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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: October 2014

1 - Understanding Subalternity, Exclusion and Social Change in India

from Section I - Introduction



Posing the Problem

Subalternity, exclusion and social change are complexly interwoven in Indian society. While subalternity and exclusion are not mutually exclusive, social change is not an independent variable either. A major determinant of subalternity in India has been the distance and degree of exclusion – distance of social and degree of economic exclusion; both exist in a mutually reinforcing relation. Different subaltern groups have been subjected to different levels of social and economic exclusion. Land and caste – control over the means of production and socially ascribed position – have been the two major determinants of social exclusion in rural society. Exclusion has multiple determinants and dimensions in urban society. Nevertheless, access to economic resources, state and political power, and knowledge are important in the urban context. Exclusion, in turn, has been justified through an ideology of caste and religion, and perpetuated through deeply entrenched inegalitarian social and economic relations, retrogressive cultural and religious norms, values and practices. Forces of social change in such a society do not have an independent character and a linear trajectory. Also, determinants of social change are not singular, say, industrialization in Western society.

The issues of subalternity, exclusion and social change have been debated and discussed as different and discrete social problems in India. This is partly because of the methodological issue and partly because of the inclination (subjectivity) of scholars. For example, the focus of Subaltern Studies has been excessively historical and narrative.