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Sunday / March 26.

Inclusion in India: How Far Have We Come?

By Anand Sinha

Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

After so many instances of discrimination and violence of kinds, public debate and policy has finally turned towards the idea of inclusion in India. The idea of inclusion in terms of gender, sexual orientation, religion, region, nationality, language etc. has always been there. But earlier, only some of its aspects were considered worth attention of public debate and policy.

Inclusion of people with sexual orientation other than heterosexuals has been a new dimension around which discussion is taking place; reasons being a string of court judgments, India’s long history of homophobic culture etc. Inclusion of people from different regions of the country and of the world is also a new dimension around which discussion is taking place; reasons being discrimination and attacks against people from north-eastern in Delhi, against people from northern India in Maharashtra, against people of African nationalities in the parts of the country. The issue of gender equality has resurfaced in a wholly radical manner recently; reasons being a kindled sensitivity about sexual crimes, sexist mentality and objectification of women. Religious inclusion has been a central element around which much of the Indian politics has been centered; much of the political battle is fought around ideas of secularism and communalism.

Also, how far this debate has gone in the public domain is worth scrutiny. The notorious December 2012 gang rape case sparked off an outrageous (and much necessary) protest from the people in many parts of India. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their book ‘India: An Uncertain Glory’ talk about it and say that the middle class of India could identify with the victim of the crime and was outraged. But there have been many such cases of sexual assault against women in tribal and rural India. But people have long been indifferent to those instances. India has a long tradition of homophobia in its society, its artistic (so to say) representations of homosexuals, its jokes. Often, the pressures of machismo force people to be homophobic even if they are not. Most of the people in India have their apprehensions about people from different religious communities, to say the least. Ex-Justice of Supreme Court of India Mr. Markandey Katju had once famously remarked that 90% of Indians are idiots because they cast their votes on the basis of caste and religion. People from Bihar, UP, Haryana, north- eastern states face discrimination in many parts of India, but what about people from tribal belts from the interiors of the country who are straightaway labelled ‘junglees’ in the same manner as the white British masters labelled us? Then, of course, there are people from Africa who are often sneered at because well, they are darker than us. The women from abroad are ‘easy’ and have ‘loose’ morals. I think that inclusion on the basis of language is the only aspect of inclusion which has more or less been completely assimilated among the Indian masses, at least when it comes to Indian languages. This has also been achieved at after much agitation that happened in early independent India.

So what we see today is a different picture. Girls are no longer ‘maals’, homosexuals are not ‘meethe’, people are not ‘chinks’ or ‘niggers’. There are no ‘mulle’ or ‘bootparast’. Things are of course politically correct now. So we cannot ignore to see that it is also a pressure to be politically correct that has been responsible for this change. Also, it has been quite parochial and narrow in its coordinates of debate and subsequent changes in policy and action until today. We are observing this change in the academic campuses in the capital of the country, Delhi, too. We have no idea what the outlook of people is about these matters in other small cities and villages of India. Has the outlook of people towards people different from them in different aspects really changed? Have Indians really become more inclusive and how much, if yes? These are the questions which must be put under scrutiny and the scene is clearer when seen in retrospective.

Currently based in Delhi, Anand is an English literature student at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi. After working as a content writer and editor for an online firm for a few months, he interned at Youth Ki Awaaz. Sinha defines his political stand as centre-left. His interests include literature, cinema, music, philosophy and world politics.