India suffers from a host of social issues ranging from poverty to gendered violence. This article covers the concept of social issues and highlights the different experiences of rural and urban sectors. Further, it studies six important social issues namely poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, the caste system, gendered violence and communalism by analyzing their causes and the specific measures adopted to combat them.
What Are Social Issues?
An individual problem is one that affects only a particular individual or group. On the other hand, public issues are those faced by society as a whole. A social issue is when a situation is deemed less than the social ideal. It must result in unfavourable circumstances that can only be handled collectively. India has undergone many changes in the last decades. Social change brings with it a new set of circumstances wherein an otherwise overlooked issue might be given importance. For example, the population explosion in India was not viewed as a serious issue until the 1950s. It is also important to note that any problem only becomes a social issue when enough number of people find it undesirable. Sati was not deemed a social issue until Raja Ram Mohan Roy criticized the practice and a considerable number of people started supporting him (Ahuja 2014).
Rural versus Urban Social Issues
Many scholars have identified fundamental differences between the causes and consequences of issues experienced the rural and urban sectors.
The rural sector has five identifying characteristics. Firstly, people are either directly or indirectly dependent upon agriculture. Next, the upper caste citizens are the largest landholders. Thirdly, the roles and values of rural people are traditional. Also, the farmers receive inadequate compensation for their hard work. Finally, people are scattered in rural areas as compared to urban cities. This isolation means that their access to services like banks, hospitals and schools is also minimal.
On the other hand, the urban sector is characterized by the concentration of large populations in small areas. This results in many issues such as slums, high crime rates, pollution, drug abuse and unemployment. Also, cities are highly interdependent on every small part. For example, a strike by bus workers could result in many problems for the functioning of a city.
Poverty can be defined as the inability to secure the minimum standard of living appropriate to society. According to the Planning Commission, 22% of India’s population lived below the poverty line in 2012.
Causes of Poverty
The sociologist David Elesh determined three causes of poverty namely individual, culture of poverty and social structure. The first ideology is propagated by those who believe that if an individual ends up in poverty, it is their own fault and due to a lack of hard work and initiative. This thought is rooted in the functionalist approach of sociology. It maintains that poverty is a good thing for society since it propagates the survival of the fittest. The culture of poverty concept was introduced in 1959 by Oscar Lewis. He believed that the lifestyle of the lower socio-economic classes fostered behaviours and attitudes associated with poverty. Hence, no amount of economic rehabilitation could help alleviate the poor. Finally, the social structure approach was propagated by sociologist Herbert Gans. He associated poverty with unjust social conditions and pointed out that the middle and higher classes had a vested interest in the poor. For example, the existence of the poor helped alleviate their social status. Thus, they had no interest in changing the social structure (Ahuja 2014).
Within the Indian context, many unique causes of poverty have been identified. The first is the rapidly rising population. This year, the population reached 138.72 crores which was a 1.26% increase from last year. Such a high population raised the demand for consumption of a limited number of resources. The second is low agricultural productivity due to lack of capital, technology and fragmented land holding. The next cause is unemployment which is present in the form of both underemployment and disguised unemployment in the agricultural sector. Social factors have also contributed to poverty through the caste system, gendered laws of inheritance and a lack of infrastructure. Finally, political factors such as the British exploitation of natural resources also led to a weakened Indian economy.
Poverty Alleviation Programs
The Indian government has launched many poverty alleviation programs for the rural and urban poor. A few major schemes have been described below. The Indira Awaas Yojna (IAY) was launched to aid the construction of houses for those belonging to scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, freed bonded laborers and the rural poor living below the poverty line. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) was introduced in 2005 all over India. Under this scheme, every rural household was guaranteed 100 days of wage employment in the form of unskilled manual labor each fiscal year. Finally, the food security scheme introduced in 2003 distributed allocated amounts of food grains to priority and antyodya households for free. This scheme covered almost 75% of the rural and 50% of the urban population (Ahuja 2014).
Unemployment has often been described as the most significant social issue in society. This is because an individual is dependent on their work for both their livelihood and their status. Sociologically, unemployment is defined as the inability to find remunerative work in the face of both potential and desire to earn. The three elements of unemployment are that the individual must be capable, willing and making an effort to be gainfully employed.
Types of Unemployment
There are three major classifications of unemployment, namely, seasonal, cyclical and technological.
Seasonal unemployment is a characteristic of the agricultural sector. Any cultivator in India is unemployed for almost four to six months every year. Workers at some manufacturing units like ice or sugar factories are also seasonally unemployed due to the nature of the work.
Cyclical unemployment is a result of the ups and downs in business. For example, an entrepreneur earning high profits might invest them in a startup thus creating employment. But when they start suffering losses, they might reduce the number of workers present in their industries.
Technological unemployment is caused because of the introduction of new technologies that displace manual labor. The adoption of automation in almost every industry has resulted in a loss of economic security for the average man (Ahuja 2014).
Causes of Unemployment
Sociologists have suggested that unemployment is a result of both economic and social factors.
Degrading social status means that many people consider themselves overqualified for certain jobs and thus prefer to remain unemployed. For example, many youths consider teaching in universities to be a prestigious job whereas teaching in a school is looked down upon.
Geographical immobility refers to surplus labor in one location and inadequate labor in another. People may be unable to move to areas with higher job opportunities due to a lack of information, language barriers or family responsibilities. For example, women in rural areas often lose out on paid work because they do not get the opportunity to migrate to cities like their husbands.
Population explosion has led to increased unemployment due to the limited number of job opportunities in the economy. Many people lose out on work due to personal reasons such as lack of education or experience or even illness and disability. The high rates of unemployment increase the dependency on parents to provide for their children and for the government to assume responsibility for them.
The defective education system fails to give importance to primary education and vocational training. The benefits of education are mostly availed only by middle- and high-income youth with access to private schools and universities. The conditions in most government schools are unsuitable for studying and are often a result for many girls to drop out (Ahuja 2014).
The Indian government has recognized the issue of unemployment within the country. They have taken many steps in the form of employment generation schemes. The MGNREGA scheme mentioned previously is one major measure. Unemployment cannot be solved by making India more labour-intensive which has been suggested in the past. Instead, the focus should be on educating the youth and making them employable within the upcoming service sector.
As mentioned in the previous section, illiteracy is a major barrier to development since it results in unskilled labor. According to the Census Commission of India, literacy refers to any person who can read and write with understanding in a recognized Indian language. The 2011 census revealed that the literacy rate of India was around 74% with many regional variations and gender disparities. All over India, Kerala has the highest literacy rate and Bihar the lowest.
Measures to Eradicate Illiteracy
Many programs have been introduced by the government in accordance with the education policies of India. A few of these have been mentioned below.
The National Adult Education (NAE) program was introduced in 1978 to promoted education within the age group of 15-35 years. The Rural Functional Literacy (RFL) program is a sub-program of the NAE and was launched in 1986. It aimed at creating awareness among adults about the numerous government schemes they could benefit from. Moreover, it involved student volunteers from universities in teaching adults. Finally, the National Literacy Mission was launched in 1988 by Rajiv Gandhi and aimed at involving volunteer agencies in the mission to educate illiterate persons all over the country (Ahuja 2014).
The Indian caste system is based on the cultural features of hierarchy, pollution and purity. It subscribes to the doctrines of Karma and Dharma. The Indian government introduced the category of Scheduled Castes (SCs) to the constitution in 1935. Currently, SCs constitute around 16% of the Indian population. The main issues faced by Dalits are those of untouchability, exploitation, exclusion from religious and educational institutions and social discrimination.
Dalit Empowerment Measures
The government’s approach towards the upliftment of SCs was based on two ideas. The first was to overcome deprivations in terms of education, housing and employment that the SCs have inherited due to their historical exclusion from society. The second was to encourage their participation in the economic, social and political processes of the country.
Protective measures included acts such as the protection of the Civil Rights Act passed in 1976 and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act passed in 1989. Together, these acts protected Dalits from untouchability, discrimination and violence in public places. Reservation policies within educational institutions, government services and political bodies are also a part of protective measures. These ensure adequate participation of SCs in public spheres though they are restricted to only the government sectors.
Development measures were introduced within the educational, economic and social spheres. To increase educational development the government has attempted to include reservations within educational institutions, provide financial support and coaching facilities and emphasized on girls education. Economic empowerment includes distribution of land to landless laborers and implementation of wage labor programs. Finally, social welfare schemes to increase access to sanitation, housing, drinking water and electricity have been introduced by the government (Thorat 2009).
Women have always been victims of exploitation and violence within the Indian subcontinent. Violence against women consists of criminal, domestic and social violence. Criminal violence consists of rape, murder, female foeticide and abduction. Domestic violence includes wife battering, dowry deaths and sexual violence. Social violence comprises eve-teasing, inheritance laws favouring men etc.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released that 33,356 cases of rape were reported all over India in 2018. Most of these are instances where the rapist is known to the victim. Moreover, these statistics fail to reveal the high number of rapes that are not even reported by the victim. Instances of rape cut across geographical locations, class and caste. Female employees are raped by employers, women inmates are raped by superintendents, female patients are raped by hospital staff and domestic helpers by their employers. Within the context of marriage, violence against women becomes harder to navigate. The Indian constitution does not recognize marital rape as a criminal offence (Ahuja 2014).
Measures to Prevent Women’s Harassment
The government in collaboration with volunteer organizations has taken a few steps for the safety of women. Shelters for women suffering from abusive husbands or in-laws have been established. But such accommodations suffer from issues of overcrowding and a lack of financial support. Helplines for women have been publicized by the police in various cities such as New Delhi. Legal institutions that provide free legal assistance to women have also been promoted by the government. But despite all these measures, the most important change that is required to combat women’s harassment is a change in attitude. The patriarchal society of India has oppressed women for too long. This pattern needs to change by taking small steps such as ending victim-blaming for sexual and violent assaults.
Communalism refers to attempts to overemphasize the importance of religious identity and stimulate communal violence between different religious groups. Within India, tensions between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have been present since the India-Pakistan partition. Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities are protected by the Indian constitution under provisions for justice, tolerance, equality and freedom. Despite these provisions, communal violence has been a part of India since independence. The recent case of the Babri Masjid and associated riots is a popular example of religious discord. Violence can take many forms of mass mobilizations, insurgency and riots. Usually, communal violence is more politically motivated than fueled by religion. Hindu- Muslim riots in Andhra Pradesh in 1990 led to more than a hundred deaths (Ahuja 2014).
India has suffered at the hands of communalism for too long. The government and the citizens must work together towards harmony. Symbolic gestures are not enough for Muslims as they must be empowered through literacy and employment. Secularism must be promoted through education. Moreover, communal minded politicians should be boycotted during elections and the police and military must be sensitized and encouraged to adopt a secular outlook.
This article has covered many social issues faced by Indian citizens on a daily basis. It is essential that such problems be recognized by individuals and governments alike so that they may work together towards a better future.
Ahuja, R. (2014). Social problems in India. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.
Thorat, S. (2009). Dalits in India: Search for a common destiny. New Delhi: SAGE Publications India Pvt. http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9788132101086.n1