Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 April 2014
The concept of ‘social exclusion,’ which entered our vocabulary only recently, covers a wide variety of social discriminations, deprivations, and denials of equal social opportunities to different groups or sections of society. Broadly speaking, it refers to the exclusion of groups of people from access to such things as are considered normal or taken for granted by others in society. It covers far more than the exclusions rooted in India's historical divisions on lines of caste, religion, and gender; it includes discrimination against minorities, Dalits, tribals, widows, sex-workers, migrants, nomadic tribes, etc. Exclusion is also the fate of the communities displaced by pro-business development projects, the slum-dwellers, the poor, the shelterless or homeless, the child labourers, the street children (a recent estimate put the number of street children in India at 15 million – 15 per cent of the global count). Both the state and society are implicated in different forms of social exclusion. Much of the responsibility for not only the persistence but also extension of such social inequities and deprivations in our society may be traced largely to the inability or failure of the state in meeting its constitutional obligations. The basic problem lies, of course, in the structural arrangements in our society, which tend to determine how the state's largely non-inclusive institutions and processes would operate. When governance is poor and the state backtracks from its presumed obligations in the social sector, it is the most vulnerable sections such as the poor and the low caste that are most adversely affected and disabled.