This website is dedicated to our great savior Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the memory of Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia, our great freedom fighter & the founder of Ad Dharm Movement in punjab


Ronki Ram (Dr.),
ICCR Chair Professor of Contemporary India Studies,
Leiden University Institute for Area Studies & IIAS,
Leiden University, The Netherlands
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Prof. of Political Science, Panjab University, Chandigarh, India
For more articles of Dr. Ronki Ram, please click here:

Ronki Ram (Dr.)
Fellow & Syndic
Hon. Director, ICSSR (NWRC)
Dean, (Arts Faculty)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Prof. of Political Science Panjab University, Chandigarh

Ad Dharm movement born in the backdrop of tremendous political stirrings in the early 1920s in undivided large Punjab. Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims were forming their respective political organisations/movements to assert their claims in the then evolving electoral space under the aegis of the Raj. Since the people belonging to the lower castes (then addressed as Depressed Classes) constituted a significant number of the total population in the state, they were being most sought after by all the emerging political forces in the region. It was at this time that Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia jumped into the political sphere of the state to work for the safeguard of the interests of the lower castes. He wanted that his people should not lean towards the Upper/Dominant Castes’ political forces, which were only interested in the numerical strength of the Depressed Classes. He was also of the firm opinion that the only way through which the latter can acquire their long denied human rights was to form their own exclusive Dalit movement.

While keeping in mind the above mentioned goal, Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia convened the first annual congregation of all the lower castes in his native village (Mugowal) school on June 11-12, 1926. In the poster announcing this congregation, Babu Mangu Ram Mugowalia wrote on behalf of the Depressed Classes that:

We are the real inhabitants of this country and our religion is Ad Dharm. Hindu Qaum came from outside to deprive us of our country and enslave us. At one time we reigned over ‘Hind’. We are the progeny of kings; Hindus came down from Iran to Hind and destroyed our Qaum. They deprived us of our property and rendered us nomadic. They razed down our forts and houses, and destroyed our history. We are seven Crores in numbers and are registered as Hindus in this country. Liberate the Adi race by separating these seven crores. They (Hindus) became lord and call us ‘others’. Our seven crore number enjoy no share at all. We reposed faith in Hindus and thus suffered a lot. Hindus turned out to be callous. Centuries ago Hindus suppressed us sever all ties with them. What justice we expect from those who are the butchers of Adi race. Time has come, be cautious, now the Government listens to appeals. With the support of sympathetic Government, come together to save the race. Send members to the Councils so that our Qaum is strengthened again. British rule should remain forever. Make prayer before God. Except for this Government, no one is sympathetic towards us. Never consider ourselves as Hindus at all, remember that our religion is Ad Dharm.

This mammoth conference set the agenda of the Dalit movement - Ad Dharm movement – in Punjab.  The Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the Dalits, independent both of the Hindu, Muslim and Sikh religions. The central motif of the Ad Dharm movement was to highlight that untouchables constitute a Qaum (Community), a distinct religious community similar to those of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and that the Qaum had existed from time immemorial. On this account the Ad Dharm movement resembles the other Adi movements, which consider the low castes as the original inhabitants of India who had been subjugated by the Aryans. The Aryans, they allege came from outside and established their rule and made them subservient to them. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at making the Dalits realise that they have three powers: Communal pride (Qaumiat), Religion (Mazhab) and Organisation (Majlis). All these three powers of the untouchables were lying buried under the burden of untouchability. Babu Mangu Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm movement exhorted the untouchables to come forward to assert for their rights through building on these three main sources of their power.

During the 1931 census, Ad Dharm movement succeeded in registering a large number of low castes in Punjab as Ad Dharmis separate from Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In the 1931 Punjab census, a total of 418,789 persons reported themselves as Ad Dharmis almost equal to that of the Christian population of the region. Since the center of the Ad Dharm movement was in Doaba region, nearly eighty percent of the lower castes of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts reported themselves as Ad Dharmis. It was for the first time in the history of lower castes that they had come forward to officially declare themselves as separate and independent of the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim religions. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the Dalit assertion in North India. It got further impetus in the first election that took place in 1937 after the promulgation of the Government of India Act of 1935. Ad Dharm Mandal contested election in all the eight reserved seats and won all except one. In the 1945-46, Punjab Legislative Assembly elections on the eve of independence Ad Dharm also registered its presence by contesting in alliance with the Unionist Party. Babu Mangu Ram, the founder of Ad Dharm was one of the elected candidates.

Ad Dharm movement was instrumental not only in helping the lower castes to get registered as a distinct religion in the 1931 census and providing them the platform to enter into the State Legislature, it also went a long way in bringing a cultural transformation in their life. In fact, Ad Dharm movement, as has been mentioned above, aimed at facilitating a cultural transformation in the life of lower castes who, under the impact of the centuries old system of degradation, had actually internalised a sense of being low and polluted. Mangu Ram wanted to liberate them from such a state of mind and also to inculcate in them the feeling of dignity and self-respect whereby they could start thinking about them as equal to the so-called twice-born people. Report of the Ad Dharm Mandal, 1926-1931 lists a number of moral principles and duties, which the followers of the Ad Dharm are required to adhere to for creating spiritual regeneration and cultural transformation in their lives. Among the most important moral principles and the duties mentioned in the report are: Ad Dharmis should abstain from theft, dishonesty, looking at someone else’s wife with bad intentions, using anything which brings intoxication, gambling, and usurping other persons’ property or belonging. Texts like the Law of Manu, which treat untouchables as slaves should be banned and removed. All the untouchablebrotherhood should forget about castes and quarrels and get along together. They should not fight with each other rather all untouchables should start eating together and have social relations with each other. All girls and boys of untouchable brotherhood should have compulsory primary education. The girls should be educated especially in household work such as sewing and needlework. Young girls and boys should not be sent out to cut grass and gather wood. Ad Dharmis should abandon expensive marriage and the practice of child marriage. There should be equally great happiness at the birth of both boys and girls. It is illegal to receive money for a bride. Ad Dharmi should marry their children to the Ad Dharmis ofsurrounding areas. All Ad Dharmis should be obedient to their parents. It is not good to cry and beat oneself at a death or funeral. To eat the meat of a dead animal or bird is against the law of Ad Dharm. Cleanliness is important. It guarantees good health. It is forbidden to practice idolatry and worship statues, and one should not believe in magic, ghosts or anything of the sort. All Ad Dharmis should forget notions of castes and untouchability and work toward the unity of all people in the world. Each Ad Dharmi should separate himself from Hindus, Sikhs and members of other religions.  

Posted on June 12, 2015

Remembering Mr. R.C. Paul
Prof (dr.) Ronki Ram
Dean, Faculty of Arts
Honorary Director, ICSSR, (NWRC)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor of Political Science
Arts Block IV, Panjab University
Chandigarh 160 014 (India)
Mob: 0091-9779142308

Mr R.C. Paul lived a true life of a missionery meticulously dedicated to the emancipation and empowerment of the downtridden. He became involved in social welfare task of his fellow beings during his college years. During his F.Sc degree course at Doaba College Jalandhar, he took the responsibilty of the General Secretaryship of the Punjab Scheduled Castes Students’ Federation. Late Mr. Suraj Bhan was its president who later on became the Governor of the states of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Bihar. It was Mr. R.C. Paul, the General Sectretay of the Punjab Scheduled Castes Students’ Federation, who prsented the Welcome Address in English in the honour of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar at Ramdasspura (Bootan Mandi) where he addressed the first mammoth gatherting during his third and the last Punjab visit (27-29 October 1951). Seth Kishan Dass, President of the Punjab Scheduled Castes Federation presented the Welcome Address in Urdu.

In the Welcome Address, Mr. R.C Paul highlighted the sufferings of the Scheduled Castes students and the severe hardships they had to face to acquire education. That was the time when only the science Scheduled Castes students offered some scholarships by the central government  and there was no state government help available to them. Mr. K.C. Sulekh, founder Editor of Ujala (the only paper brought out by the Scheduled Castes of Punjab) and Secretary of The Punjab  Scheduled Castes Federation, Mr. Suraj Bhan  and Mr. R.C. Paul met a number of time Sh. Prithvi Singh Azad, the then Cabinet Minister in the Punjab Legislative Assembly for the Punjab Government help for the students of the  Scheduled Castes communities. Alongwith Sh. K.C. Sulekh, Paul Sahib also visited Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar at his stay in the Rest House Bangalow in the Cant of Jalandhar. Both of them talked at length with the Messiah of downtrodden and made him relaxed while kneading his legs.

After the completion of F.Sc,  Mr. Paul joined Govt. service in the department of Electricity. After three years, he did graduation and later on got enrollred in the evening classes for the LL.B. degree course at Panjab University, Chandigarh, which he completed successfully. In 1967 he qualified PCS and was appointed Sub-Judge. He retired in 1979 as a Judicial Megistrate. In the same year he started Law practice at local court Jalandhar. It was after his retirement that he became actively involved in the cause of the mission of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. He offered his legal services free to his fellow brothern. In close collaboration with Mr. L.R. Balley, a veteran Ambedkarite of the region, Mr. R.C. Paul participated in many agitations for the restoration of the due rights of the Scheduled Castes people. He was always willing to come forward to work for the mission irrespective of when and where. He was the most familiar face at all the events at Ambedkar Bhawan (Jalandhar) highlighting the great mission of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
I share the irreparable loss with his family and innumerable fellow travellors on the mission. 

(Posted on February 2, 2015)

I join in offering our sincere condolences to the bereaved family and wider circle of missionaries of Babasaheb mission of which Professor Tulsi Ram Ji remained an integral part. Professor Tulsiram Ji expired on February 13, 2015 at New Delhi. He obtained PhD degree from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi where he also served till date as a faculty in the Centre for Russian and Central Asian studies. He was a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at Moscow and St. Petersburg. An eminent scholar of Buddhism and International Studies, he worked consistently towards spreading the ideas and principles of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and travelled extensively to share his knowledge on the difficulties and social exclusion faced by Dalits in the country. He was a prominent critic on Indian literature and Buddhism, and wrote many books and articles in peer reviewed research journals.

Dr. Ronki Ram
Fellow & Syndic,
Dean, Faculty of Arts,
Hon. Director, ICSS (NWRC)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Posted on February 14, 201

I join in offering our sincere condolences to the bereaved family and wider circle of missionaries of Babasaheb mission of which Professor Tulsi Ram Ji remained an integral part. Professor Tulsiram Ji expired on February 13, 2015 at New Delhi. He obtained PhD degree from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi where he also served till date as a faculty in the Centre for Russian and Central Asian studies. He was a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies at Moscow and St. Petersburg. An eminent scholar of Buddhism and International Studies, he worked consistently towards spreading the ideas and principles of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and travelled extensively to share his knowledge on the difficulties and social exclusion faced by Dalits in the country. He was a prominent critic on Indian literature and Buddhism, and wrote many books and articles in peer reviewed research journals.
Dr. Ronki Ram
Fellow & Syndic, Dean, Faculty of Arts, Hon. Director, ICSS (NWRC)
Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor, Panjab University, Chandigarh

Posted on February 14, 2015
(Ambedkar Times News Bureau): The Department of Punjabi Language Development, Punjabi University, Patiala organized three days 31st International Punjabi Development Conference from January 14 to 16, 2015. The inaugural function was held at the university’s Science Auditorium on the morning of 14th January. Dr. A.S. Chwala, Dean Academic Affairs welcomed the dignitaries, eminent guests, participants, teachers, research scholars and students. Dr. Jasbir Kaur, Chairperson,   Department of Punjabi Language Development briefed about the conference, Mr. Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, MP, presented the inaugural address, Dr. Ravail Singh, Convener, Punjabi Advisory Board, Sahitya Academy, Delhi was the special Guest, Professor Ronki Ram, Dean, Faculty of Arts & Hon. Director ICSSR (NWRC), Panjab University presented the keynote address. Professor Jaspal Singh, Vice-Chancellor, Punjabi University, Patiala presided over the event and Dr. Satish K. Verma presented the vote of thanks.
 Mr. Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, MP, enlightened the illustrious gathering while deliberating at length on the importance and relevance of Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the ultimate source of spiritual and moral strength. He emphasized on the fact that Sri Guru Granth Sahib is the most sought after treasure of our society and our society would remain richest with the possession of this immeasurable treasure forever. Sri Guru Granth Sahib incorporates the spiritual knowledge of various spiritual personalities belonging to diverse faiths and believes. Professor Ronki Ram discussed in detail the past and present state-of-affairs of the fast globalizing society of Punjab. He sharply underlined the need to guard against the nefarious impact of hollow liberalism and it blue eyed baby of free market economy. He also stipulated on the need of learning in one’s own mother tongue and at the same to make concerted efforts to keep ourselves abreast with the varied domains of knowledge while indulging in healthy discourse with our co-travelers of other languages.
Professor Jaspal Singh briefed about the mandate of the Punjabi University, the various efforts of the university to promote the pursuit of knowledge in the mother tongue and the rich cultural heritage of the Punjabi society that every Punjabi is proud of and the endeavors we should make to preserve and promote the same. Dr. Ravail Singh also reminded the imminent gathering of the importance of learning from our rich cultural and spiritual heritage which has a wonderful strength to take us to new heights both materially and spiritually.
                       Posted on January 17, 2015

Punjab Journal of Politics, Amritsar Vol. XXXVII, Nos. 1-2, 2013


Ronki Ram (Dr.)

{Jagtar Singh Dhesi son of S. Milkha Singh Dhesi and grandson of a pioneer Punjabi settler in California, Sardar Mahan Singh Dhesi was born in village Dhesian Kahna (Jalandhar), Punjab in 1948. He did his early schooling in the village school. The Annual Lecture under the Decian Heritage Endowment Fund has been instituted in the School of Social Sciences by Dr. Autar Singh Dhesi, grandson of Sardar Mahan Singh Dhesi and former Professor and Head, Punjab School of Economics, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, (Punjab) India.

Jagtar Singh Dhesi went to England while still in his teens in 1964. After arriving in London, he joined Isleworth Polytechnic to do City and Guilds Diploma in Electronics. He passed not only Intermediate Examination of the City and Guilds Diploma but also 5 O’ levels of the University of London in a year. Then he joined Acton Technical College for two years to do A’ levels before joining the University of London for B.Sc. (Hons.) in Physics. He always took an active interest in sports. Besides being captain of his college hockey team, he was a keen cricketer and golfer. However, he was a very independent person by nature but trusted others to a fault. His direct, well-meaning approach to public issues was often misunderstood and was possible cause of his many difficulties. During his student days, he preferred to take a job during vacation to supplement his Local Authority Award rather than seeking financial support from the family. His permanent residence during his studies was family house at 176 Regina Road, Southall, Middlesex. After completing B.Sc. (Hons.) in Physics from the University of London, he joined service with the New Ham Borough of London Education Authority. He taught Computer Science and Mathematics at different institutions run by the said Education Authority. He shifted his residence to East Ham, London E1 and later bought a house at 2 Ashford Road and a couple of other properties over the years. In spite of various professional and social responsibilities, he was able to get his * This is revised version of the presentation for ‘Jagtar Singh Dhesi Annual Lecture’ |on 18th February 2014 at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. It was organized by the School of Social Sciences,
Punjab Journal of Politics, Amritsar Vol. XXXVII, Nos. 1-2, 2013
M.Sc. of University of London in Nuclear Physics as a part-time
With his early brought up in an ambience of high social concerns,
he devoted his spare time to social work, especially as an Executive
Member of the National Union of Teachers. Later, he held an
influential position of Secretary, New Ham Parliamentary
Constituency Labour Party for a number of years. During this
period, he made a notable contribution to the integration of
immigrants into the host society. His wife, Harmesh, science graduate
from London and a teacher, got elected with his support to the
Local Borough Council and became Deputy Chairperson of its
powerful Education Committee responsible for running a large
number of schools, institutes/colleges of technical education.
Inspired by liberal, progressive thought, he shunned narrow
dogmatic social, political, and economic ideas. However, he always
showed keen concern and compassion for the well-being of his
students, especially those from deprived homes. Whatever his
failings, he did make a positive contribution to society that merits
some recognition. He left this world in his prime at the age of forty
five in June, 1993. The First Jagtar Singh Dhesi Annual Lecture
was delivered on March 22, 2013 by Professor Subhash Prihar,
Central University, Bathinda (Punjab) on the theme Medieval
Architecture of the Punjab. Editor}
Before Indian economy could actually open its gates to the
surging influences of world market, the study of economic liberalisation
has actually become a buzzword in the domain of social sciences in
India. However, in terms of contents and research interests, it is yet
to settle its pace with political sociology as large amount of literature
available on this theme is primarily confined to mainstream economics.
It rarely focuses on the intricate but often neglected relationships
between caste and economy and the subsequent contradictions it gives
rise to between the emerging structures of neo-liberal market economy
and the nascent institution of social democracy in India. In other
words, economic liberalisation, caste and social democracy can be
reckoned as some of the most prominent challenges that India encounters
in contemporary times.
Among the above mentioned core challenges of contemporary
India, the issue of economic liberalisation seems to be the latest, while
that of caste certainly remains the oldest. At the same time, caste also
enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most perennial and complex.
As an intangible exclusionary social institution, it has eclipsed the
Indian (read Hindu) society for ages and continues to affect its economy
and polity even today. Over the years, it has proved a stumbling block in
the way of substantive democratisation from below. The scourge of
caste, as the most perennial social institution, has expanded beyond
imagination during the long spell of Muslim rule as well as the subsequent
British Raj(Barrier 1968).In the postcolonial India, it assumed a new
potent identity against the traditional hierarchized status (Still 2009).
The constitution-based state affirmative action has further aided the
institutionalisation of caste as a political identity.1
Social democracy figures somewhere in-between the institutions
of Neo-liberalism and caste. It has its roots in the directive principles
of state policy as well as protective discriminations as enshrined in
the constitution of Independent India, which aimed at bringing the
historically deprived sections of the society into the mainstream what
in current terminology come to be known as inclusive policy. In other
words, it aims at nurturing an inclusive civil society that will strengthen
democracy in the country. Despite the widespread belief about the
ancient roots of democracy in India2, it is considered to be of recent
origin. Unlike its counterpart in Europe, democracy in India was not
hatched under natural conditions. But once it was transplanted/inherited,
efforts were being made for its survival.3 The institutionalisation of
social democracy is one of a few such measures that aim at strengthening
the roots of the ‘inherited democracy’ in India. Since independence,
routine and fair organization of elections at the national, state and
grassroots levels is yet another equally effective measure towards
deepening democracy in India. However, given well-entrenched
structures of the intangible institution of caste, the phenomenon of
social democracy in India could not flourish the way it was originally
thought about. In fact, what initially hindered the smooth functioning
of social democracy in India was the dormant phenomenon of
widespread contradictions between the institutions of inherited
democracy and that of indigenous caste that prominently appeared on
the surface in the form of tug of war between tradition and modernity.
There is a general impression that instead of blunting the fangs of the
monster of caste, the postcolonial institution of parliamentary
democracy has further sharpened them. Given the typical communal
character of the Indian electoral constituencies, caste has come to
acquire a leading role in the arithmetic of electoral number game.
What further complicates the aforesaid contradictions between
caste and democracy is the adoption of neo-liberal economic reforms
in India in 1991.Neo-liberal economic reforms were adopted to bridle
the ever-increasing menace of fiscal crisis and to rescue India from
the grip of chronic poverty in the long run. However, what is being
missed at this level is that the problem of chronic poverty in India
is not merely an economic issue. It has equally been rooted rather
more intensely in the asymmetrical social structures of the oppressive
Brahminical social order for ages. It is in this context that economic
liberalisation assumes critical postures. It needs not only to deal with
the economics of the market but also the political sociology of caste
that has close bearings on the levers of power politics in Independent
India. But if the question of poverty in India ,as has been stated above,
is not merely an economic then will it be possible for economic
liberalisation, being primarily capital intensive and profit driven, to
address the questions of rampant poverty and social exclusion. Though
scholarly literature abounds on economic liberalisation, poverty, caste,
and democracy in India, how economic liberalisation affects the
complex patterns of relationship between caste and poverty, on the
one hand, and social democracy, on the other, is conspicuous by its
This paper is divided into four parts. The first critically examines
the institution of social democracy in India while distinguishing it
from that of social democracy in Europe. In the second, complex but
intricate relationships among caste, poverty and neo-liberal market
economy are delineated at some length. This part is based on a
premise that neo-liberal market economy in India does not only
deepens poverty but also strengthen the asymmetrical structures of
caste, which in turn entrench the already existing social exclusion in
the society. Part third deals with the phenomenon of social democracy
as articulated by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the ways it facilitated
downtrodden to improve their living conditions. How the institution
of free market economy scuttles the essence of nascent institution of
social democracy in India and the new challenges it throws on the
socially excluded sections of the society are also discussed at length.
The fourth part draws on heavily on the implications of the neo-liberal
economic reforms for the emancipatory project of social democracy
in India and the birth of new contradictions that it gave rise to the
disadvantage of Dalits.
Understanding Social Democracy
Social democracy owes its origins to Europe. It transforms
‘delegative democracy’ and ‘passive citizenship’ into democracy with
active participation and social citizenship (Meyer and Hinchman 2007:1;
see also Merkel 2003). Though theoretical thinking about social
democracy in Europe goes back to the early twentieth century
(Bernstein 1909; Berman 2003), but practically it was first introduced
in Europe during the turbulent interwar years in the form of state
welfares, compromise between labor and capital, and employment
security measures (Callaghan 2002:432-36; Sandbrook et al 2007:12-
3; see also Sassoon 1997:42). The world economic depression of 1929
and the subsequent World War II has led to the realization among the
policy makers in the capitals of Europe that if the world had to be
saved from similar future turbulences within and among the sovereign
states, developmental as well as welfare state must be given a
respectable chance to strengthen those social conditions that help
deepening democratic structures and their legitimacy (Lipset 1959,
1994). In other words, liberal democratic regimes based on political
freedom and unrestrained capital accumulation had to accommodate
the interests of those peoples who were pushed towards the margins
while helping them come into the mainstream under the welfare
tutelage of the state. It was such a thinking of state welfares accompanied
by the fear of violent overthrow of the capitalistic system of democratic
governance that gave rise to the growth of social democracy in Europe
in the aftermath of World War II.
Social democracy calls upon state to play a positive role for the
protection as well as promotion of the interests of the weaker sections
of a society. It expects that state need not be confined solely to law
and order system. The state is rather expected to play the role of a
harbinger of social and economic justice as well. It is in this context
that the extended contractarian tradition of the welfare state comes into
head-on-collision with the forces of neo-liberal market-economy. Social
democracy aims at removing social inequalities by bridging gulf
between ‘formal validity’ of rights and their actual realization in the
real-world living conditions what Meyer and Hinchman called ‘realworld
efficacy of universal basic rights’ (Meyer and Hinchman
2007:2).4 As long as gap remains between the formal validity of rights
and their efficacy in a plural society like India, the functioning of
democratic institution ‘remains wedded to a purely formal, procedural
notion of decision-making’ (Meyer and Hinchman 2007:2). For a
democracy to rise above the façade of formal institutional mechanisms
of rule based decision-making, it must ensure that all the members
of a society have acquired equal social status to contribute effectively
in the democratic processes of the country. Democratic set up relies
much on the actual and meaningful participation of the citizens. Any
sort of social and economic disability would not only deprive its
victims of equal opportunities, it also precludes the natural growth of
democracy in a given society in the true sense of the term. Social
democracy helps liberal democracy become both ‘social and effective’
(Meyer and Hinchman 2007:229). It emphasizes on the realization of
social and economic rights in addition to civil and political rights; and
guarantees social inclusiveness. ‘Social democracy, as a general type’,
argues Meyer and Hinchman, ‘features a democratically controlled
and proactive state that pursues equitable and broad-based development
within a largely market economy’ (Meyer and Hinchman 2007:234).
There is another interpretation, which links the emergence of
social democracy with the then surging fear of socialism in the post
World War II Europe in the absence of pro labour policies. In Latin
America too, social democracy was experimented in the wake of
democratic response to the neo-liberal market driven economic crisis.
Social democracy is thus based on a strategic understanding between
capital and labour that evolved during a long march on the vast track
of industrialization, democratization and social regulation in Europe.
However, one hardly finds any such traces of holy alliance between
capital and labour in the developing non-European world.
Genesis of Social Democracy in India
The story of the emergence of social democracy in India, however,
is different from that of Europe. Unlike Europe and Latin America,
social democracy in India did not emerge as a response to rabid
capitalism and severe economic depression. Instead, it started taking
shape in colonial India, as aptly argued by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the
former Prime Minister of India, “to liberate ourselves from centuries
of misrule, from the scourge of poverty, ignorance and disease, from
tyranny and bigotry, from caste prejudice and communal divisions’’
(Singh 2010:1). The founding fathers of independent India were well
aware that if free India had to mature into a full-fledged democracy,
its social sphere needs to be thoroughly overhauled (Nehru 1986: 502;
Nehru 1958:60; and Three Historical Addresses 1999:53-56). On the
completion of the Draft Constitution (25 November 1949), Dr.
Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the constitution,
sounded a grave warning in his famous address in the Constituent
On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of
contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and
economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be
recognizing the principle of one-man one vote and one vote one
value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of
our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle
of one-man one value. How long shall we continue to live this
life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny
equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny
it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy
in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible
or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure
of political democracy which this Assembly has so labouriously
built up (Three Historical Addresses 1999:53-54).
The social democratic vision of independent India as nurtured
during the freedom struggle and also during the drafting of the
constitution got further reflected in the Resolution of the Government
of India adopted for the creation of the Planning Commission in March
1950 (Chakravarty 1989:95-101). The Resolution clearly defined the
scope of the work of the Planning Commission in the following terms:
The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain Fundamental
Rights to the citizens of India and enunciated certain Directive
Principles of State Policy, in particular, that the State shall strive
to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting
as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social,
economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the
national life, and shall direct its policy towards securing, among
other things –
(a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right
to an adequate means of livelihood;
(b) that the ownership and control of the material resources
of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve
the common good; and
(c) that the operation of the economic system does not result
in the concentration of wealth and means of production
to the common detriment (The First Five Year Plan: 1)
Thus an all-inclusive vision of development and an egalitarian
social order underlined the basic spirit of the constitution as well as
the ambitious Five Year Planning projects of the Planning Commission
of India. To translate the ideals of the founding fathers for the
establishment of an egalitarian social order, a number of special
provisions were incorporated in the constitution of independent India
as well as in the Resolution adopted for the creation of the Planning
Commission. Among them state affirmative action is the most
prominent. It aimed at overcoming historic caste-based social exclusion
and oppression. Along with reservations in education, employment
and legislature, rural development programme, Public Distribution
System (PDS), public health programmes, cooperatives, the Right to
Information Act, the Right to Education Act, mid-day meals programme,
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the
Food Security Act, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and the Sampoorna
Grameen Rozgar Yojana are a few more significant state initiatives
aimed at the creation of social democracy in India.
Yet another important measure towards the formation of social
democracy has been a series of attempts, under the Directive Principles
of State Policy, to democratize and decentralize governance and the
devolution of authority from the centre to the grass-roots Panchayati
Raj Institutions (PRIs). Thus the constitution of India, as aptly argued
by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India, is “a
unique social charter – the boldest statement ever of social democracy”
(Singh 2010:1). Whether these varied measures have been able to
facilitate the growth of social democracy in India or not, is a matter
of contention (Desai 2010:10). But the incorporation of such measures
in the constitution is a vindication enough that the founding fathers
of independent India wanted to deepen the roots of liberal democracy
while placing it on strong footings of social democracy. Social
democracy is broadly defined as:
a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity
as the principles of life. These principles … are not to be treated
as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in
the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the
very purpose of democracy (Three Historical Addresses

Frozen in the centuries old stratified structure of the Hindu social
order, the principles of equality and fraternity are yet to find a clear
expression and a significant space in the liberal democracy of
independent India. Social life in India is still governed by the birthbased
principle of graded inequality that tends to elevate some (upper
castes) and degrades many (Dalits). Even after more than six decades
of India’s independence and despite the wide spread reach of various
anti-untouchability laws5..the Dalits continue to be subjected to social
exclusion and all sorts of humiliations. They have continuously been
deprived of education, basic human rights, equal social status, and
equal opportunities in the field of art, culture, science and technology
(Shah et al 2006). It is against such deep-rooted asymmetrical social
structures of the Indian society that the institutions of social democracy
become highly significant for the survival of liberal democracy.
Social democracy in India, thus, emerged as a response to deeprooted
caste-based social disabilities as against the fiscal crisis of 1929
and the upheaval generated by the World War II in Europe. The central
focus of social democracy in Europe was on economic equality (Desai
2010:9). Whereas, in India the main focus of social democracy has
been on deepening democracy while empowering the downtrodden
to come forward to democratically struggle for their long denied
human rights as enshrined in the constitution. In other words, it is the
‘social’ as against the ‘economic’ that provided impetus to the rise
of social democracy in India. It is in this regard that the role of state
affirmative action is noteworthy, which aims at distributive justice that
helps downtrodden making equal contribution towards strengthening
the base of liberal democracy. It intends to empower them in such
a way that they reap the fruits of hard earned freedom, at par with
the privileged twice born. In other words, state affirmative action aims
at rescuing the Indian society from the clutches of the centuries old
institution of caste and the all pervasive social exclusion and
discrimination embedded in it (Jacob 2009). It is in this context that
the neo-liberal market-economy (discussed below) and the institution
of social democracy come face to face in a mutually antagonistic
posture with serious implication for the sustainability of the growing
sapling of liberal democracy in India.
My key argument here is that social democracy in India is
different from its counterpart in Europe. In India, it aims at building
an indigenous base for the restoration of an egalitarian social order
that in turn facilitate the internalisation of democratic values of equality,
freedom and fraternity as incorporated in the constitution. It underscores
the urgent need of demolition of the discriminatory social structures.
Since democracy thrives on numbers in a closely contested sphere of
electoral politics, the burden of tradition becomes too difficult to be
avoided. Given the typical communal character of almost all the
electoral constituencies in India, caste has come to acquire a leading
role in the arithmetic of electoral politics; thus blocking the on-going
processes of deepening of democracy in the country. There is a
general impression that instead of blunting the fangs of caste, the
institution of liberal democracy has further sharpened them. How to
overcome caste and similar other socially stagnating forces, is really
an uphill task for the policy makers in India? It is in this context that
social democracy aims at deepening the roots of liberal democracy
in India – established on the pattern of British parliamentary setup –
while facilitating ethnically divergent and socially fragmented vast
majority of rural poor to become active participant in the political
processes at the grass-roots. In fact, the inherent contradiction between
the indigenous institution of caste and the transplanted institution of
democracy is what acted as a stumbling block in the way of deepening
the roots of democracy in India. This contradiction subsequently
assumed the form of a tug of war between tradition and modernity
(Gurumurthy 2009).
Yet another key argument that I want to raise in this paper is
that the entry of neo-liberal market-economy in India in 1990s has
further compounded the ongoing tug of war between tradition and
modernity to the disadvantage of the latter by entrenching, albeit
indirectly, the oppressive caste structures in the country. In the tug
of war between tradition and modernity, the forces of neo-liberalism
quite interestingly seem to toe the line of the primordial and ascriptive
institution of caste. They discriminate against the poor and the
marginalized sections of the society. Neo-liberalism reiterates that the
social and material interests of the citizens would be better served if
they were left free to flourish in the market ‘prompted by the profit
motive to supply essential services’. It laid emphasis on the merit of
unrestrained individualistic economic endeavours, independent of
any sort of state interference. It does not tolerate any interference
whatsoever by the institution of the state (Steger and Roy 2010). It
aims at deregulating national economies, liberalizing international
trade, and creating a single global market (Steger and Roy 2010:
X).The neo-liberal market-economy primarily focuses on economic
growth and profit6. Given its exclusive concern for economic growth
and profit, and insensitivities towards the rabid discriminatory social
structures, will it be feasible for economic liberalisation to plough
through the arid land of caste hierarchies and rampant social exclusion
in India? Or would it further deepen inequalities, caste hierarchies and
social exclusion by tightening caste-rope around the neck of the
nascent institutions of social democracy? Would it also not delay, if
not preclude, the often talked about trickle-down impact of the economic
liberalisation on the lives of the multitudes of the Indian poor with
majority of them historically pushed to the margins?
Neo-liberalism poses a serious challenge to the formation of
social democracy in India. Neo-liberalism is often paraded as a custodian
of enormous ‘opportunities’, but what such ‘opportunities’ are and
whom they benefit is a question that directly concerns the Dalits. In
an existential asymmetrical world, where we actually live, such
opportunities, no doubt, open many doors to the haves. But it shuts
it door for the have-nots, a large majority of whom happen to be low
castes, socially excluded, tribals, women, and other vulnerable sections
of the society. The have-nots are the worst victims of the much-hyped
regime of neo-liberal economic reforms (Ahlawat 2008). Taking side
with the lower caste victims of the ‘economics of market’, which are
mercilessly excluded from the business domain, social democracy
compensates them in ensuring a respectable space in the ‘politics of
democracy’7. Social democracy, thus, aims at overcoming the primordial
and ascriptive hurdles in the way of arduous but steady march of
liberal democracy. It is against this backdrop that the model of neoliberal
market-economy needs to be evaluated rather critically vis-àvis
the implications of the shrinking space of social democracy for
the on-going process of deepening of democracy in India.
Democracy, Caste, Market
Caste and democracy in India are locked in a peculiar relationship.
Traditionally, caste assigns rights to some and excludes many from
the public domain merely on the basis of birth. As a pristine
discriminatory social system, it permeated and continues to permeate
almost all fields of the Indian society. Every thing is organised around
it “in unequal measures of social, religious, economic relations and
rights” (Thorat 2002). Opposed to the exclusionary nature of the
institution of caste, democracy,on the other hand, is based on liberal
legacy of “equal dignity and worth of all persons” (Mayer & Hinchman
2007:10; see also Habermas 1996; and Munch 1986). It promotes
popular participation and freedom of action and speech. Caste as
mentioned earlier shelved all such liberal principles that in turn suffocate
the inherited institution of democracy into farce. Though caste and
democracy are antithetical to each other, but in certain respects
politicisation of caste in the sphere of electoral politics is flagged as
having a positive impact on the deepening of democracy in postcolonial
India. Scholars, of late, have started recognizing the fact that
once caste structures get politicized they help in deepening democracy,
which in turn empowers the marginalised sections of the society
(Yadav 1999; Palshikar 2004). Delivering a lecture on “Democracy
and its Critics” organized by the United Nations Foundation, Nobel
Laureate Amartya Sen said, “There is a need for caution, however,
for those who believe that invocation of caste in any form in democracy
is an evil force. As long as caste is invoked in speaking for a lower
caste or uniting it, it is good” (Hindu: 16 December 2005). Such a
pragmatic view of caste eclipses the common conjecture predicated
on the idea that the onset of the modernity project would inevitably
render the institution of caste invalid as a power index in the long
run. Politicisation of caste, however, does not go well with the grammar
of fast economic growth model of the neo-liberal market economy,
which sharply underlines the phenomenon of the rollback of the state
as a stumbling block in the way of economic growth and democracy.
What further complicates deepening of democracy in India is
the intermeshing of caste and poverty. The problem of poverty in India
is not merely an economic issue as discussed above (cf. Sunil Khilnani,
The Hindu, September 24, 2009). It is equally well entrenched in the
asymmetrical caste structures of the Brahminical social order, which
in turn, as Alam argues, “defy every norm of democratic justice, even
of decency” (Alam 2004: xvii). It is against this backdrop that the
status of Dalits8 who have been pushed to the bottom of the social
hierarchy in the Indian society needs to be examined rather critically
in the wake of the implementation of neo-liberal economic reforms
in the country.
The relationship between caste and poverty seems to be of
symbiotic nature. They reinforce each other and often club together
in posing a serious challenge to the nascent institution of democracy
in general and social democracy in particular in India. The inextricably
intertwined phenomena of caste and poverty is so well entrenched that

it has failed to recede back even after the adoption of economic reform
measures in India in 1991. On the contrary, the latter has further been
strengthening the anti-democracy nexus between caste and poverty
in the country.
The capital intensive and profit driven model of neo-liberal
market economy has, in fact, not only flared up the dormant caste
contradictions in India, but has also brought into light some fresh ones
between Dalits and various ‘Backward and Other Backward Classes’
that have mushroomed in the post-Mandal era. Though the neo-liberal
market economy has been promised to provide an ample space to the
socially excluded sections of the society by opening new and
unrestrained opportunities for them in the fast emerging domain of
free market economy in India, but the reality is the other way round.
The neo-liberal free market economy has failed to ward off the
contagious effect of the hoary and exclusionary institution of caste
in India.
Untouchability, Democracy, Free Market Economy
Untouchability and democracy are antithetical. Democracy is
totally negated in the scheme of untouchability. Democracy is premised
on the liberal principles of freedom, equality and fraternity. On the
contrary, untouchability thrives amidst inequality and denial of human
rights. It promotes social segregation and denies freedom to the
socially excluded sections of the society. It rests on asymmetrical
social structures of difference and domination that preclude democracy
to emerge in its natural stance. It is at this crucial juncture of vendetta
between democracy and untouchability, the institution of free market
economy enters into the whirlpool of caste contradictions in the social
set up of the country.
In the tug of war between democracy and untouchability, the
forces of the free market economy sided with the latter. They strengthen
the hands of the capital rich upper castes by making it almost impossible
for the chronic capital starved ex-untouchables to participate in the
glamorous domain of finance capital. Since capital lies mostly with
the upper castes, it is only they who matter the most in the multiplexes/
malls of the new market economy. It is only they to whom the market
has been pushing into billionaires. There is hardly anyone from the
ex-untouchables communities in India who have joined the elite club
of the billionaires. Thus market does not only favour the upper castes,
it also accentuates the gulf between the rich and the poor. Since poor
and lower castes are co-terminus, market further marginalizes the
lower castes by preventing them from entering into business operations.
If untouchability prohibits the lowest of the low from actively
engaging in the operations of the public-social realm, the free market
economy discourages them from entering into the domain of business.
The former squeezed the ‘public’ or the ‘social’ into ‘public’ or the
‘social’ of the privileged few (the savarnas/dvijas [upper castes]) only
and the later mortgaged the entire economic domain of the country
to the upper castes only. It means elevation of the few upper castes
and degradation of the multitudes of the socially excluded lower
castes. Quite interestingly, untouchability and free market economy
join together in favouring the upper castes with immense wealth/
privileges as against the lower castes who in spite of working hard
have to live a life of abject poverty and severe deprivations. This in
turn deprives them (lower castes) substantially of the periodic
opportunities to compete for power berth in the electoral bogies of
the political democracy in the country. Elections are, in fact, very
costly political games. They are beyond the reach of the poor and
socially excluded sections of the society. Thus social exclusion and
poverty deprive the lower castes of the opportunity to compete on
equal footings with their rich and upper castes rivals in the limited
electoral arena of the political democracy in India.
Thus it is in the aforementioned context that untouchability
precludes deepening of democracy in India by supporting the
oppressive social structures of power in the country. It is in this very
context that free market economy and social democracy become
incompatible. Thus the neo-liberal free market economy model by
virtue of its being anti poor and anti lower caste has ultimately led
to squeezing the already skimpy space hard earned by the nascent
institution of social democracy in India.Since social equality and
freedom are inseparable, political democracy without social democracy
is farce. In the absence of social democracy, the socially excluded
sections of the society would find it difficult to participate effectively
in the process of the political democracy. It raises the most obvious
and perennial question of freedom: political vs social and economic.
Freedom: Social vs Political
Though political liberation from the British rule was the central
theme of the Indian freedom movement, the question of freedom had
never been merely a ‘political’ issue in colonial India. It had always
been intertwined with the ‘social’ of the country. In other words, the
question of freedom from the external/British rule was closely tied
with the much larger as well as complex internal question of freedom
from the oppressive Hindu caste system in the country. But the
mainstream anti-imperial stance of the Indian freedom movement
failed to address the later larger question of social exclusion of the
vast number of downtrodden/ex-Untouchables of India who were
sandwiched between the oppressive systems of internal colonialism
of Hinduism on the one hand, and British colonialism, on the other.
The ex-Untouchables were, thus, doubly oppressed. They had no
hope for any relief whatsoever from the Hindu social order as it was
based on the doctrine of permanent inequality in every sphere of life9.
Their social conditions too remained almost unchanged even during
the long spell of the so-called liberal minded British rulers who
probably did not like to touch the institution of caste lest it unleash
revolt from within the upper caste hegemonised Hindu society. On
the contrary, the British rulers rather reinforced caste as it helped them
in some ways in maintaining their hold over colonial India10
(Thekaekara 2005). Though the constitution of independent India has
provided ample space to the inherited institution of democracy, it has
yet to overcome the subtle legacies of centuries old caste structures
in the country.
Since Hindu society is intensely rooted in the pre-modern system
of caste-based social hierarchies, it openly clashed with the liberal
principles of equality and liberty. It is basically indifferent to the liberal
principles of individual worth and justice, which blocked the way for
the natural growth of the social democracy in the country. Caste
inculcates a sense of complete alienation among those who have been
condemned to live separately as ‘outcastes’ away from the mainland
habitations of the upper castes.The goal of Political freedom of the
people of India can never be accomplished in the real sense of the
term until and unless the deprivations and sufferings of the large
numbers of the ex-Untouchables are removed by completely
annihilating the oppressive caste system of the Hindu society
(Ambedkar 1936). In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, “Political democracy
cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy” (Three
Historical Addresses 1999:53). Social democracy, in fact, is the
‘cornerstone’ of the edifice of political democracy in India. Saheede-
Azam Bhagat Singh, one of most prominent of the few forerunners
of the institution of social democracy in India, also expressed the
similar views, of course much earlier, in his less quoted article published
in the June issue of Kirti 1929. He was of the firm opinion that Political
freedom gained from the British colonialism could not last long if
failed to be accompanied by a massive social and economic reforms
measures for clearing the muck long accumulating under the internal
social set up of the country.
Ambedkar and the Dilemma of Social Democracy
Social democracy occupies centre stage in the philosophy of Dr.
B.R. Ambedkar. It constitutes the core of his struggle against graded
inequality in India. That is what distinguished Dr. Ambedkar from the
rest of the mainstream Indian freedom fighters who were struggling
primarily for the liberation of the country (political freedom) from the
foreign rule of the British Empire. Dr. Ambedkar expanded the meaning
of freedom by incorporating in its fold the less talked about issue of
freedom from internal colonialism –caste based social exclusion. He
assigned special importance to the principles of social democracy by
championing the cause of ‘the annihilation of caste in India’. He
wanted to strengthen the emerging sphere of political democracy in
India by incorporating in its civil domain the less talked about institution
of social democracy. The reach of caste in India is so pervasive that
it did not divide only the Hindus, but also afflict even those who have
converted to various other religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism
and Islam – in the hope of evading the stigma of Untouchability.
Dr. Ambedkar defines social democracy as “a way of life which
recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life.
These principles … are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity.
They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from
the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy” (Three Historical
Addresses 1999:53). Frozen in the centuries old stratified structure of
the Hindu social order, the principles of equality and fraternity are yet
to find a clear expression and a significant space in the political
democracy of independent India. Social life in India is still governed
by the principle of birth-based graded inequality that tends to elevate
some [upper castes] and degrades others [Dalits]. Even after more than
six decades of India’s independence, the so-called outcastes have
continued to be subjected to repulsion and all sorts of humiliations.
They have continuously been deprived of education, basic human
rights, equal social status, and equal opportunities in the field of art,
culture, science and technology11.
It is repulsion rather than fraternity that underlined the social
structure of the Indian society. Repulsion promotes social exclusion.
Repulsion is one of the three main agencies (the other two are hierarchy

and hereditary occupation) of caste that determine the exclusionary
boundaries of Indian social structures (Bougle 1971). In the views of
Dr. Ambedkar:
In fact, it makes isolation of one caste from another a virtue.
There is isolation in the class system. But it does not make
isolation virtue nor does it prohibit social intercourse. The class
system, it is true produces groups, but they are not akin to caste
groups. The groups in the class system are only non-social
while the castes in the caste systems are in their relations
definitely and positively anti-social (
The caste based principle of repulsion, thus, generated mutual
antagonism within the society that ultimately squeezed the required
space for the deepening of social democracy in the country. The roots
of democracy are to be searched in the fabric of social relationship/
associated living, “which enables every human being to unfold his
or her limitless potentialities to the maximum possible extent without
in any way jeopardizing the equally legitimate interest and aspirations
of the other” (Rodriguez 2007: 151; Chand 2005). Since caste thrives
on mutual repulsion and complete rejection of the principle of fraternity,
it goes against the norms of associated living that affects the machinery
of the state by making public opinion impossible (Mungekar 2006:1).
It introduces separation in the society, and generates jealousy and
antipathy among the socially segregated inmates of the society. On
the completion of the Draft Constitution (25 November 1949),
Dr. Ambedkar sounded a grave warning in his famous address in the
Constituent assembly as mentioned above, that if we fail to get rid
off social and economic inequalities we would not be able to keep
intact our hard earned equality in the political domain.
It seems that the Indian state have accorded some concern to
his prophetic warning. Independent India opted for a mixed economy
model of development and introduced the system of reservation for
the downtrodden in government jobs, education institutions and
legislature. Legal provisions for reducing the enormous gap between
the rich/upper and the poor/lower castes have been incorporated in
the law book of the land. The Preamble of the Constitution clearly
spells out the objectives of securing “to all its citizens JUSTICE,
social, economic and political” as well as “EQUALITY of status and
of opportunity” (emphasis added). The very spirit of this legal system
has, however, yielded to the forces of globalisation in India. The
adoption of the model of neo-liberal market economy by India in 1991
has thus severely diluted the social welfare concern of the Indian state
for the uplift of the downtrodden. It is in this context that the institution
of social democracy has come under dark clouds of the free market
economy in the country.
Neo-liberal Economy vs Social Democracy
The neo-liberal free market economy model of the post-1990
India seems to run in the opposite direction of the well-conceived
social democracy model of Dr. Ambedkar. The profit driven paradigm
of free market economy accords no importance to the principles of
liberty, equality and fraternity. The only value that it considered worth
of honouring is the value of unrestrained and free flow of capital
without least interference by the institution of the state. This new
paradigm of neo-liberal market economy did not confront at all with
the pre-modern institution of caste in India. On the contrary, caste and
market nurture close relationship within the paradigm of neo-liberal
market economy. They reinforce each other. Market thrives on capital
and profit. Since capital has traditionally been accumulated by the
upper castes who have been able to establish their monopoly over the
economy of the country, the free market economy, based as it is on the
unrestrained flow of capital tends to promote their interest rather more
confidently. It welcomes upper castes with enormous opportunities and
hefty profits. But it ignores the ex-untouchables who lack the requisite
capital. In the traditional Hindu social system, the ex-untouchables
were kept at distance from the capital through the mechanism of
purity-pollution principle. They were not allowed to have land, possess
precious metals and keep certain kind of animal. Whereas in the
present system of the free market economy, they were forced to be
fence sitter precisely because they did not possess the desired amount
of capital or capacity that has value in market economy to enter into
business. Earlier they were denied all sort of access to capital in the
name of sacred scriptures. Now they were kept at a distance because
free market economy does not entertain them because they do not
have capital. It is in this context that the dialectics of inverse relationship
between democracy and untouchability and the complementarity
between market and caste assumes an added importance for the
understanding of the impact of globalisation on the life of the Dalits
in India in general and the structures of social democracy in the
country in particular.
Social Democracy, Dalits and Globalisation
Dalits constitute a significant proportion (16.23 per cent, Census
of India 2001) of the total population of India. Since the beginning
of the process of globalisation in India, they have suffered the most.
The bulk of Dalit population falls in the category of below poverty
line. Majority of them continue to live in extreme poverty without land
or opportunities for better employment or education. With the exception
of a minority who have benefited from India’s policy of quotas in
education and government jobs, Dalits are relegated to the most
menial of tasks, as manual scavengers, removers of human waste and
dead animals, leather workers, street sweepers, and cobblers. Dalit
children make up the majority of those sold into bondage to pay off
debts to upper caste creditors. Dalit men, women, and children
numbering in the tens of millions work as agricultural labourers for
a few kilograms of rice or Rs. 15 to Rs. 35 a day.
Given sever lack of technical education among them, their
chances of acquiring jobs in the high-tech industry at home as well
as in the multinational corporations seems quite bleak. The system of
primary and elementary education in the rural and urban settings has
been subverted almost totally. Since, majority of the rich upper caste
send their wards to the private/convent/public schools, government
schools have been reduced into dysfunctional centres of learning for
the poor Dalits. It is simply out of the reach of the matriculates of
such neglected government schools, where hardly any infrastructure
and teachers are available, to be able to compete for admission in the
country’s prestigious Information Technology (IT) or management
schools. Moreover, since the background of a majority of Dalit
undergraduates is in Arts and Humanities, it becomes difficult for
them to meet the job requirements of the multinational corporations.
Even if some of the Dalits aspire to compete in the technology driven
new job market, it would be, perhaps, out of their reach to acquire
the requisite qualifications at exorbitant rates from the various
engineering and management institutes. It is precisely due to these
reasons that Dalits are rarely to be found in the prestigious management
schools all over the country.
Dalits happened to be the beneficiaries of the state’s affirmative
action before India enters into the realm of neo-liberal free market
economy in the beginning of 1990. The Indian state had brought some
improvements in the lives of Dalits by making special provisions to
provide them education, employment, respectable wages, access to
land, water, health, housing and other resources. But this welfarist
stance of the Indian state gave way to a new system of free market
economy in 1990s. One of the main tasks of this new paradigm is
to force the roll back process of the welfare state and to allow the
market forces to operate in an unrestrained manner. The pro-market
stance of globalisation has led to the widening of the gap between
the privileged few and the large mass of the marginalized section of
the society. It further led to marginalisation of the already marginalized
people thus widening the gulf of inequity in the society (Kumar 2007). Dalit
labourers, daily wage workers and workers in the informal sector among
them suffer the most. In other words, globalisation process severely affects
some categories of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who are
deprived of jobs, and face great difficulties in accessing housing, drinking
water, food, healthcare, education, and employment. Thus the way
globalisation affects the life of a Scheduled Caste worker differs significantly
from that of the non-Scheduled Caste one.
In a caste-based hierarchical and graded social set-up where lower
social status and economic backwardness seems to be coterminous, social
rank plays an important role in determining one’s economic status.
Globalisation further aggravates this vicious interrelationship between
social and economic backwardness. The logic of economic globalisation
favours the rich, who can invest and multiply capital. The favoured
rich are mostly found among the so-called traditional ‘upper castes’
that have monopolised land and other economic resources in the
country. It has made them prominent in the newly carved out vast
private space of the open market. In other words, capital and caste
have joined hands against labour and the principle of state social
welfare it has led to an alliance between the forces of the market and
the upper castes – much to the disadvantage of the marginalised and
the lower castes.
Another way through which the process of globalisation has
been affecting the lives of the Dalits rather more severely is the
transformation of their traditional hereditary occupations into lucrative
profit seeking competitive avenues where they find themselves
incapable of competing with the so called upper castes who until very
recently used to consider such professions as polluting. In other
words, when the occupations of sewage disposal, scavenging and raw
hides were performed in the Jajmani (hereditary system of asymmetrical
reciprocity and patronage between landlords and occupational experts)
set up, bereft of profit incentive, Dalits were forced to take them up.
But when these same occupations became profit-generating businesses,

Dalits find themselves at odd in their own tested fields. It is in this
context that the process of globalisation perpetuates the system of
caste and inequality albeit in a new form. Instead of liberating them,
it further pins them down. Earlier they were excluded and were
condemned as shudras because of their closeness to the sewages, now
it excludes them by way of defeating them in the profit oriented open
market system of the neo-liberal economy. In fact, this market is open
only for those who have the capital to play the profit game on the
chessboard of its unrestrained competition. In this new profit driven
game of the process of globalisation, Dalits–normally starved of
capital–stand disqualified.
Yet another way through which the process of globalisation
severely affects the lives of the Dalits is the accentuation of the
phenomenon of their exclusion from land. Significant parts of the vast
majority of them who live in villages are landless labourers. Only a
small number of them are cultivators with marginal holdings. The
large-scale landlessness on the part of the Dalits led to their dependence
on the upper caste land owning communities, which in turn deepened
the caste based inequalities with the additional burden of asymmetrical
class structures. The neo-liberal economic policies adopted under the
regimes of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation widen the
already existing caste and class divisions between the Dalits and the
dominant castes, and further minimises the chances of the emergence
of the feelings of brotherhood among the peoples of different
Moreover, atrocities against Dalits (social boycott, kidnapping,
murder, abduction, bonded labour, intimidation, rape, honour killings
and residential segregation )have also increased many folds during
the economic reforms measures. Tapan Basu in his engaging review
of Anand Teltumbde’s latest book on Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter
Crop wrote, “[t]he paradox of Indian modernity is that it instigates
Dalits to fight for social justice, even as more and more social injustices
are heaped upon them every day” (Hindu, December 7, 2008). It is
this heightened amount of Dalit atrocities wrapped in a double foil
of chronic poverty and emerging Dalit assertion that has in fact come
to challenge the much hyped neo-liberal market economy model and
the promise that it flags for the deepening of democracy in India.
There has been about a three-fold rise in cases of crime against Dalits
such as murders, grievous hurt, rape, social boycott etc during the last
decade and half (Puniyani 2002). Late Suraj Bhan, the then Chairman
of the National SC and ST Commission, while speaking in a seminar
on Reservation In Privatisation organised by the Ambedkar Trust
(Jalandhar), commented that more than 45,000 cases of atrocities
against Dalits and downtrodden have been registered in India during
the past one year alone. However, if the numbers of those cases, which
were either suppressed or went unnoticed, are included, the total
figure could easily go up to one hundred thousand (The Tribune
September 5, 2005). During 2003-05 the number of such atrocities
against Dalits was 69,216 (Mungekar 2006).
Talhan, Meham, Dulina, Gohana, Saalwan, Chakwada, Khairlanji
and Khandamal are some of the recent instances of atrocities against
Dalits in India. Atrocities against Dalits are thus continued to exist
even today, despite constitutional safeguards, and various legislative
measures. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its
report on the Prevention of Atrocities on Scheduled Castes released
in 2002 pointed out that there was “virtually no monitoring of the
implementation of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act at any level”
(Narrain 2006). This clearly shows how vulnerable Dalits are in the
face of globalisation. In the opinion of Christine Moliner, a French
anthropologist who visited the 4th World Social Forum (WSF) in
Mumbai in January 2004, “[t]he Indian state has in recent years often
proved itself unable or unwilling to protect Dalit; indeed, state
representatives – police especially – are frequently accused of active
participation in anti-Dalit violence” (Moliner 2004: 2; see also:
Mungekar 2006:2). How the state in India can save the socially
excluded if its own security agencies remain immersed in the premodern
institution of caste? Dalit atrocities bluntly negate what Dr.
Ambedkar called “associated life between the people”.
Sharpening the Contradictions
Globalisation has further sharpened the already existing
contradictions between political equality on the one hand and social
and economic inequality on the other. It has deprived Dalits of whatever
little they have in the name of so-called fast development under the
model of free market economy. There exists no space for them at all
in the glamorous showrooms of no-liberal market economy – Special
Economic Zones (SEZs). These fabulous zones are yet to be tamed
to accommodate the ever-increasing vast multitudes of downtrodden
section of the society who could no longer be denied any more their
due share in the varied structures of power.
Downtrodden, in fact, are tired of being governed for centuries,
and are impatient to govern themselves. However, whatever little
space was available to them where they could dream the possibility
of their betterment seems to be being grabbed by the forces of the
neo-liberal market economy in the name of quick development. Their
patience and ‘urge for self-realization’ can no longer be tested any more.
Articulating the urge of the downtrodden for self-realization during his
famous address on the completion of the Draft Constitution in 1949, Baba
Sahib Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said that “… the sooner room is made for the
realization of their aspiration, the better for the few, the better for the
country, the better for the maintenance of its independence and better for
the continuance of its democratic structure. This can be done by the
establishment of equality and fraternity in all spheres of life”. Similar views
were expressed after 50 years by K. R. Narayanan, the President of India,
in his address to the nation on January 25, 2000: “Beware of the fury of
the patient and long suffering people” (as quoted in Puri 2006: 7).
The benefits of globalisation are yet to reach these ‘patient and
long suffering people who never shirk from hard work and toiling
labour. But the free market economy driven forces advocate the
concerns of the rich and resourceful only. This widens the gap between
the rich and the poor. The widening gap coupled with the rolling back
of the state lead to further resentment and alienation among the
downtrodden that in turn put pressure on the practice of democracy
in the country (Singh 2006). Baba Sahib Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was very
well aware, much in advance, about the serious implications of the
lopsided development for the growth of social democracy in a caste
ridden country like India. He therefore underlined the inclusion of the
downtrodden into the governmental set-up of the country. For that he
emphasised that the safe route goes via total annihilation of caste and
in that the role of the state is of utmost importance. If globalisation implies
pushing the state out, then the future of the project of social democracy
seems to be very bleak. It is in this context that the responsibility and the
task of safeguarding the developmental character of the Indian state
becomes very crucial more so for the empowerment of Dalits in particular
and strengthening the forces of social democracy in India in general.
Though a lot has already been said about the desired human face
of globalisation, but in the absence of an egalitarian alternative to the
structures of domination, the human face of globalisation based on
global governance makes no difference for the marginalised sections
of the society. The free market economy has not only failed to liberate
them, it has rather further pinned them down. Downtrodden are not
welcomed in the sphere of market as equal partners of profit. In other
words, the market too practices untouchability, albeit in a different form.
They feel alienated in the very world that promises to empower them. How
strong the free market economy could be, but in long run it will not survive
until and unless the question of the marginalised sections is addressed
amicably. In fact, the question of equitable distribution of resources is
closely related with the issue of the immediate and amicable redressal of
the cause of the marginalised and their exclusion from the mainstream.
They need not be provided with only low price wheat, rice and pulses as
have been popularly done in some Indian states. What seems to be essential
is to empower them, to enhance their buying capacity in the real sense
of the term in order to dismantle the structures of economic and social
dominations, and to remove the stresses of globalisation. “If we are not
concerned of the stresses of globalisation, ideological counter-currents will
emerge. Globalisation is not a bed of roses. There is a need to be
watchful, always,” warned Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister George
Tong-Boon Yeo at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Partnership
Summit in Bangalore (The Hindu, March 19, 2007). In other words,
a balance needs to be created between the forces of market and the
principles of social justice. It is in this context that Baba Sahib Dr.
B. R. Ambedkar’s warning, as referred to in the beginning of the
paper, assumed critical importance. The globalisation process has
been compelling India to bind up as early as possible its social and
economic justice project aims at empowering the Dalits. In other
words, before social democracy could take firm roots in India, the
state started rolling back from its commitment to facilitate the process
of emancipation and empowerment of the downtrodden classes.
Dalits are now no longer confined within the rural settings and
patron-client relationship. Some of them have been able to move into
mainstream sectors of non-polluting professions and a few of them
ventured abroad. Now the relatively better off Dalits come forward
to articulate the interests of their brethren and to some extant they have
been successful in providing them with an alternative leadership.
Dalits who have once tasted the fruit of political equality can no longer
be denied further any more their long overdue social and economic
rights. Nothing short of structural transformation including the free
market based system of economic domination on the one hand and
the traditional Varna system of four-fold occupational division based
on graded social hierarchy on the other could provide them their long
denied basic human rights. In fact, in India the problem of Dalits is
not just linked to the economic forces emanating from the spheres of

the free market economy. It has equally been made complex by the
all-pervasive caste ridden social order. It seems that market and caste
have joined hands to pose a most serious challenge to the nascent
institution of social democracy in India.
1 In the constitution of Independent India caste has been accorded a distinct place in
the form of state affirmative action. The lower castes, legally referred to as Scheduled
Castes (SCs) in the constitution of independent India, are provided reservation in
the fields of education; Government/Public Sector jobs and the legislature in order
to help them in overcome their chronic social exclusion. The phenomenon of the
reservation of SCs, however, has brought ‘caste’ into the centre stage of the electoral
politics in independent democratic India.
2 For a discussion on the ancient roots of democracy in India see: Jayaswal (1924)
fifth edn, 1978; Amritya Sen, Argumentative Indian
3 Ashutosh Varshney identified three basic conditions for the survival of democracy
in the West: “universal suffrage came to most Western democracies only after the
Industrial Revolution, which meant that the poor got the right to vote only after those
societies had become relatively rich; a welfare state attended to the needs of lowincome
segments of the population; and the educated and the wealthy have tended
to vote more than the poor” (Varshney 2007:93). He argued cogently that none of
these three conditions exist in India. Universal adult suffrage was introduced in India
long before the advent of the industrial economy. As far as welfare state is
concerned, India was not a match to that of the West. And thirdly, poor citizen tend
to vote more in India than the rich (Varshney 2007: 93-94).
4 For detailed accounts of social democracy see: Callaghan 2002; Callaghan 2000;
Gray 1996; Hicks 2001; Hirst 1996; Huber and Stephens 1998; Lipset 1959; Lipset
1994; Merkel 2002; Milner 1989; Pontusson 1992; Przeworski 1992; Rothstein
1996; Rothstein 2002; Thomson 2002; Vanderbroucke 1998; Vivekanandan 2000.
5 The Protection of Civil Rights [Anti-Untouchability] Act of 1955 and later on under
the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.
6 Economic liberalisation is primarily concerned with the problems of economic
domain. It least bothered about what transpires within the political sphere of democratic
regimes. For a detailed account see: Dreze and Sen 1995; Bhaduri and Nayyar 1996;
and Nayyar 2007: 388-89.
7 For ‘economics of market’ and politics of democracy’ phrases, I am indebted to
Deepak Nayyar (Nayyar 2007:362—69).
8 The term ‘Dalit’ is used in this paper, as a social category that incorporates the
Scheduled Castes (SCs), the Scheduled Tribes (STs), and the Other Backward
Castes (OBCs) – constitutional categories referring to socially and/as well as
economically excluded sections of the Indian society. However, in the current
political discourse, the term Dalit is mainly confined to the SCs only. To be more
precise, it covers only those SCs who are classified as Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists
but excludes Muslim and Christian Dalits. They were subjected to forced and
customary undignified labour, precisely because of their low birth. Thus, Dalit is
the “politically correct” nomenclature for the ex-untouchables who traditionally have
been placed at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy and were contemptuously
called by different names like Shudras, Atishudras, Achhuts, Antyajas, Chandalas,
Pariahs, Dheds, Panchamas, Avarnas, Namashudras, Adi-Dravida, Ad Dharmis,
Mazhabis, Depressed Classes, Harijans, and Scheduled Castes. They were forced
to live on the segregated peripheries of the mainstream rural settings. In the Urban
sectors they are confined to shanty colonies in slums. According to the 2001 census,
22.59 per cent of the total urban population in India was living in slums. A large
number of them happened to be Dalits.
9 In the Hindu social order, rights were not granted on the basis of an individual’s
personal worth. They are, in fact, granted or denied on the basis of one’s social
status in the Hindu caste hierarchy (Throat 2002). For those who had been pushed
to the bottom of the hierarchy, it hardly matter whether they enjoy any human rights
or not (Ramaswamy 2001).
10 It is in this context that Dr. Ambedkar spoke very forcefully in the London
Roundtable conferences against the British rule in India.
11 Untouchability splits people into distinct and seamless geographical settings. It
blocks the channels of effective communication among different castes especially
between the upper and the lower castes by erecting permanent barriers of social
exclusion. It is a nefarious system/mechanism of ghettoising a large number people
into the periphery of a mainstream social realm. Despite its practice being declared
a criminal offence in the Constitution of independent India, first under the Protection
of Civil Rights [Anti-Untouchability] Act of 1955 and later on under the Scheduled
Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, it continues to exist
even today in the form of separate Scheduled Castes settlements in the country,
especially in the rural sector where most people still live. The spatial segregation of
the ex-untouchables has become a formidable hurdle in the realisation of social
democracy in India. Untouchability, by its very nature, negates the very possibility
of the rise of an egalitarian social order. It inculcates a sense of complete alienation
among those who have been condemned to live separately as ‘outcastes’ away from
the mainland habitations of the upper castes.
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My final words of advice to you are Educate, Agitate and Organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can loose our battle.
The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or
for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality?
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

Second issue of AMBEDKAR TIMES news paper in English April 14, 2009
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