Social Exclusion & Inequality

Vinue: IMAGE – Siripur Chhak, Near OUAT

Social exclusion is the process in which certain social groups or individuals who are seen as deviants from perceived norms, due to prevailing social or political systems, are denied full access to various rights, opportunities, and resources that are available to mainstream society. This process of marginalization is exacerbated by growing economic inequality, which threatens social cohesion and inclusive growth. Hence, attention is being paid to a rights-based approach, focusing on basic equality and capabilities, to attain social justice and sustainable development.

In Odisha, such exclusion prevents full economic, social, and political participation of its vulnerable demographic segments. These include Scheduled Tribes or STs (23%), Scheduled Castes or SCs (17%), Muslims (2%), the aged (9.5%), People with Disabilities or PwDs (3%), and Transgender People, who together, comprise over 54% of the state population.

In Odisha, STs have highest incidence of poverty with 32.5% below poverty line, followed by SCs, 29.6% of whom live in poverty. Lack of productive assets is a particular concern for SCs, with 71% being landless while inadequate training and skills compel 51% SCs and over 42% STs to work as casual wage laborers with low and irregular incomes. Feeding into high poverty among marginalized groups in Odisha is their significantly lower literacy. Compared with state average of 73% in 2011, only 52% STs, and 69% SCs, in Odisha were literate. Even now, despite vigorous Government of Odisha (GoO) efforts nearly 1.9 lakh kids aged 6-14 are out of school, with over 64% of these being from marginalized groups, 48% being STs and 16% SCs. Poverty also has a direct bearing on nutrition and related health outcomes. While malnutrition among kids aged less than 5 years is a worry for Odisha, leading to 34% being stunted and 20% wasted, it disproportionately impacts STs and SCs. For instance, among ST kids stunting is 23% higher than state average with 57% tribal children being too short for their age.

Some insight on multiple exclusions faced by SCs in Odisha can be gleaned from a national study by Government of India (GoI), cited in a 2014 IOSR-JHSS article by Pradeep Kadun and Ravindra Gadkar, which found 38% SC students were made to sit separately in rural government schools, 28% SCs had experienced being prevented from entering village police stations, 26% SCs were prevented from entering rural ration shops, 33% village public health workers refused to visit SC homes and 14% SCs had not been allowed to enter Panchayat office. Similarly, systemic deprivation is experienced by the Muslim minority. While specific data for Odisha is hard to come by, 41% Muslims in rural areas, and 46% in urban areas, nationally are forced to earn their livelihood from self-employment. This is the highest rate for any demographic group and raises troubling questions about what prevents their access to other professions?

Increasing longevity during process of development has resulted in bigger proportion of elderly. A UN Population Fund-India study on The Status of Elderly in Odisha, 2011, found among those aged 60 and above in the state, 1 in 10 experienced abuse and that 80%, most of whom lived in rural areas, were compelled to work due to poverty and lack of resources. The GoO in 2016, took a welcome first step, to respond, by launching the Odisha State Senior Citizen’s Policy. Given scale of the problem this effort needs further augmentation.

There are over a million PwDs in Odisha. The GoI through Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and Indira Awas Yojana schemes and GoO through Mo Kudia scheme assure special provision of support to provide housing to PwDs. Yet, in 2017-18, a mere 5,392 PwDs, under the GoI schemes, and 2,947, under the GoO scheme, got housing facilities in Odisha. Also, despite Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme’s special focus on education of Children with Special Needs (CWSNs), which resulted in their increasing enrolment in schools in Odisha, there has been a rise in percentage of CWSN dropping out.

Perhaps, the most invisible category within the marginalized, due to their small numbers and social and policy oversight, is that of the transgender. In 2016 Odisha became first state to extend social welfare benefits such as pension, housing, and food grains. While tangibly it has resulted in a 2017 draft Odisha Transgender Policy, continued attention is needed to ensure that it doesn’t meet same fate as the Land Settlement Rule 1993, which had provisions for third gender persons to get land for a house and a homestead of 10 decimals, and is yet to be acted upon. Otherwise, Odisha’s transgender population will continue to languish in poverty as is the case with 69% at present and be compelled to continue begging or depend on sex work for survival.

Keeping this background and standing with long due sparks, Odisha Development Conclave has emerged in bringing social development actors with decision makers together. The proposed discourse track ‘Social Exclusion and Inequality’ strives to focus on the plight of their greater participation in the decision-making process, mainstreaming the social inclusion and influencing the actors (government mechanism) to engage in pro-poor agenda setting for all round development of these social groups in the state of Odisha.

Keeping social exclusion and economic inequality consciously at center of discourse will sensitize stakeholders in Odisha to its adverse impact on the larger development processes. At the same time, the conversation will open up new opportunities and partnerships to enable STs, SCs, Muslims and other religious minorities, PwDs, and Transgender Community to meaningfully participate in Odisha’s sustainable growth.

Discussion Points:

  • Which specific systemic constraints, social, economic, and political, currently undermine social inclusion of identified marginalized groups in Odisha? What policy mechanisms and institutional resources can effectively address the impact of systemic constraints?
  • Which best practices and models could Odisha adopt or adapt to fill existing policy gaps?
  • How can Odisha’s civil society and other stakeholders, apart from GoO, contribute to meaningfully address social exclusion? Which partnerships might be more effective?
  • Why are STs and SCs still being denied access to due public services with impunity? Beyond policy what can safegaurd their getting due entitlements and services?
  • How can workforce participation of Odisha’s Muslims and other religious minorities, beyond self-employment, be achieved?
  • Which concrete actions can increase visibility of third gender in society, economy, and politics in Odisha? Are their traditions that can help? Which need to be discarded?
  • How can Odisha State Senior Citizens Policy, 2016, be effectively implemented and strengthened to safeguard the elderly from abuse?
  • What can be done to reverse CWSNs increasing dropout rate?