Inequality in socio-political empowerment a curse to sustainable economic development

Inequality in socio-political empowerment a curse to sustainable economic development

Nothing hurts sustainable economic development more than prolonged gaps in the process of social and political empowerment and inclusion of masses....

Nothing hurts sustainable economic development more than prolonged gaps in the process of social and political empowerment and inclusion of masses. Hence, the need for an all-inclusive developmental ecosystem where the benefits of growth are fairly distributed across all social groups!

The going gets quite challenging in a socio-politico ecosystem where multiple gaps are left unplugged by making the entire development process rich-centric, which ensures that resources and opportunities are confined to the creamy minority community, comprising the affluent lot from different social groups. In a country where inequalities and discrimination in various forms have persisted for centuries together, the task to ensure all-round inclusive development is certainly gargantuan and incredibly demanding.

Since Independence, India has been following a slew of affirmative and welfare measures to uplift the poor masses but the desired results remain elusive though we are on the verge of becoming the world’s third largest economy by 2030. Certainly, ours won’t be the most inclusive economy until and unless a whole lot of drastic socio-economic and political measures are initiated and taken to their logical conclusion while realizing the goal of last mile development in a wholesome manner!

As one cannot judge the resilience of an economy without taking into consideration the magnitude of deprivation and denial of share in opportunities and resources to majority of the population, thereis a need to understand and decode the larger picture emerging in view of the amendment to the Constitution to give 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament and State Assemblies. There is a chorus of demand from several quarters for quota within quota for women belonging to other backward classes (OBCs), SCs and STs – three social groups accounting for not less than 75 per cent of the country’s population.

Cutting across party lines and their socio-economic affiliations, politicians of every hue claim that without ensuring the share of women from their communities in 33 per cent reservation, the resolve of addressing gender inequalities, exclusion and deprivation will fizzle out. To drive home the point, they refer to the existing lot of women MPs, where the share of OBC, SC and ST female members is negligible.

However, without being carried away by emotions, hype and rhetoric, one should look for an unbiased assessment of deprived women’s developmental evolution since the independence of Bharatvarsh, which should be supported by some concrete reliable data, shared by the Central government from time to time. For instance according to Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment A. Narayanaswamy of the direct recruitmentof around 1,28,629 appointments made in 2014, 21,673 were SCs, 10,843 STs and 40,513 OBCs, which indicates that there was no proportionate representation vis-à-vis population.

In 2021, 64,073 appointments were made through direct recruitment out of which 10,200 were SCs, 4,573 STs and 19,660 OBCs. We don’t know the exact share of women in general and that of SC, ST and OBC women in particular in these direct recruitments except hazarding a guess.

Let us also look at some other figures as well. Narayanaswamy pointed out last year that the number of poor SC persons who have been provided loans by the National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC), as on date, was 14,48,790 and the number of poor OBC persons who have been provided loans by National Backward Classes Finance and Development Corporation (NBCFDC) was 30,69,427. These numbers are not in tune with the size of their population, suggesting nothing but the fact that there is still a huge gap between them and the schemes meant for them.

In Punjab, where SC population is over 30 per cent, there were only 24,249 beneficiaries of NSFDC loans. The message is loud and clear that targeted beneficiaries from weaker sections of society still need prop ups and cushions to reap the benefits of schemes and affirmative measures meant for them.

Now the question arises: How will they compete with the general category women in the battle of ballots? We need to develop leadership qualities among them by exposing them to a competitive political ecosystem with support and security, for which they have to be provided with a quota.

One more example will throw further light on the ongoing debate over the demand for quota within quota. Notwithstanding all the hype about the empowerment of SCs and STs since Independence, we have not been able to have many of them getting elected to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies from the general seats. Perhaps, none!

Neither political parties nor SC and ST leaders have been able to break the barriers and join the realm of political battle from general seats. This is because they are not being promoted and supported by the haves among us as they are not keen to see SC and ST leaders spreading their political clout beyond the pockets meant for them. People on both sides of political fences are to be blamed, but the larger blame goes to those who were and are tasked with developing a thriving inclusive political ecosystem in the country.

I will give one more example to buttress this point. The Union Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises on March 16, 2023 issued a statement titled as ‘Women-Owned Enterprises.’ It reads: “As per Udyam Registration Portal, the total number of MSMEs and women owned MSMEs from 1.7.2020 to 12.3.2023 as on March 13, 2023, in all India were 1,47,50,018 and 27,75,390 respectively.” What does it convey? Firstly, we have less than 28 lakh MSMEs owned by women, who account for almost 50 per cent of the population of the country. And we don’t know the number of MSMEs owned by OBC, SC and ST women.

The statement further reads: “The number of women-owned enterprises that received credit guarantees under the Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS) in the country during 2022-23 as on February 28, 2023 was 3,40,013 amounting to Rs 14,247.24 crore.”

If the condition of women in general is so backward, then what do we think of the lot of SC, ST and OBC women?

So, what is needed now in our Amrit Kaal is the wholesome socio-political and economic empowerment of women in general and those from weaker sections of society in particular. Empowering women from deprived sections of society can have numerous benefits including sustainable economic development. They will help promote gender equality and contribute to a more just and equitable society.

Engaging women from excluded sections of society in politics and decision-making processes will lead to a more inclusive and responsive governance. They, in effect, will be a catalyst for positive changes in their communities, society and the nation at large. Different perspectives and experiences contribute to healthier growth.

Last but not the least, empowering women from weaker sections is also a matter of social justice. It helps rectify historical and systemic inequalities, ensuring that opportunities and benefits are more evenly distributed across society. This is not only a moral imperative but also a practical way for promoting social and economic development, inclusion, reducing inequalities, and creating a more equitable society.

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