The ultimate goal of socio-economic development has been to ensure that all sections of the society are enabled to be a part of the development process. All must have equal access to the outcomes of development, and equal opportunities for upward economic and social mobility.

Although India has been making notable progress, this goal of reaching the development outcomes is yet to be attained by all. There are many population groups that are till today discriminated both socially and economically and are not able to participate freely and fully in the development process and reap its benefits.
These are known as disadvantaged groups.

Some of such groups are Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), minorities and women.

Empowerment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes

The urgent need for empowerment of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the country was realised in India on the eve of independence to reduce the regional disparities and uplift the status of these communities. Constitution of India makes a number of commitments under its various provisions for the development of these groups. Towards fulfilling the commitments, the Government of India has adopted a three-pronged strategy of (i) Social Empowerment; (ii) Economic Empowerment; and (iii) Social Justice to ensure removal of disparities, elimination of exploitation and suppression and to provide protection to these disadvantaged groups.

1. Social Empowerment

Education being the most effective instrument for socio-economic empowerment of the disadvantaged groups, high priority continues to be accorded to improve the educational status of these groups.

  • With respect to elementary education, various incentives in the form of abolition of tuition fee, free supply of books, mid-day meals, and scholarships are provided. Special focus has also been on ST students in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidyalaya and National Talent Search Scheme.
  • There are also major scholarship programmes. Post-Matric Scholarships are awarded to promote higher education beyond matriculation. Pre-Matric Scholarships are given to encourage children of scavengers and those engaged in menial works to pursue education. Upgradation of Merit Scheme is aimed at extending remedial and special coaching. Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships for SC students provide special incentives to pursue higher studies and research.
  • Coaching facilities are provided to students preparing for various competitive examinations.
  • Hostel facilities are provided to both girls and boys for pursuing education from upper primary stage onwards.

2. Economic Empowerment

Employment and income generation programmes have been launched for the economic empowerment of socially disadvantaged groups.

  • The National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) provides financial and other support to beneficiaries for taking up various income generating activities.
  • The National Safai Karamchari Finance and Development Corporation (NSKFDC) provides financial and other support to safai karamcharis for taking up various income generating activities.
  • The National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC) supports various income and employment generating activities through loans, marketing support, training and so on.
  • The Scheduled Castes Development Corporations (SCDCs) finance employment oriented schemes that cover agriculture and allied activities including minor irrigation, small scale industry, transport and trade and service sector.
  • The Scheduled Tribes Development Corporations (STDCs) function as channelising agencies and extending financial and other assistance to beneficiaries. The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Ltd. (TRIFED) provides marketing assistance to STs for collection of minor forest produce and surplus agricultural produce.

3. Social Justice

The Constitution of India guarantees protection from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Some protective legislation have also been made. The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 are important.

Women Empowerment

The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian Constitution in its Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties and Directive Principles. The Constitution not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the State to adopt measures of positive discrimination in favour of women. However, there still exists a wide gap between the accepted goals and related mechanisms on the one hand and the situational reality of the status of women in India, on the other.

The access of women, particularly those belonging to weaker sections of society to education, health and productive resources is inadequate. They remain largely marginalised, poor and socially excluded. But a number of programmes are being implemented and various kinds of efforts have been made to empower women.

1. Economic Empowerment

  • Since women comprise the majority of the population below the poverty line, poverty eradication programmes are specifically addressed to their needs and problems.
  • In view of the critical role of women in the agriculture and allied sectors as producers, concentrated efforts are being made to ensure that benefits of training, extension and various programmes reach them in proportion to their numbers.
  • Comprehensive support in terms of labour legislation, social security and other support services is provided to women to enable them to participate in various industrial sectors, especially electronics, information technology, food processing, agro industry and textiles.
  • The provision of support services for women, like child care facilities, including crèches at work places and educational institutions, homes for the aged and the disabled are being improved to create an enabling environment and to ensure their full cooperation in social, political and economic life.

2. Social Empowerment

  • Efforts are being made to ensure equal access to education for women and girls, eliminate discrimination, universalise education, eradicate illiteracy, create a gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate life-long learning as well as development of occupational/vocational/technical skills by women.
  • A holistic approach to women’s health which includes both nutrition and health services is being adopted and special attention is being given to the needs of women and girls at all stages of the life cycle.
  • In view of the high risk of malnutrition and disease that women face, focused attention is being paid to meet the nutritional needs of women at all stages of the life cycle.
  • Elimination of all forms of violence against women, physical and mental, whether at domestic or societal levels, including those arising from customs, traditions or accepted practices has been getting top most priority.

3. Political Empowerment

Women have been enjoying right to vote and contest any elections ever since independence. They have right to participate equally in decision making at all levels of governance. The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the Indian Constitution have served as a breakthrough towards ensuring equal access and increased participation in political power structure by providing 33.3 % reservation of seats for women in rural and urban local bodies. This has played a central role in the process of enhancing women’s participation in public life.