D. Shyam Babu & Chandra Bhan Prasad
The central policy challenge for the new government is how to sustain social gains while ensuring that Dalits can participate more meaningfully in the economy, by sharing in the fruits of economic growth while contributing as well
In his address to the nation on Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his intention to "take a solemn pledge of working for... the welfare of the poor, oppressed, Dalits, the exploited and the backward people of our country." We don't know just what precise shape his social justice vision will take in practice, but it is likely to be a mix of traditional approaches, when unavoidable, coupled with a new architecture, when feasible.
When independent India's founding fathers committed themselves to constitutionalism and democracy, they were well aware that democracy was a "top dressing on Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic," as B.R. Ambedkar cogently put it. The rigid and deeply maligned social hierarchies of Indian society meant that a commitment to equality and social justice was hardly a "natural" sentiment.
Survey on Dalit entrepreneurs
Since then, the Indian state has sought to put forth dozens of laws and programmes to attenuate these deep social inequalities and two-thirds of a century after independence, social inequalities in Indian society are a far cry from what they were when the country came into being. But there is a long, long way to go before social justice is a reality for the vast majority of Indians from socially marginalised communities. It is equally clear, however, that the country needs new thinking (nayi soch) on social justice, as the Prime Minister has argued.