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Social Cohesion, Social Inequality and Social Participation in India: an Approach from Women’s Perspectives


  • Protap Mukherjee

    (Ph.D. Scholar, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi – 110 067, India. Contact Mobile +91 99684 81519)


The concept of social cohesion has received great political and research attention at the national and supranational levels in developed countries. At the national level, Canadian Government and at the supranational level, the OECD, the World Bank and European Commission are dealing with the issues of social cohesion (Berger-Schmitt, 2002). The OECD and the World Bank, both have considered the importance of social cohesion factors in economic development and growth (Ritzen, 2000). Chan (2006) rightly said that social cohesion comes from policy makers and social policy analysts. Although the concept of social cohesion is associated with developmental process, there are regrettably existences of many concepts of social cohesion (Stanley, 2001). According to Jensen (1998), ‘social cohesion is that there is no single way of even defining it. Jensen identified five dimensions of social cohesion: 1) belonging vs. isolation, 2) inclusion vs. exclusion, 3) participation vs. non-involvement, 4) recognition vs. rejection and 5) legitimacy vs. illegitimacy. McCracken (1998) conceptualized social cohesion as characteristics of a society dealing with the connections and relations between individuals, groups, and territorial units. According to the Department of Canadian Heritage (2001) defined ‘a cohesive and inclusive society depends on respects for all ethnic groups and fullest participation of all citizens in civic life’. Berger-Schmitt (2000) has adopted a means-end approach in conceptualizing social cohesion, effectively defining the concept in terms of the conditions – more social capital combined with less inequality and exclusion – more social capital combing with less inequality and exclusion. Duhaime (2004) have also provided a very detailed framework for measuring social cohesion – presence of social capital, demographic stability, social inclusion, economic inclusion, community quality of life and individual quality of life. Beauvis and Jenson (2002) have also identified five different possible conceptions of social cohesion: 1) social cohesion as common values and a civic culture, 2) social cohesion as social order and social control; 3) social cohesion as social solidarity and reduction in wealth disparities; 4) social cohesion as social networks and social capital; and 5) social cohesion as place attachment and identity. Lockwood’s (1999) definition of the social cohesion based on a state of strong primary networks at communal level (Gough and Olofsson, 1999). According to Boyle and Hoyle (2001), social cohesion has two perspectives: objective and perceived. The former refers to some objective attribute of the group as a whole, and this involves some composite measures based on each member’s self reported closeness to other members in the group. Perceived cohesion, on the other hand, is a function of each member’s perception of his own standing in the group. Chan (2006) defined social cohesion in a very different way. According to them, social cohesion ‘is a state of affairs concerning both vertical and the horizontal interactions among members of society as characterized by a set of attitudes and norms that includes trust, sense of belongingness and the willingness to participate and help as well as their behavioural manifestations’. Recently Club de Madrid (2007) prefers to use the term shared societies over social cohesion. According to their definition “a ‘Shared Society’ is a socially cohesive society. It is stable, safe. It is where all those living there feel at home. It respects everyone’s dignity and human rights while providing every individual with equal opportunity. It is tolerant. It respects diversity. A Shared Society is constructed and nurtured through strong political leadership.” But whatever the definitions of social cohesion exist, it has been found that having a high degree of social cohesion contributes measurably to economic growth and investment, to good governance, health and social security (Stanley, 2003, Maxwell, 1996). There are no empirical studies have been found on social cohesion in India. Though there is an utmost need to consider social cohesion in policy making. India, the second most populous country in the world, consists of 29 states and seven Union Territories. This is the home for people speaking more than 200 different languages, 22 among these have been selected as scheduled languages in India. This country is abode for more than 600 scheduled tribes and Scheduled Castes and ST together comprise more than 24% of India's population. On the other hand, while India is being considered as one of the fastest growing economy in the world, majority of population does not uniformly share the benefits of development that the top decile of the population enjoys due to the presence of widespread inequality in education, income, health, power and overall development. Contemporary literatures show that there is presence of significant religious and caste differentials in all developmental process in India. India’s huge ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and widespread economic and social inequality result into political and social unrest in some parts of India. It has been observed that political and social turmoil are associated with certain groups of people who are found to be less socially cohesive and victims of social inequality. Literatures also reveal that the levels of social participation are also less among people belong to certain castes and religions. Overall development in India could not be achieved without overall development for all groups of people irrespective of their religions, castes and genders. Social cohesion in India could not be achieved without overall development for all groups of people irrespective of regions, religions, castes and genders. According to United Nations (2004), women are equally important as men in the process of development. As our assimilation process into the society have been started in childhood with mother’s advice, care and belief, the role of women in social cohesion and development of a country can easily be inferred. Unfortunately, in India, women are discriminated in all fields. Poor health, less education, low autonomy, minimum buying capacity, wide discrimination make them more vulnerable groups in India. Women’s overall development is linked with country’s overall development which in turn is important predicting factor for different levels of social cohesion. With this hypothesis, in this paper, social cohesion has been defined and measured from women’s perspective; attempt has been taken to study its levels and patterns by different social groups and regions, and to examine influence of social cohesion on development (social inequality and participation). In this paper, with these perspectives, an attempt has been made to study the linkages among social cohesion, social inequality and social participation among women in India.

Suggested Citation

  • Protap Mukherjee, 2012. "Social Cohesion, Social Inequality and Social Participation in India: an Approach from Women’s Perspectives," Working Papers 2012/27, Maastricht School of Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:msm:wpaper:2012/27

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