Panther Movements in the early 1970s.

For protecting the interests of Dalits, Dr Ambedkar formed the Independent Labour Party (ILP) that was kept open for labourers belonging to all the castes. In 1954, Dr Ambedkar formed Scheduled Castes Fedration (SCF) to fight elections and look after the interests of SCs by getting inside the Parliament. Later in 1956, the party converted itself into Republican Party. This was done basically to broaden the base of the party and include Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes also in the party platform. Besides this, a number of Scheduled castes organizations were formed at regional levels. Also, there came into existence a number of voluntary organizations like Rural Community Development Association in Tamil Nadu, Rural Harijan Agricultural Development Association in Andhra and others for their welfare. The basic purpose of these movements was to fight for the issues related to their identity and reservations in government jobs and political positions. Dr Ambedkar departed in December 1956, but before passing away he won three major rights for SCs/STs which are:

  • Representation in government jobs and legislative bodies.
  • Free-ships and scholarships for the SC/ST students.
  • Reservation in admission in State-run/aided educational institutions.

These are in addition to a plethora of emancipator mandates under the Constitution of India. With the passage of time, the influence of the Republican Party dwindled, and it has been supplanted by the Bahujan Samaj Party in recent years. However, it can be said that because of the efforts of Dr Ambedkar dalit struggle ‘dalit’ has been brought on the agenda of mainstream politics. In academic circles, the movements have forced a section of intellectuals to critically review the Indian traditions and culture and create an environment in which inequality has been abolished by law.

Bahujan Samaj Party: Bahujan Samaj Party was formed on 14 April 1984 by Kanshi Ram to bring together all the dalits of the country under a single banner. This happened as a result of the opportunities provided by the democratic system and failure of various National Political Parties in expressing and articulating ideologically as well as practically the interest and concerns for the overall development of the ‘dalits’ and lower castes and provide social Justice to ‘dalits’. The nature and ideology of Bahujan Samaj Party is different from other Dalit Parties. In 1960s, there emerged many Dalit militant organizations like Dalit Panthers in Maharashtra, Bheema Sena and Dalit Sangarsh Samiti in Karnataka to fight against the exploitation of Dalits by upper caste and to work for economic welfare of Dalits. Kanshi Ram, who was a scientist in the Defence Research and Development Laboratories in Pune, gave up his job and decided to work for the mobilization and upliftment of Dalit community. He joined RPI, but left it as he was not happy with its commitment to Congress. In 1978, Kanshi Ram formed an all India organization of Government employees named Backward (SC, ST, OBC) and Minorities Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) to highlight the caste disproportions in government services. In 1981, he formed an agitational wing – the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti to mobilize weaker segment of society. Finally in April 1984, Kanshi Ram launched the Bahujan Samaj Party aiming at the politicization, mobilization and organization of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Castes and minorities. Its purpose was to break the shackles of the caste system; hence, it advocated a new and secular ideology. Though both RPI and the BSP are based on Amdebkar's ideology, the latter is more militant in ideology. The central tenet of its ideology is the concept of ‘social justice’ and for achieving this goal, the BSP leadership argues that capture of state power is essential. The new social order can then be achieved by using state power for ‘social engineering’ from above, i.e., introducing developmental programmes for Dalit upliftment and mobilization rather than a revolution based upon destruction of the social order from below. Although it has emerged out of a social action group, it is not a religious or reform movement; it is definitely a political organization whose aim is to capture power and use it to improve the condition of Dalit community.

Although the Election Commission recognizes the BSP as a national party, it effectively functions in certain North Indian states only. Kanshi Ram was able to promote the organization in the states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Party's growth in politics had been coincided with the decline of Congress support among Dalits and its gain have mostly confined to North India. The 1990s has witnessed politicization of marginalized social groups. Increasing participation of Dalits, Adivasis and poor has made Caste based parties more powerful. As such within a decade of its formation, party has become a political force to the extent that it can influence electoral results, poll fortunes and the government formation.

Caste and politics in India

The caste system has, thus, emerged as a powerful social group mobilized to achieve certain objective. That, thus, made them powerful enough to effect the formation of government. Rajni Kothari, while talking about caste focuses on political dimensions of caste. According to him, ‘Politics is a competitive enterprise; its purpose is the acquisition of power for the realization of certain goods and its process is one of identifying and manipulating existing and emerging allegiances in order to mobilize and consolidate positions. For that what are needed are organization and articulation of support, and where politics is mass based, the point is to articulate support through the organizations in which the masses are to be found’.17 According to him, the process of politics is one of identifying and manipulating existing structures in order to mobilize support and consolidate positions. Where the caste structure provides one of the most important organizational clusters in which the population is found to live, politics must strive to organize through such a structure. Hence, we can say that politicians mobilize caste grouping and identities in order to organize their power.

In the context of interactions between caste and politics, Rajni Kothari points out three dimensions of caste system:

  1. Secular Dimensions: In emphasizing caste as a stratification system in which distances are rigidly maintained through endogamy, pollution and the legitimacy of rituals, caste as a system of conflict and interaction has received sparse attention. Yet, the fact is that functionalism and caste cleavages, patterns of alignment and realignment among the various strata, and a continuous striving for social mobility have always been prominent features of the caste system.
  2. Integration Dimension: The caste system not only determines the individual's social status, but also differentiates and assigns occupational and economic roles. It, thus, gives a place to every individual from the highest to the lowest, and makes for a high degree of identification and integration. At the same time, it is an integration structure of a specific type, namely, one, that is more intense in its small group orientation and particularistic loyalties, and where wider loyalties operate only when they are structured through the prevailing differentiations. This aspect is important in understanding the structural impact of democratic nation–building. For the competitive style of democratic politics involves group action and cohesion; democratic politics is as much a process of fusion as of fission.
  3. Dimension of Consciousness: Castes enters politics through the ‘consciousness aspect’ highlighted by its symbolism and value structure. This is where symbolic gesture for culture mobility such as, ‘Sanskritisation’18, ‘Westernisation’19 and ‘Secularisation’ assume or disguise political overtones in their manifestation. According to Rajni Kothari, ‘It is not politics that gets caste-ridden; it is caste that gets politicized’.20 The operation of competitive politics has drawn caste out of its apolitical context and given it a new status and identity.

The political behavior of the people of the members of different political parties is caste-oriented or is influenced by the caste consideration. The caste system emerged as powerful group, because of their number and entered politics for the welfare of their member. During 1960s and 70s, castes were treated as vote bank, through their significance was not felt in the foreground. However, at the time of election, both national and regional political parties often select the candidates in accordance with the caste-composition of respective constituencies. Different caste combinations to draw votes from different sections of society are apparent in their choice of candidates. This has resulted in emergence of vote-bank politics which is facilitated by democratic system of government. As such there has emerged many new caste based organizations, and are playing dictating role in Indian politics. This has been followed by a growing polarization along caste lines and demands for greater quotas and benefit.

Caste considerations play a decisive role in the formation of the Central as well as the State Cabinets, where adequate representations are given to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Sikhs, Muslims, Brahmans, Rajputs, Jats and so on. Thus, as S. N. Sadasivan claims that caste ‘has fractionalized national politics and caste breeds caste parties’. According to him, there are clear caste based differences in the leadership of all major parties and the actual force ‘behind every defection, every faction, every splinter group and every new formation of party is invariably a Caste or Combination of Castes.’21

The Politics of Reservation

The constitution of India tries to create a democratic state based on justice and equality. As such the unprivileged bunches of castes were given protection by fundamental rights. Besides this, to empower these people, the constitution of India provided reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government education institutions and also legislature at all levels. The relevant Constitutional Provisions providing reservation include:


Article 46Directive Principles) Promotion of educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections.
Article 330Provides reservation of seats in the Lok Sabha.
Article 332Provides reservation of seats in State Legislatures.
Article 243DProvides reservation in Panchayati Raj Institutions (The Article was inserted under 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1993).
Article 243TProvides reservation of seats in Municipalities (The Article was inserted under 74th Amendment Act 1993).
Article 335Provides reservation in services though in accordance with maintenance of efficiency of administration.
Article 334This provision was made only for a temporary period of ten years and was to be reviewed after ten years of the commencement of the Constitution. The provision was later extended by 8th, 23rd, 45th, 62nd and 79th Amendments Acts, each time for another ten years extending it up to 2010.


Besides them some other Constitutional Amendments have been passed. Some of them are:


77th AmendmentRefers to reservation in promotions.
81st AmendmentThat was about reservations of unfilled vacancies for the SCs and STs.
82nd AmendmentRelated to relaxation in qualifying marks.
85th AmendmentRefers to reservation concerning consequential seniority for the SCs and the STs.
89th AmendmentRefers to replacement of National Commission for the SCs and STs with two separate commissions named as National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and National commission for the Scheduled Tribes.
93rd Amendment Refers to special arrangement for advancement of any socially and educationally backward class or for SCs or STs and their admission in educational institutions including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions. The Amendment came into force in January 2006 that added clause 5 to Article 15. For implementation of this act the Central Educational Institution (Reservation and Admission) Act, 2006 was passed which provided for 27 per cent reservation for the Other Backward Classes.


Besides them, here, Mandal Commission needs special reference. This was the second backward classes’ commission constituted under the Chairmanship of B. P. Mandal. This commission submitted its report in Dec 1980, and it recommended 27 per cent of reservation for OBC in recruitment to all public sector undertakings both under the central & state Governments. National Front Government under V. P. Singh tried to implement these recommendations in Mid-1990s. This was opposed by intense political struggle. To control the situation, Supreme Court intervened which made it clear that total reservation will not exceed 50 per cent and that the policy of reservation in public service shall exclude the ‘creamy layers’ of the reserved social categories.

Caste in the Present Context

The Indian society and the caste system have changed tremendously over the years after Independence. We find continuity as well as change in the perceptions and practices of castes in contemporary times. One may find participation of people of one caste in marriage and celebrations of other caste people. Instead of ‘Jati’, these people prefer to use the term ‘samaj’. This has happened because of the changes in socio-economic fabric not only in urban India, but also in rural India; wherein earlier times, one's social position was defined by his/her membership to their caste group. Now, it is more in terms of their belonging to class-group. This has happened because of emergence of visible forces of social change making migration to urban areas, participation and getting fruits of development, investment of money back at home an easy or probable action. To map these social change, Srinivas introduced the concepts like Sanskritization in his influential study on social changes happening in contemporary India.22 Besides, Sanskritization, Srinivas coined another term called Westernization to denote the changes introduced by more than 200 years of British Colonialism. The term subsumes changes occurring at different levels including technology, institutions, ideology and values.

However, besides these positive changes, our country has, over the period of time witnessed many caste based violence especially in 1960s between the upper castes and lower castes wherein oppressive form of violence is normally directed at the lower-caste, landless poor, initiated largely by landholding powerful upper castes punishing them for violating caste hierarchy and sometimes for avenging the wrongs done by the lower castes. This has been more visible in Indian states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and UP. All this resulted into consolidation of caste members as ‘caste senas’ to protect the honour or pride. In Bihar, senas of Bhumihars, Rajputs and Yadavs are prominent in their fight against and other ‘lower castes’.

Party politics in Independent India has influenced caste, and it is reflected in the electoral processes too. Across the country, one finds that leaders of the powerful and large parties are successful in translating their numerical strength into political power by mobilizing horizontally their members. But since the 1980s, a more polarized caste politics has emerged around the vexed issue of reservations. The explicit purpose of Reservation policy and positive discrimination was to ensure equality of opportunity to tribals, dalits, women, and other low caste people. By this policy, Constitutional delegitimacy of caste has acquired new levels in India. However, experience shows that this policy has mainly benefitted middle class among the lower caste rather than the poor low caste people, who has basicly earned nothing from this positive discrimination. The process of Mandalization, a term coined by many sociologists, provided lower caste better opportunities, but same has not actually reached them has rather benefited wealthy middle class among those low castes. In fact, it has been argued that Mandalization is also a result of the rise of middleclass section among lower caste OBCs.23

The government, over the years since independence tried to uplift lower castes by land reform, better and free education, policy of reservation and positive discrimination. However, these benefits have failed to reach actual sufferers of Caste System in India.

Part 2
Class in India

Class — Introduction

The idea of class is widely and freely used in popular discussion. Some use it to signify all forms of social inequality, and others regard it as the basis of every kind of political conflict. Scholars in a variety of disciplines such as sociology, economics, and political science have tried to give it a clear and consistent meaning, but their efforts have never been fully successful. Sociologists identify class as one of the fundamental types of social stratification. Usually, individuals are grouped into classes based on their economic positions and similar political and economic interests within the stratification system. Most societies seem to have some notion of social class. However, class is not a universal phenomenon, and many primitive societies do not have social classes.

The problem is not unique to the concept of class. Some of the most basic and fundamental concepts used in the study of society are both ambiguous and inexhaustible, and it is perhaps the very ambiguity attached to the idea of class that gives it its perennial appeal. Definitions of class have varied and changed in part, because the reality on which they seek to focus attention itself varies and changes. The factors that determine class vary widely from one society to another. Even within a society, different people of groups may have very different ideas about what makes one ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ in the social hierarchy.

It is best to begin with the Marxist approach to class, or, what is much the same thing, the ‘class approach’ to the study of society. Karl Marx defined class in terms of the extent to which an individual or social group has control over the means of production. In Marxist terms, a class is a group of people defined by their relationship to the means of production. Marxists explain the history of ‘civilized’ societies in terms of a war of classes between those who owns means of production, and therefore, control production, and those who do not own means of production, but supply labour to produce the goods or services in society. In the Marxist view of capitalism, this is a conflict between capitalists (bourgeoisie) and wage-workers (the proletariat). It would be fair to say that Marx's ideas on class have had more influence than those of any other author on the subject. They have influenced not only his followers, but also his critics, the latter often more fruitfully than the former. The Marxian concept of class is distinctive in many ways. The theory of which is a part brings together structure, contradiction, and change. According to it, every society beyond the stage of primitive communism has a structure of which the most fundamental feature is its division into classes. The structure in turn has inherent contradictions that are expressed sooner or later in the conflict of classes. Class conflict is the most fundamental form of social conflict and overshadows all other forms of it. Finally, the contradictions inherent in society lead to its transformation from one type to another, the main motive force for change being the conflict of classes.24

Max Weber does not accept the division of entire society into two classes as suggested by Marx. According to him, the skilled and educated workers may command high salaries due to scarcity of persons with those skills, and therefore, form a different class. He distinguished four different classes in a market economy; (i) the propertied class, (ii) the intellectual, managerial and administrative class, (iii) the traditional petit bourgeois class of small businessmen and shopkeepers, and (iv) the working class.

Modern accounts of class have often rejected the Marxist definition. The large scale modern business is not run by the (property) owners, but is managed by professional managers. The class of propertyless, therefore, is very vast which includes; on the one hand, professional managers and highly skilled employees drawing high salaries on the one end of the spectrum, and the shop floor workers at the lower end, and it will be stupid to say that all of them belong to the same class. In contemporary society, class is defined by employment relations. Manual workers such as clerks and lower technicians are placed in the intermediate class/es; managers, administrators and professionals are placed among the upper class/es.

Determinants of Class

In societies, where classes exist, one's class is determined largely by occupation; education and qualifications, income (personal, household and per capita), wealth or net worth including the ownership of land, property, means of productions etc and family background and aspirations. Although class is rarely hereditary in a strict sense, it will often be affected by such factors as upbringing and the class of one's parents. The child of high status professional will grow up with the expectation that a similar occupation is an attainable goal, whereas a child of lower status parents in a poor neighborhood will often have much lower aspirations based upon what they see around them.

The most basic class distinction between the groups is between the powerful and the powerless. People in social classes with greater power attempt to cement their own positions in society and maintain their ranking above the lower social classes in the social hierarchy. Social classes with a great deal of power are usually viewed as elites, at least within their own societies. Those who can attain a position of power in a society will often adapt distinctive lifestyles to emphasize their prestige, and to further rank themselves within the powerful class. Often, the adoption of these stylistic traits (which are often referred to as cultural capital) is as important as one's wealth in determining class status, at least at the higher levels. These include, costume and grooming, manners and cultural refinements, political standing vis-à-vis the church, government and/or social clubs, as well as the use of honorary titles, reputation of honor or disgrace and language.

Caste Versus Class

The view that caste and class are polar opposites is really not correct. Both have been inseparable parts of India's social formation; hence, the study of their nexus, continuity and change. The view that recent processes of change have given way to a change from caste to class in Indian society is also not quite tenable and convincing. Caste is very complex system precisely because caste is not simply a ritualistic system of power relations and economic activities. If it gets weakened in one aspect, but then, it also gets strengthened in the other with certain alterations, additions and accretions. Therefore, what we need is to study the dynamics of this complexity of the system. One obvious inference is that there is caste basis of class and class basis of caste; hence, both are variable as well as consequence of one another. There is a class basis of rituals, pollution-purity, and other apparently non-material aspects of social life. For example, Jat Sabha is not a simple caste association; in effect, it is a peasants’ organization, Kisan Sabha is not a simple peasants’ organization; it is very much an association of castes engaged in agriculture, particularly Jats in Northern India and their counterparts in other states. The same logic applies to Vaishya Sabha, Kshatriya Mahasabha and Bhooswami Sangh etc.25

It is a myth that caste is mainly a rural phenomenon, and class is found generally in towns and cities. There is no uniform pattern of caste structure in actual terms throughout India. The same can be said about class structure. Both caste and class bear ideological contents as conceptual elements. Both have substantive elements as existential and mundane schemes of relations. There are thousands of castes in India with different names and nomenclatures; but there are only about 5 or 6 classes throughout the country. The number of castes or classes is not so important in determining basic relations, social or economic or both. More important is that these apparent bases of social division in Indian society are not realistically very different from each other. There are numerous ‘middle classes’ which are not directly related to ‘production processes’, they are an offshoot of the modern Indian state apparatus.

In India class-struggle is also in effect caste-struggle and vice-versa. The separation of the two seems superfluous and mechanistic. Nomologistic plea that the two are different as they refer to ‘social’ and ‘economic’ realities cannot be accepted because it has been proved with ample substantive support and evidence that they are not found as separate entities. For example, caste mobility movements are also class mobility movements both manifestly and latently.

Those who draw a sharp cleavage between caste and class observe that the two are different forms of social stratification. The units ranked in the class system are individuals, and those ranked in the caste are groups. D'souza draws a simple and mechanical distinction between caste and class obviously guided by the American notion of class. In other words, class for D'souza is a result of what he calls objective rating of positions based on certain attributes. Here, D'souza refers to the rigidity-fluidity dimension of social stratification implying class as a case of fluidity and caste as referring to rigidity. Description of caste through the concepts of status rigidity and immutability, organic solidarity and functional interdependence, homo-hierarchicus, pollution-purity; and descriptions of class by the ideology of individualism, completion and equality are grossly erroneous.26

Not only caste has been thought as antithetical to class, but the notions of both caste and class have been guided by the experience of alien situations. Weber's notion of ‘status groups’ has been equated with ‘caste-group’, and his notions of ‘class’, ‘class situation’ and ‘market situation’ have been found relevant for studying class in India. The other observation is that caste is ‘real’ phenomenon, where as class is a category, an attributional construction. One may state that caste is ‘real’ phenomenon, class is also equally ‘real’ and empiric, if not more. Both caste and class are real and empiric in the same situations and human transactions. Both are ‘interactional and hierarchical, and they incorporate each other. Another fallacy is to give ‘class’ only the Marxian meaning for studying the Indian society.

Since caste incorporates class and class incorporates caste, neither ‘caste view’ alone nor ‘class view’ alone would explain the totality of Indian's social reality. Researches by Stein, Panikkar and others have shown that a perfect congruence between caste, class and power never existed in the pre-British India. Mobility and migration were quite normal activities particularly resulting from warfare for acquiring powers and revolts against the atrocities committed. Since caste view has been given unwarranted and undue emphasis, it is quite appropriate to make a note of ‘class view’ of Indian society.

Both caste and class are real dimensions of India's social formation, and by and large inseparable from each other. Class is not simply a category conceptually abstracted. It is not simply a construct based on certain attributes or indices operationally derived. Classes of landowners, or landless labourers, traders and moneylenders are not abstractions, but they are existential structural components of India's class structure. Interactional ties (both conflict and cooperation) between them refer to their life situation. Caste and Class nexus is highlighted by Gough27 in her analysis of mode of production as a social formation in which she finds interconnections of caste, kinship, family and marriage with forces of production and production relations. The Marxist-ideologues28 Namboodiripad and Ranadive consider class relationship as domain assumption in the treatment of caste and kinship in India. Even Varna and Jajmani systems have been explained in terms of class relations and the mode of production.

Caste and class represent to a large extent the same structural reality. Singh rightly comments on caste and class nexus: ‘The situation corresponds to a “prismatic” model of change where traditional sentiments of caste and kinship undergo adaptive transformation without completely being “diffracted” into classes or corporate groups. Class operates within the framework of castes.’29 Caste conflicts are also class conflicts as the gap between the upper and lower castes is also the same that one finds between the high and low classes. Castes also function as classes as they are geared for performing their class interests. Therefore, common class consciousness among the members of a caste are mainly due to their common economic deprivations. Caste associations particularly in urban context perform economic and political functions for the benefit of their respective members. Thus, castes are more of ‘interactional’ groups rather than attributional constructs. Joan Mencher finds caste as a very effective system of economic exploitation of the lower castes. Precisely, due to this the upper castes (in the garb of exploiting classes) have not allowed emergence of class consciousness among the lower classes as they feared a threat to their entrenched status in India's social structure.

Caste Class Nexus in Indian Society

Let us now take up the concept of class in regard to Indian society. Karl Marx's notions of class and class conflict have industrial structures. Marx thought of Asiatic mode of production by which he meant absence of private property in land and static nature of economy due to a certain tie up between caste, agriculture and village handicrafts. However, Kurian30 observes that the analysis of Asiatic mode does not deny the role of class contradictions and class structures. India's pre-capitalist economic formation was neither classless nor static. Social relations and exploitation were based on both caste and class side by side.

At the time of independence, there were mainly three broad classes: the land owners (zamindars, big landlords), the cultivators (small farmers, share croppers, tenants) and the landless (agricultural and non agricultural labourers). There was a great degree of overlap between caste and class in this scheme of things, since the zamindars and big landlords invariable belonged to the upper castes while majority of the landless were from the lowly service castes or the untouchables while the cultivators were from the intermediate castes. However, since independence, many changes have taken place. On the one hand, agrarian reforms and the green revolution have affected caste, class and land relations by creating various gainers and losers; and on the other hand, the introduction of adult franchise resulted into empowerment of the numerically strong backward castes and classes.31 To quote, K.L. Sharma, ‘The embourgeoisiement of the families of the principal agricultural castes has given a new direction to the connection between caste, class and politics. The “divide” between the upper and the “backward castes” also adds a new dimension to the caste-class nexus.’32

Not only is there a nexus between caste and class or the social and economic dimensions, but the dynamics of India's social reality also includes the third dimension that of political power. There is no uniform pattern of the nexus between caste, class and politics. In Punjab, the leading castes among Sikhs and Hindus happen to be the ones, who occupy leading positions to mobilize their respective fellow men to defend their economic and political interests. On the contrary, the situation is quite different in Bihar where ‘castes are presenting themselves as “confederations” and “senas” (armies) against one another. The state is divided into forwards, backwards, hairjans, adivasis and muslims. Caste encounters accompanied by fights, feuds, murders, etc. have been quite frequent. Thus, caste is becoming a political process in which class and power are inherently embedded.’33

Two questions are relevant for a discussion on class: (1) How to analyse the class structure in Indian society? and (2) What is class-caste nexus and its ramifications and inter-relations in each region? Ashok Rudra34 while analyzing the class composition of the Indian agricultural population observes that there are only two classes in Indian agriculture, one of which is termed ‘the class of big landlords’, the other ‘the class of agricultural labourers’. These two classes are in antagonistic contradiction with each other, and this contradiction constitutes the principal contradiction in Indian rural society. Similar to Rudra's view is the view held by Desai.35 Rudra and those who adhere to this view do not accept the view that class differentiation in terms ‘of agricultural labourers, poor peasants, middle peasants, rich peasants, landlords, etc. exists today or even existed in medieval India.36 Rudra's view is that Indian agriculture has capitalist relations and capitalist development, hence two classes: ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

V. M. Dandekar37 comprehensively examines nature of class and class-conflict in Indian society. Five major classes in India, according to Dandekar, are: (1) Pre-capitalist (cultivator, agricultural labourer and household industry), (2) Independent workers in capitalist society, (3) employers, (4) white collar employees, and (5) blue-collar workers.

The main classes today in India can also be referred to as: (1) the agrarian classes, (2) the industrial classes, (3) the professional classes and (4) the business and mercantile classes. The emergence of these classes in modern India cannot simply be explained by the Marxist approach. Marx did not see that capitalism would change due to trade unions and collective bargaining power of workers. Class-antagonism is the kernel of Marxism, but class harmony is also a fact of life, and multiplicity of classes in between the haves and the have nots, cannot escape our attention. There is a ‘middle class’ inevitably in all societies, and it has a class higher and a class lower to it - this has not received Marxist serious attention.38 Besides, these points overlapping of class, caste, occupation, elite conflict, pressure groups and factions, immense influence of middle classes and prevalence of mixed classes like gentleman farmers are some other important points to be taken into account for a serious analysis of India's class structure.

Class is not a result of the new forces of change which have affected the caste system. Changes are in the traditional class and class relations and not caste alone is paving way to emergence of class relations. Thus, classes are found as a part of the system of social stratification in the same way as the castes are rooted in the Indian society. There is no universal and monolithic nature of class, class relations and class conflicts. There are certainly objective criteria of class identification and determination of class position. A class is certainly a concrete unit of interaction with other units. The real situation in post-independence India is that the class of rich peasants from the backward caste is at the top of class hierarchy. The class is struggling against the upper castes socially and politically; and economically it is facing the Harijans and agricultural labourers. The backward classes received encouragement for accelerating their struggle against the upper castes during the Janata Government regime in Bihar. The upper castes are upper class in overall sense of the term and the lower castes are the lower class. The backward classes are at intermediate level in the caste hierarchy, and so is their position in class structure.39

Extreme viewpoints have been expressed about class and caste. One such view is that the two are polar opposites and antithetical to each other. The other view is that the caste represents ideational and normative aspect whereas class refers to basic economic relations.40 We have discussed the nexus between these two systems of social stratification in terms of their continuity and change. Analysis shows that there is a caste basis of class and a class basis of caste. A given caste association for e.g., is not simply an organization of the members of that caste group; But it is also an organization of unskilled workers or potters or traders etc. Both are conceptual constructs as well as empiric phenomenon. Deriving from this exercise, we would argue that the Caste and Class represent to a large extent, though from different angles, the same social reality. Classes function within the context of class. Caste conflicts are also class or agrarian conflicts. The rift between the upper and lower castes to a large extent corresponds with the conflicts between the land owners and the share-croppers or agricultural labourers. Hence, an overemphasis on either ideological or on structural aspect would provide an incomplete view of social reality.

Marx, with whose name the study of class is particularly associated, is not himself fully consistent in the use of the concept. By and large he uses the term ‘class’ in the wider sense to refer to owners and non-owners of the means of production. Sometimes, however, he uses it in a narrower sense to refer to structures which are characteristic of capitalist society.41 Classes, thus, do not necessarily constitute communities, although they may, under specific social and historical conditions, be organized for communal action. Whether classes remain as mere categories or are organized into groups depends, to a large extent, on the action of political parties. The Communist Party, for instance, tried in the early fifties to organize the kisans (i.e. tenants and agricultural labourers) in the Tanjore area for political action. This attempt died out after a brief outburst of violence, but its memory even now colours the relation between classes.42

In the Marxian analysis, conflict occupies a central position in the definition of class and class relations. Dahrendorf, in fact, defines class almost exclusively in terms of conflict: ‘Class is always a category for purposes of the analysis of social conflict and its structural roots, and as such it has to be separated strictly from stratum as a category for purposes of describing hierarchical systems at a given point of time’.43 But the definition of class used here does not imply the existence of conflict as a necessary or continuous element in the relations between classes.

Although there are points of tension between the different agricultural classes, it would not be correct to characterize their mutual relations as essentially those of conflict. One reason for this is the high degree of overlap in reality between different classes. The individual often has divided loyalties, being at the same time a landowner and a manual worker, a tenant and an agricultural labourer. Another important factor is the existence of conflicts based on other alignments, some of which tend to assume greater importance than those of class. There is a considerable measure of overlap between caste and class, so that a particular conflict is often as much a conflict between Brahmin and Non-Brahmin as between landlord and tenant.

Classes, as such, are not defined essentially in terms of social honour, although class positions do tend to be associated with differential honour. Classes, as we have seen, are defined in terms of property, of ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. Classes are in-principle and, to some extent, in practice - open; castes are not. One may change one's position from tenant to landowner or from agricultural labourer to owner-cultivator. The free mobility which is, in principle, permitted within the class system, is, in reality, limited by various factors. Thus, the son of a rentier has much greater chances of himself becoming a rentier than the son of an agricultural labourer. It is, however, not impossible for the latter to become a landowner. Yet, there are significant differences between social mobility in the caste system and social mobility in the class system. In the latter, it is individual who moves up or down, whereas in the former entire communities change their position.44

The caste system enjoyed both legal and religious sanctions in traditional Indian society. In traditional society, punishment differed not only according to the nature of the offence committed, but also according to the caste of the offender. Classes, in contrast, are de facto categories. They do not enjoy the kind of legal and religious sanctions which were associated with castes (or, for that matter, with estates in feudal society). Today, as we have seen, there is a certain amount of divergence between the hierarchy of caste and that of class. Both the systems have been undergoing some modifications, the caste system because of the general trend towards westernization and secularization, and the class system because of the extension of a cash economy and because of land having come into the market. The non-Brahmin peasants, who may be broadly characterized as tenants, include at one end the small landowner; at the other end of the class structure, they shade off into the category of agricultural labourers. Many non-Brahmin tenants, in fact, work as farm servants or day labourers in addition to cultivating the land which they have secured on lease. This is in sharp contrast to the Brahmins, who do not provide even a single recruit to the class of agricultural labourers.45

The relationship between the caste structure and the class system has, evidently, been a dynamic one. In the traditional system, caste and class overlapped to a very large extent.There is even today a considerable measure of overlap between the two systems. But the class system has gradually been dissociating itself from the caste structure. One can achieve a variety of class positions with different degrees of probability, whatever one's position in the caste structure may be.

Although relations between classes have been undergoing change, this change has not kept pace with changes in the distribution of power. Ownership of land has shifted only in a small way from the old rentier class to the emerging class of farmers and owner-cultivators. Power, on the other hand, has shifted much more decisively from the traditional elite of the village into the hands of the new popular leaders. Not only was there greater congruence between caste and class in the traditional system, but both were more congruent with the power structure than today. The powerful families in the past were the big landowning families. These included the principal Brahmin families and, among Non-Brahmins, the Maratha family. Today, political power whether in the village or outside it, is not as closely tied to ownership of land as it was in the past. New bases of power have emerged which are, to some extent, independent of both caste and class. Perhaps, most important among these is the strength of numerical support.

Thus, classes, as categories of persons having similar positions in the system of production, are not politically organized for a variety of reasons. The separation of the different classes is, in reality, not sharp enough for each to have a feeling of identity in opposition to the others. Individuals have multiple positions, and there loyalties are divided. There are risks involved in challenging established economic interests. The agricultural labourer may find it difficult to secure employment, and the tenant may find himself evicted through manipulation by the landlord of some loophole in the law. Political conflicts seem to have followed more closely the cleavages of caste than those of class. The division of society into Brahmins and non-Brahmins has been of more immediate relevance in mobilizing political support than its division into landowners, tenants, and agricultural labourers. To a large extent, of course, conflicts between castes subsume within them conflicts between classes, since there is a considerable measure of overlap between the two systems.

One important difference between caste and class is that castes at least at the level of the village constitute communities whereas classes do not. As a community of persons living together, constantly interacting with each other, and being shaped by the same general values, Brahmins are more likely to develop common political attitude than are landowners or members of any agrarian class. Whereas in the caste system the tendency has been towards a certain convergence of adjacent segments, the class system has shown increasing mobility. Ownership of land passes more easily from one set of people to another, and new classes tend to develop. Further, the class system has progressively detached itself from the caste structure, although there is still a high degree of correspondence between the hierarchies of caste and class.46


Power has also become independent of class to a greater extent than in the past. Ownership of land is no longer the decisive factor in acquiring power. Numerical support and a strategic position in the party machinery play an important part. Adult franchise and Panchayati Raj have introduced new processes into village society. The struggle for power has become a pervasive phenomenon. This may partly be due to the fact that today much more power is accessible to the common man than was ever the case in the past. Mobility in the caste system has always been an extremely slow and gradual process. To acquire land and move up in the hierarchy of class also takes a generation or two. Shifts in the distribution of power under the new set-up are, by comparison, quick and radical in nature.

Today, class positions have acquired a certain measure of autonomy. The class system has in part detached itself from the caste structure, although, as we have seen, class positions in the village are by no means entirely, or even largely, ‘caste-free’. Numerous factors have contributed to the dissociations of the class from caste. Land has come into the market, and is in process of changing hands; not all Brahmins are now landowners, nor are all landowners Brahmin. New occupations have emerged which take villager right out of the productive organisation of the village. The penetration of cash economy and the increased geographical mobility have also loosened the economic system. Finally, political and legislative changes have altered the bargaining positions of the old economic classes.47

At the present time, the ‘class approach’ appears to be in decline, not only in India but in most parts of the world. This is partly because the Marxists, with whom that approach was closely associated, claimed too much for it, and made their theories, concept and definition resistant to detailed and systematic empirical evidence. Yet, the division based on property, occupation and income remains important, and cannot be ignored whether our interest is in social inequality or in social conflict. No matter how difficult it may be to define class, we cannot dispense with the idea of it in our interpretation and analysis of society.

Part 3
Class and Patriarchy

Patriarchy — Introduction

The word ‘Patriarchy’ literally means the ‘rule of father’, and it was originally used to describe specific type of ‘male-dominant’ family. It is a system of social organisation that institutionalizes male power over women, and puts male interests and values at the center of social life. Although patriarchy is one of the most fundamental realities of contemporary social life, it is so pervasive that it is naturalized and often invisible. Indian society, like most of the society's world over, is patrilineal and patriarchal. According to religious beliefs, a man has to be reborn as a man to attain moksha (redemption). A man cannot attain moksha unless he has a son to light his funeral pyre.

Patriarchy usually refers to the domination of the father-husband within the family and the sub-ordination of the wife and children. The use of the term patriarchy, thus, implies that the system of male power in society both reflects, and stems from the dominance of the father in the family.48 Sylvia Walby calls it, ‘A system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women’.49 Maggi Humm has defined ‘patriarchy’ as a ‘system of male authority which opposes women through social, political, and economic institutions. Patriarchy has powers for man's great access to and mediation of the resources and rewards of authority, structures, inside and outside the home.’50 Zillah Eisenstein has defined it as a ‘political structure which favours man’.51 Some views patriarchy more than just the sub-ordination of women and children. This extended meaning of patriarchy encompasses younger and socially or economically subordinate males.

Origin and Development

There are varied views on the origin of patriarchy as a system. Some believe it to be a natural hierarchal order, while others challenge it to be man-made and propagated by institutions, laws, customs, education, culture, religion etc. To analyze the origin of patriarchy, we can categorize it from three different perspectives, i.e. firstly, Frederich Engels’ explanation who believed that women's subordination began with the development of private property, when according to him ‘the world's historical defeat of the female sex’52 took place. He believed that women's suppression developed historically when men started producing surplus, he acquired animals and slaves to retain power which led to formation of private property, and eventually encompassed women under private property. The primary contradiction for him was not between the sexes but between the classes.

Secondly, the views of the radical feminist are of much importance who believed that patriarchy preceded private property, and they believed that the original and basic contradiction is between the sexes and not between economic classes. The radical feminist's view the division in all societies as between men and women. According to them, patriarchy is the male hierarchical ordering of society within which male possesses superior power and economic privileges. Patriarchy is rooted in biology rather than in economics or history. Manifested through male force and control, the roots of patriarchy are located in women's reproductive selves. Woman's position in this power hierarchy is defined not in terms of the economic class structure but in terms of the patriarchal organization of society.53 Radical feminist views of Simone de Beauvoir, rejected the biological and historical materialist ideas existing in her times. She believed that the women have the same nature as men but the reason for their suppression is their physical bodies. The radical feminist's views are criticized, first for accepting biological determinism and secondly since it does not relate the system of production and reproduction and has treated them as independent of each other.

Lastly, the socialist position is that patriarchy is related to the economic system, to the relations of production, but it is not causally related. In fact, there are many other factors which influence patriarchy, such as ideology. One of the important contributions has been made by noted socialist feminist Zillah Eisenstein, ‘Unlike the liberal feminists and the Marxist feminists, the socialist feminists do not locate the origin of patriarchy in legal, political rights or economic determinism but rather in the very roots of masculine psychology, language and thought. Socialist feminists have used patriarchy as a key to understanding women's oppression and subordination. Patriarchy for them is a combination of economic and sexual factors. They try to focus attention on crucial links between reproduction and production, and thus the role of the family within capitalism’.54 Most sociologists reject predominantly biological explanations of patriarchy and contend that social and cultural conditioning is primarily responsible for establishing male and female gender roles.55 As stated by standard sociological theory, patriarchy is the result of sociological constructions that are passed down from generation to generation. These constructions are most pronounced in societies with traditional cultures and less economic development.56 However, even in modern societies, gender messages conveyed by various institutions like family, mass media, and others, largely favor men having a dominant status in the society.

Similarly, the patriarchal nature of ancient Indian society has lead to very different expectations for the behavior of women than that of men. Even something as early as the epic tale of Ramayana, echoes these notions of sex appropriate behaviors by presenting its female characters with attributes that are in stark contrast to the characteristics of their male counterparts. The virtuous women of the story possess exaggerated feminine qualities while the immoral women's actions more closely resemble the behavior of the men. In either case, the women are subordinate and are considered possessions rather than partners. A woman was valued mainly for her beauty and the pleasure she can provide to her husband. Thus, the Ramayana could be considered as the cementing pillar to the patriarchal structure of the ancient Indian society and the sex-appropriate ideals, that are prominent throughout the Ramayana, were a reflection of the patriarchal values that structured ancient Indian society.

Structures of Patriarchy

The first lessons of patriarchy are learnt in the family where the head of the family is a man, and family is considered the chief institution of patriarchy. Man is considered the head of the family, and he controls women's sexuality, labour or production, reproduction and mobility. Women are targets of the whole family. There is a division of work within the family itself. Men do all the outside work, including a job, and women are in charge of managing the family. In a patriarchal family, the birth of male child is preferred to that of a female. The former is considered as the inheritor of the family, while the later is considered as paraya dhan. The Indian joint family is the ‘patriarchal family’, and it was constituted by a group of persons related in the male line and subject to absolute power of the senior most male member.57

Patriarchal constructions of knowledge perpetuate patriarchal ideology, and this is reflected in educational institutions, knowledge system and media which reinforce male dominance. More subtle expressions of patriarchy was through symbolism giving messages of inferiority of women through legends highlighting the self-sacrificing, self-effacing pure image of women; and through ritual practice, which emphasized the dominant role of women as a faithful wife and devout mother.58 Laws of Manu insist that since women by their very nature are disloyal they should be made dependent on men. The husband should be constantly worshiped as a god, which symbolized that man is a lord, master, owner, or provider and the shudras and women were the subordinates. It legitimized that a woman should never be made independent, as a daughter she should be under the surveillance of her father, as a wife of her husband and as a widow of her son.59 While in ancient India i.e. in Vedic and Epic periods, women were by and large treated as equal to men, the restrictions on women and patriarchal values regulating women's sexuality and mobility got strengthened in the post-vedic periods, i.e. Brahmanical and Medieval periods, with the rise of private property and establishment of class society.

Patriarchal constructions of social and religious practices are legitimized by religions and religious institution. Most religious practices provide male superior authority. The laws and norms regarding family, marriage, divorce and inheritance are linked to patriarchal control over property biased against women. The imposition of parda, restrictions on leaving the domestic space, separation between public and private are all gender specific and men are not subject to similar constraints. Thus, the mobility of women is controlled. They have no right to decide whether they want to be mothers, when they want to be, the number of children they want to have and so on and so forth. Male dominated institutions like church and state also lay down rules regarding women's reproductive capacity. Consider example of women representatives in PRI (Panchayati Raj Institutions). Constitutionally speaking, women have equal rights and powers as men. However, they do not enjoy the same kind of respect and treatment. There are evidences to show that women representatives are there only to fulfill the constitutional arrangements.

Similarly caste and gender are closely related and the sexuality of women is directly linked to the question of purity of race. The caste system and caste endogamy retained control over the labour and sexuality of women. Anuloma and pratiloma marriage by definition denigrate women.60 The prohibition of sacred thread ceremony for both women and shudhra, similar punishment for killing a women and shudhra, denial of religious privileges are illustrations which indicate how caste and gender are interrelated. Feminist writings as ‘Gendering Caste Through a Feminist Lens’ illustrates how caste system upholds the patriarchal values and ideology which is used to justify the dominant, hegemonic, hierarchical and unequal patriarchal structures. Therefore, it is important to emphasize the substantive question of subordination of certain sections of society and the structures that make their subordination. For feminist scholars the issue is no longer whether the status of women was low or high but the specific nature and basis of their subordination in society.61 Hence, the historical developments of patriarchy lies, and how they have come to stay is important.

Lastly, Uma Chakravarti argues that the establishment of private property and the need to have caste purity required subordination of women and strict control over their mobility and sexuality. Female sexuality was channeled into legitimate motherhood within a controlled structure of reproduction to ensure patrilineal succession.62 According to her, the mechanism of controls operated through three different levels. The first device was when patriarchy was established as an ideology, and women had internalized through stridharma or pativrata dharma to live up to the ideal notion of womanhood. The second device was laws, customs and rituals prescribed by the Brahmanical social code which reinforced the ideological control over women through the idealization of chastity and wife fidelity as highest duty of women. She believes that patriarchy has been a system of benevolent paternalism in which obedient women were accorded certain rights and privileges and security; and this paternalism made the insubordination invisible and led to their complicity in it. The relationship between women purity and caste purity was important and central to Brahmanical patriarchy and women were carefully guarded and lower caste men were prevented from having sexual access to women of higher caste. The third was the state itself which supported the patriarchal control over women, and thus, patriarchy could be established firmly not as an ideology but as an actuality.63 Therefore gender relations are organized within the structural framework of family, religion, class, caste, community, tribe and state.

Indian Patriarchy

Patriarchy is an infectious system of oppression that creates an unending and contagious exploitation of women. In Indian culture, obsession with a boy child is a result of our religious obligations, because there are certain religious rites, which have to be performed by a son or else one would not attain salvation. There is a general notion that the son comes as a support to their parents in their old age. He is an asset, whereas the daughter is a liability or paraya dhan, who has to be married off one day. Parents, therefore, believe it would be futile to invest on them resulting in daughters learning household chores and management work rather than going through their education. As soon as they attain puberty they are married off. Note the role of patriarchy here, since she is given dowry in marriage, she is disinherited from her parental property. In her marital family, she is always seen as an outsider, and she also ceases to be a member of her natal family. Since she is not properly educated and trained, she fails in job market and without any access to capital she is bound to give up to her husband and relatives.

Once the daughter is married, she is expected to leave her house and even her surname and go to her husband's home to live with his parents and relatives while the son stays with his parents and family. However interestingly, this expectation of living with the parents is limited to the sons only. It is clearly a patriarchal system that is still deeply entrenched in India. Once the daughter marries, it is expected that her husband's family will be her first priority in every respect and her own parents and siblings become secondary. Further, she is expected to take care of her in-laws along with her husband and children. Hence, this is the prime reason of sons continuing to carry a high premium in India. Earlier before the property laws in India changed in 2005 leading to females also being considered as coparcenaries in the Hindu joint families and deriving complete equality in the sharing of property, only the sons were heirs; whereas the dowry given to the daughter was considered her share and claim to the family's wealth. However, of late, anti gender-bias legislations have tried to ensure gender equality in the modern times.

The themes of a mother-in-law's ill-treatment of the daughter-in-law, who was often relegated to taking care of the household drudgery and doing chores for the entire families was quite a usual thing in the ancient pretext. This exaggerated depiction was based on reality, often harsher, and it was actually no picnic also for the poor husband being caught in the middle of these family dramas. If he agreed with his wife, he was immediately made to feel guilty by his parents as to how much they had sacrificed for the son which was actually very true as the parents went to great lengths for their son's education and financial success as a son was considered a sort of life insurance for their old age, and if he sided with his parents, the wife accused him of being tied to his mother's apron strings. Generally, due to her financial dependence as a mother of her growing family, the wife remains trapped in the dysfunctional family dynamics.

Our male dominated society suggests that the development of the child requires the mother to devote herself completely to the welfare of the child, and it is her primary duty. The father is not expected to carry out any of these duties. It is a peculiar feature of most societies that the child carries the surname of his/her father and for women, she is first considered property of her father and then her husband. Thus, patriarchy with its alliance to other institutions formed a vicious circle of women deprivation and oppression. Institutions like family, religion, market, community and the state have confined women to specific roles, and have irrationally proved them misfit for public life. No wonder, men are seen as ‘breadwinner’ and women ‘breadmaker’.

There is a growing concern among the liberal minded individuals, social and democratic organizations and even international institutions on the rising trend of gender bias against women in the name of family or clan honour in India. The medieval institution of Khap Panchayat in the name of ‘honour killing’ has been passing on ‘fatwas’ against women, who do not follow the socially acceptable behaviour or preserve their chastity have to bear brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killing to restore family honour. The ideology of the so-called family or clan honour is derived from the gender role assigned by patriarchy. The United Nations also takes a very serious view of such heinous crimes. The naked brutality of such acts against women is in contravention of the spirit of the ‘United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)’ which has been duly signed and ratified by India. The prevalence and entrenchment of the caste system and rapid patriarchal ethos in the society at large are the root cause of this social evil. There are numerous examples in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh where these institutions have directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to cold-blooded murders of women in particular. And it is an open secret that Khap Panchayats are the functional forums of patriarchy in these states and surrounding areas.

Most of the khap panchayat diktats are against couples, who are not from the same gotra. However, couples are selectively targeted and in certain cases even couples not in same gotra are handed ‘honour killings’. The main motive behind it is to ensure that property remains within the patriarchal caste domain. Traditionally among matrilineal communities where daughters had strong claims in land (as in Kerala and Meghalaya), post-marital residence was in or near the natal home. This kept the land under the overall purview of the natal family, as did close-kin marriage. In contrast, in traditionally patrilineal communities, post-marital residence was patrilocal (the woman joined her husband in his natal home) and often in another village. In addition, in northern India close-kin marriage was forbidden among most communities. South India has the fewest obstacles. Here, legal rights are relatively more equal, in-village and close-kin marriage is allowed. If a woman is married several villages’ away, possibility of her exercising inheritance over parental property in her natal home also becomes comparatively remote.

However, thankfully in the modern era with the empowerment of women through education and other supportive legislation as mandated by the Indian Constitution, which right from its inception gave women equal rights with men leading to financial independence for women. The parents of the husbands still live home with their sons, but the daughters-in-law have rightfully a lot of say in the households. On a facetious, yet honest note, many young professional women, who have grown-up seeing and/or hearing about the mother-in-law, ill-treatment of their female relatives do not want to deal with an otherwise good catch if his mother is still alive or unless he vows to establish boundaries by setting up an independent home. Wiser folks back home, cognizant of the danger of personality clashes and their own innate need for independence and dignity, are increasingly constructing their homes such that they are self-contained units within the family property wherein the in-laws have their own privacy, and yet, they are within very close proximity to the son's family.

Empowerment of Women in India

‘Woman is the companion of the man gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the minute details of the activities of the men, and she has the same right of freedom and liberty as men. By sheer force of vicious custom, even the most ignorant and worthless men have been enjoying a superiority over women which they do not deserve and ought not to have.’ (Gandhiji, Young India, 1918).

Our culture is fond of saying, ‘Janani Janmabhoomi Swargapadi Gariyasi’ (mother and motherhood are dearer than heaven), it reflects the importance that is given to women. Our holy books Vedas and Upnishads advocated for equal status of women in the society, and in that era, they were treated at par with men. But later on; because of social, political and economic changes women lost their status and were relegated to the background. They have been confined to household affairs, and according to traditional religious sanctions, it was obligatory on their part to serve their father in their pre-marital period, the husband after marriage and the sons in the later part of their life. Gender based discrimination or sub-ordination of women is very much rooted in the economic dependence of women. Empowering women is the most effective measure for their development. Empowerment is a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional and multi-layered concept. Women's empowerment is a process in which women gain greater share of control over resources-material, human, and intellectual like knowledge, information, ideas and financial resources like money, and access to money and control over decision-making in the home, community, society and nation, and to gain ‘power’.

For the protection of women from discrimination, law empowers women through various ways by equipping the right and power so as to enable to fight against male hegemony. Apart from the Constitution which provides for the gender equality, and also to lessen the gap between two sexes, law can create empowerment through various other ways which includes empowerment through conferment of substantive rights or power, empowerment through institutional infrastructure and supporting, stimulating and monitoring the attitudinal and values change in society.

In particular, there are four methods of empowerment through conferment of substantive of rights or power on person to be empowered. Firstly, by creating penal sanctions against certain types of behaviour that violate the dignity and liberty of women, such as section 376 in the Indian Penal Code for custodial rape and section 498-A for harassment and cruelty against women. Secondly, by creating proprietary entitlement for women such as giving them a share on matrimonial property or giving them a right to work and an equal wage. Thirdly, by providing preferential treatment for women or providing compensatory discrimination in their favour by reserving jobs and seats in local self governing institution. Lastly, by facilitating the exercise of liberty and freedom for females.

In relation to empowerment of women through institutional infrastructure, one of the most important strategies for their empowerment is to facilitate access to grievance redressal and rights enforcing institution. Contrasting with the ancient times, when patriarchy was all supreme, the modern Indian infrastructure encompasses various institutional framework for the empowerment of women which includes the Family Court Act, 1984 which was passed, and which provides an establishment of family court in the view of conciliation and securing the settlement of dispute relating to marriage and family affair. Another form of grievance redressal was set up by the National Commission for Women Act, 1990. Lastly, the incorporation of Public Interest Litigation (PIL) served another device of grievance redressal through access to justice on the part of disadvantage sections.

Further, considering the wake of female empowerment in the male dominated society, the judicial response relating to gender-justice has to be considered. Before the national legal instruments are discussed, it is better to know, first, about the international legal instruments which give guarantee and protection for women. They include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 1953, Convention of the Elimination on of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1979 and also the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW, 1999.

With respect to the Indian constitutional guarantee against patriarchy, the Indian Constitution has provided many provisions to give guarantees and safeguard for women and also in order to raise the dignity and strengthening the empowerment of women. First and foremost, the preamble itself contains the goal of equal status and opportunity for all citizen, either man or woman. Further various articles which includes Article 14, which gives guarantee on equality before the law and equal protection of law, Article 15(1) and (2) which forbids discrimination on the ground of sex by the State, Article 15(3) which states that the State can provide special provision for women, Article 16(2) which lays down that no citizen can be discriminated on the ground of sex for any employment under the State, Article 23 which prohibits traffic in human being. Article 29(2) which guarantee for undiscriminating of the sex in educational institution. Article 39 which direct the State to secure equal pay to equal work for both men and women. Article 42 promotes harmony and renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women, and Article 51A (e) states that it shall be the duty for all Indian citizens to protect, and give respect to the dignity of women.

Apart from these constitutional provisions, there are various other domestic legislations which guarantees protection against the male domination and the supremacy of the patriarchy. These include The Domestic Violence Act, 2005, The Hindu Succession Act 1956, The Improvement of Nikah Nama Act, 2006, the Maternity Act, 1961, Gender Budgeting Programme, the National Policy of Empowerment of Women Programme and the Indian Penal Code with amendment and revision, i.e. Article 376, 374 and 498.

Further, with respect to the empowerment of women, several landmark cases have been incorporated in the jurisprudence in the Indian legal system. The most renowned ones include C.B. Muthamma vs. Indian Foreign Services64 in which the rules of IFS requiring a women officer to obtain a permission of the government for getting married were struck down by the Court as being in the violation of the fundamental right to gender equality. Further in the case of Air India vs. Nargis Mirza,65 the service rule made by Air India International was challenged as being gender discriminatory. The Court struck down the rules on the ground of violation of equality. Lastly, in the case of S. Vishnu vs. India,66 the Court validated Section 497 of IPC, which deals with adultery, and held that it was not discrimination by not making woman complainant or accused.

However, after having highlighted the brighter side, we should now look into the provisions, which need to be revamped to be in consonance with the anti-patriarchal jurisprudence that has to be developed. They include the Divorce Act, 1864 which needs to be restructured in order to remove the male hegemony provisions in it, also the section relating to adultery in Section of 497 IPC needs a restructuring. Furthermore, the Restitution of Conjugal Rights in Section 9 of the Hindu Marriage Act, and that of Maintenance in Section 36 of the Special Marriage Act needs to be looked into from the female empowerment point of view.


To conclude, patriarchy is based on a system of power relations which are hierarchical and unequal where men control women's production, reproduction and sexuality. It imposes masculinity and femininity character stereotypes in society, which strengthen the iniquitous power relations between men and women. Patriarchy is not constant, and gender relations which are dynamic and complex have changed over the periods of history. The nature of control and subjugation of women varies from one society to the other as it differs due to the differences in class, caste, religion, region, ethnicity and the socio-cultural practices.

Thus, in the context of India, Brahmanical patriarchy, tribal patriarchy and Dalit patriarchy are different from each other. Patriarchy within a particular caste or class also differs in terms of their religious and regional variations. Similarly, subordination of women in developed countries is different from what it is in developing countries. While subordination of women may differ in terms of its nature, certain characteristics such as control over women's sexuality and her reproductive power cuts across class, caste, ethnicity, religions and regions; and is common to all patriarchies. This control has developed historically and is institutionalized and legitimized by several ideologies, social practices and institutions such as family, religion, caste, education, media, law, state and society, which are discussed in the later sections.

Patriarchal societies propagate the ideology of motherhood which restrict women's mobility and burdens them with the responsibilities to nurture and rear children. The biological factor to bear children is linked to the social position of women's responsibilities of motherhood: nurturing, educating and raising children by devoting themselves to family. ‘Patriarchal ideas blur the distinction between sex and gender, and assume that all socioeconomic and political distinctions between men and women are rooted in biology or anatomy’.67 Gender like social class, caste, race or religion is a significant social cleavage, and it is important to analyze it to understand social inequalities, oppressions and unequal relationship between men and women. It has been explained by feminist scholars who believe that the theory of ‘sexual politics’ and ‘sexism’ are conscious parallels with theory of ‘class politics’ and ‘racism’ to understand oppression of women.

The traditionalist view accepts patriarchy as biologically determined, and as the biological functions of men and women are different, the social roles and tasks assigned for women are also different. Sigmund Freud stated that for women ‘anatomy is destiny’, and it is women's biology which primarily determine their psychology and hence, their abilities and roles. Similarly, the traditional notion of ‘public-private divide’ which located politics in the public sphere and family and personal relationships in private sphere as non-political, believed that sexual inequality is natural and not political. While the political sphere was preserved for men the private sphere was reserved for women as housewives and mothers who were excluded from politics. These theories of male supremacy have been challenged and opposed by feminists as they lack historical or scientific evidence. Feminists argue that the biological difference might lead to some difference in their roles, but the former should not become the basis of a sexual hierarchy in which men are dominant. The dismantling of these theories enables us to acknowledge that patriarchy is man-made and has developed historically by the socio-economic and political processes in society.

Despite a range of common themes within feminism, disagreements exist amongst the feminists in understanding patriarchy. All feminists do not like the term ‘patriarchy’ for various reasons, and prefer the term ‘gender’ and ‘gender oppression’. Patriarchy has remained a relatively undefined concept, and some feminist scholars are at unease with the use of the concept of ‘patriarchy’ when it involves the notion of a general system of inequality. Michele Barrett argues that the use of the term patriarchy assumes that the relation between men and women is unchanging and universalistic. She suggests that it can only be appropriate, if it is defined very narrowly and refers to specific aspects of ideological relations such as those of father-daughter relationship described in Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas.68 The use of the term often involves confusion between ‘patriarchy’ as rule of the father and ‘patriarchy’ as men's domination of women. However, Sylvia Walby critiques Barrett as the problem is not with the concept itself, but with the way it is used in specific texts as it involves problems of reductionism, biologism, universalism, and therefore, the inconsistent definition of patriarchy needs be overcome in an adequate analysis of gender inequality.69 Sheila Rowbotham also argues that ‘the term patriarchy necessarily implies a conception of women's oppression that is universalistic, ahistoric and essentially biologistic, and that it incorrectly leads to a search for a single cause of women's oppression either in a base super-structure model or as quest for ultimate origins from capitalist relations.’70 Suma Chitnis argues that because of the inadequate note of historical circumstances and values that render women's issues different in India, a large section of the population recoils from the feminist rhetoric. Similarly, the unease with the term patriarchy is because of the role that men have played in the emergence and growth of women's question in India. In a hierarchical society, often gender oppression is linked with oppressions based on caste, class, community, tribe and religion, and in such multiple patriarchies ‘men as the principal oppressors’ is not easily accepted.71 However, Mary E. John argues that multiple patriarchies which are byproducts of discrimination along class, caste and communal lines, are diverse in nature, and it is because of the unequal patriarchies that ‘there is a need to conceptualize the complex articulation of different patriarchies, along with the distinct and equally challenging question of how subaltern genders are relating to questions of power in the current conjuncture’.72

The assertion of autonomous dalit women's organizations have thrown up several crucial theoretical and political challenges besides underlying the Brahmanism of feminist movements and patriarchal practices of dalit politics. Within the framework of ‘difference’ the issues of caste is primarily responsible for oppression of dalit women.73 Sharmila Rege argues that the category of ‘difference’ has been brought to the centre of feminist analysis by the black and third world feminists, who question the sex/class debate of the 1970s; and argue that the complex interplay between sex, class, race need to be underlined. Vaid and Sangari, on the other hand, make a distinction between the modernizing of patriarchal modes of regulating women and the democratizing of gender relations both at home and work place and underline both the revolutionary potential and inherent contradictions that the democratizing movements constituted for peasants and working class women.74 Thus, feminist historiography made radical breakthroughs in redefining gender and patriarchies in the context of hierarchies of caste, class, community and ethnicity.

India, among a few leading countries, had been a land where women had been given the right to vote. There is no question of any less efficiency, ability and productivity in women than men. A country cannot realize its dream of becoming a super power by ignoring the better half of the humanity. Researchers have proved that countries, where there are more employment opportunities for women, tend to provide better and honest governance. It is a long journey and can be successful if two wheels of the chariot come together.