Gender, Religion and Caste

Gender, Religion and Caste

Gender, Religion and Caste

In India, gender, religion and caste differences are the three biggest issues which have challenged social equality.

Gender Politics

Gender differences assume the following forms in India:

  • There is sexual division of work in our society. While office work and high-paid jobs are considered men’s domain in India, household work such as washing, cooking and tailoring are done by women.
  • It is only when these forms of work become paid jobs do men readily accept them; for example, chefs. Even women work outside their homes; for example, they plough the fields in villages, fetch water etc., but again, these forms of work are neither valued nor acknowledged.
  • Although women constitute fifty percent of society, they do not enjoy equal power with men. Women had to struggle hard to gain voting and other democratic rights in many countries. While women in Scandinavian countries such as Finland and Norway actively participate in public life, women in India are far behind men in many spheres.
  • Indian society is a patriarchal society; it is dominated by men.
  • The literacy rate is only 54% for women compared to 76% for men. At the school level, although girls perform better than boys, they drop out during higher education as parents prefer to spend money on educating boys.
  • Only few women are currently working in highly paid jobs. Although the Equal Wages Act lays down that equal wages should be given to both men and women for the same work, women are still paid less than men.
  • As the Indian society is patriarchal, many girls are aborted, resulting in a decline in the child sex ratio. The child sex ratio is the number of girl child per thousand boys.
  • Domestic violence against women and the physical and mental harassment of women at the office place are some issues which most women face in the country.

Political Representation of Women

It has to be realised that until women get an adequate representation in the legislatures of their countries, their conditions will not improve. Institutions such as the Panchayati Raj have reserved one-third of their seats for women. Many women’s organisations are also demanding reservation of one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. This bill however has not been passed.


Communalism is one of the major problems faced by our country currently. Communalism becomes a problem when

  • Religious fanaticism reaches its height and religion becomes more important than the interests of the wider society or a nation
  • One religious community is pitted against the other religious community
  • Beliefs of one religion is regarded as superior to the other religion
  • Religion becomes an inseparable part of politics; the state power is used to emphasise superiority and domination of one religion over the other
  • In politics, communalism can acquire various forms. These are
    • When religious beliefs of a person involve prejudices and stereotypes, claiming one religion’s ideas to be superior than another.
    • When a majority community tries to establish its domination over the other communities with the help of the state. Minority communities under such circumstances, retaliates by demanding the formation of separate state for them. Political mobilisation on religious lines occurs when religious symbols and leaders make an emotional appeal to the people in order to bring the members of a particular community together.
    • Communal violence is the worst form of communalism. It acquires the political form when it is sponsored by the state.

A Secular State - India

The framers of our Constitution declared India as a secular state. The Constitution of our country declares India as a secular state. This is reflected in many constitutional provisions.

Caste and Politics

The caste system has been an integral part of Indian society since ancient times. It is based on the occupations of the people which are hereditary. People belonging to the lower caste are considered outcastes and untouchables. We find that caste inequalities are breaking down because of the following reasons:

  • Development of urban centres
  • Weakening of the position of the landlords
  • Occupation mobility
  • Economic growth and development

However, the caste system has not disappeared from the country altogether. It still exists in most rural societies and to some extent in urban societies. The caste system takes the following forms in politics:

  • While choosing candidates for contesting the elections, the caste composition of the electorate is always kept in mind. This is done to win the support of the people for a candidate belonging to a particular caste.
  • When forming the Government, political parties try to include representatives of different castes and tribes.
  • Political parties appeal to the caste sentiments of the people to help their candidates to win the elections.

Caste in Politics

However, we also need to keep in mind that the caste system always does not play a role in shaping politics or deciding the candidates from a constituency. This is due to the following reasons:

  • Not every constituency in the country has a clear majority of one single caste. Therefore, every party is required to win the trust of the people belonging to different castes.
  • No political party wins all the votes of a particular favoured caste or community. When people say that caste is a ‘vote bank’, they simply mean that many people from that one particular caste may vote for the party.
  • Because several political parties fight elections, there may be many candidates from the same caste fighting elections against each other.
  • It has been seen that many elected MPs or MLAs may lose the elections. If candidates are elected on caste lines, then no candidate can ever lose the elections.

Politics in Caste

The caste system in India can also become politicised in the following ways:

  • When a particular caste tries to gain prominence by adding many neighbouring castes and sub-castes which were earlier not included.
  • The caste system also becomes politicised when caste groups are required to enter into a coalition with other castes. In such a case, every caste tries to gain maximum benefits for itself.
  • Of late, many caste groups have gained entry into politics by terming themselves as ‘backward’ or ‘forward’ caste groups.

It is to be noticed that the existence of the caste system is itself not healthy for any democracy. It mostly produces negative results. In India, it has resulted in the vicious circle of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy for many castes. The caste system may also lead to caste division, caste violence and conflicts resulting in violence.