All societies undergo changes. In some cases these may be gradual, i.e., spread over a long period of time. In others they may be rapid. Social change, as we know by now, does not take place merely by chance or due to some factors predetermined by fate. There are several forces operating simultaneously in society, which bring about change. Some of these may be external to social institutions. Changes caused by a change in the economy or the production relations are one such instance. At the same time, there are change- producing agents inside a society as well. Social movements are one of these internal forces, which contribute to changes.
A social movement is defined as “sustained collective action” over time. * Such action is often directed against the state and takes the form of demanding changes in state policy or practice. * Such collective action is often marked by organisation. Spontaneous, disorganised protest cannot be called a social movement. * This organisation may include a leadership and a structure that defines how the members relate to one another, make decisions and carry them out. Those participating in a social movement have shared objectives and ideologies. * The social movements are designed to promote change or resist change in the society in which the attempt is made. So collective attempt may be to alter, inaugurate, supplant, restore or reinstate all or some aspects of the social order.
In the recent literature, a distinction is often made between old and new social movements. This distinction is often stipulated on the ground that while old social movements are generally class-based and concerned with issues of economic redistribution, the new social movements (NSMs) are commonly a feature of post-industrial or “postmodern” societies. They are not narrowly caste based and generally raise questions like ecological protection and climate change or hitherto neglected issues of gender, justice, sexuality etc. However this distinction is neither precise nor universally valid. Old social movements were class based such as working class movements and peasant movements or anti-colonial movements.
NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS (NSMs) New social movements are the products of a post-industrial social formation where the welfare state had made classic forms of exploitation and deprivation obsolete but where modern society created new forms of alienation. These movements demonstrated that class had become redundant as organising form of social identity and action. Some of the recent movements particularly in and after the 1960s in Europe such as peace movement, ecological movement, women’s movement etc. are called ‘new’ social movement. In India, enormous increase of middle class and in student population as well as a surge of political activism in the 1970s and 1980s engendered a new phenomenon, described as new social movements.
These movements revolve around the issue of identity – dalit, adivasi, women, human rights, environment etc. They are called ‘new’ social movements because they have raised the issues related to identity and autonomy which are non-class issues and do not confront with the state. Issues that animate NSMs are less concerned with economic production and redistribution than with removal of corruption, protection of environment, provision of civic utilities, gender equality and child rights, employment , rights of the most vulnerable and marginalised section of population like those living in hilly and forest areas and victims of big dams. Good governance and human rights generally are other areas where NSMs are much in evidence.
Characteristics of New Social Movements are described below:
1. The New Social Movements (NSM) are not directing their collective action to state power. They are concerned with individual and collective morality. Individual membership or participation and motivation in all sorts of social movements contain a strong moral component and defensive concern with justice in the social and world order. These movements are primarily social and are more concerned with cultural sphere and mobilisation of civil society on socio-cultural issues than with the political issues like seizure of power.
2. The new social movements are not class–based. They are multi-class. In fact, they do not subscribe to the theory that society is divided on class line and the classes are antagonistic. The new social movements are either ethnic or nationalist and plural. Women’s movement is an example. NSMs are not concerned for the benefit of one class or group. They are concerned for the good of every one irrespective of class.
3. The new social movements are confined to and concerned with civil society. NSMs raise the issue of the ‘self-defence’ of the community and society against the increasing expansion of the state apparatuses: agencies of surveillance and social control.
4. NSMs are not around economic issues of land, wages or property. They are primarily concerned with self- identity and autonomy of an individual and community against the state, market and social institutions. Therefore, dalit movement for dignity and adivasis movement for their autonomy are treated as NSM.
5. These movements tend to focus on single issues, transient questions, regional and local issues and even sectional interests (which are aimed towards narrow identities than larger objective interests) for this reason they are often called “micro movements”. they catch on the long felt needs of locals and masses at the disempowered grassroots in the top heavy political and economic systems of India.
6. NSM organisations tend to be segmented, diffuse and decentralised.
7. New social movements tend to focus on issues that cross national boundaries, and hence they become internationalist. Environmental movements, LGBT Movement are examples of NSMs that transcend international borders. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and New Social Movements on the national and Global planes have flourished as never before.
Various New social Movements in India
Environmental Movement The Indian environmental movement is critical of the colonial model of development pursued by the post–colonial state. The post–independent state failed to build up a development agenda based on the needs of the people and continued to advocate the modern capitalist agenda which led to the destruction of environment, poverty and marginalisation of rural communities. The environmental movement in India advocated the ideology of ‘environmentalism of the poor’.
It not only critised modern developmentalism but also strongly advocated the revival of traditional ‘self –sufficient village economy’. The environmentalist stated that local communities were best suited to conserve natural resources as their survival depended in the sustainable use of such resources. A significant characteristic of environmental movements in India is that they have mainly involved the women, the poor and disadvantaged masses who have been directly affected by or are victims of environmental degradation.
Thus, these movements are primarily political expressions of the struggle of local communities and people who are victims of environmental degradation or abuse of resources. The origin of modern environmentalism and environmental movements in India can be ascribed to the Chipko movement in the central Himalayan region. Chipko as a spontaneous movement started in the early 70s and got organized under the able leadership of Sunderlal Bahuguna. It was ignited by the opposition of the people of the Tehri-Garhwal region to the felling of trees by outside contractors. In the Himalayan regions, forests form an indispensable source of livelihood for the tribal population living there. Chipko literally means ‘hugging’ the trees.
The movement articulated the concerns of forest-based communities such as depletion of forests, erosion of soil and consequent landslides, drying up of local streams and other water resources and shortages of fuel and fodder for domestic consumption. It also fought against the construction of the Tehri dam which threatened the eviction of around 25,000 hilly residents. Though the movement has not succeeded in all its endeavours, it has achieved some commendable victories.
Getting ban on felling trees above an altitude of 1000m and forcing the government to announce certain forest areas as protected regions are some of the successes of the movement. Chipko, being a non-violent resistance movement, embodies the Gandhian spirit of struggle. Chipko movement inspired green cover movements elsewhere in the country, the most important being the Appiko movement in the Western Ghats against the over-felling of trees and covering forest lands with commercial trees replacing the natural ones. Like the Chipko, the Appiko movement revived the Gandhian way of protest and mobilisation for sustainable society in which there is a balance between man and nature.
The other popular movements of importance in India, which have environmental protection as one of their objectives, relate to major dams. Notable among them are Tehri Dam, Silent Valley Project and Narmada Valley Projects. In fact, the most popular movement in the environmental history of India is the movement against the Narmada River Valley Project called Narmada Bachao Andolan. Though the movement started as early as late 1970s, along with the clearance of the project, it received momentum only during late 1980s. To start with, this movement was cantered around the issue of human rights. Due to improper implementation of the rehabilitation programmes by the State the human rights activists have become the articulators of anti-dam protests.
Their demands included complete stopping of the dam, resettlement and rehabilitation benefits to the oustees. These demands were aptly supported by environmentalists who oppose construction of large dams for ecological reasons. The movement, however, gained wider public attention with mobilization and organization of oustees (mostly tribals ) and the joining of the eminent social workers like Baba Amte, Sunderlal Bahuguna and Medha Patkar. Though its wider public attention is due to its coverage (impact) in three states, the most notable feature of this movement is the international support it has received.
The campaign forced international financial agencies like World Bank and USAID to withdraw funding for the project. While this Gandhian movement could not stop the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, it did force the states concerned- Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh- to address the issue of rehabilitation of the displaced more seriously than before. Thus environmental and ecological movements became prominent in India since the 1970s.The issues raised by them concern all sections of society in varying degrees. These issues are also related to people’s dignity, environmental rights and their decision-making rights on the issues concerning them.
Women’s Movement Throughout the period after independence the prevailing view was that development, industrialization and economic growth would deliver the results as they had been seen elsewhere in the developed world; all would be beneficiaries of development, women included. This soon proved not to hold true in the Indian society. A report from the Committee on the Status of Women in India released in 1974 showed that not only had the conditions for women in India not improved, for many women, especially the poor, the conditions had worsened. Gender differences had become greater in political participation, education, health and employment.
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed the growth of numerous women’s groups that took up issues such as dowry deaths, bride burning, rape and sati and focused on violence against women. They stressed the sexual oppression of women in a way previous reform or feminist groups had never done. Some of the earliest autonomous women’s groups were the Progressive Organization of Women (POW, Hyderabad), the Forum Against Rape (now redefined as Forum Against Oppression of Women), Stree Sangharsh and Samata (Delhi). Among the first campaigns that women’s groups took up was the struggle against rape in 1980. This was triggered by the judgment of the Supreme Court to acquit two policemen who were accused of raping a minor tribal girl, Mathura, despite the fact that the High Court had indicted them.
This led to country- wide demonstrations. Several other rape cases became part of this campaign that culminated after several years of protest in Government agreeing to change the existing rape law. The amended law was enacted in 1983 after long discussions with women’s groups. The POW in Hyderabad organized new and fresh protests against dowry. In the late 1970s, Delhi became the focus of the movement against dowry and the violence inflicted on women in the marital home. Groups, which took up the campaign, included ‘Stree Sangharsh’ and ‘Mahila Dakshita Samiti’. Later, a joint front called the ‘Dahej Virodhi Chetna Mandal’ (organization for creating consciousness against dowry) was formed under whose umbrella a large number of organizations worked. The anti-dowry campaign attempted to bring social pressure to bear on offenders so that they would be isolated in the community in which they lived. Women’s organizations also succeeded in getting the dowry law changed.
There were several campaigns in the eighties relating to women’s rights. Among them was a campaign, in 1985, in support of the Supreme Court judgment in the divorce case where Shah Bano, a Muslim woman, had petitioned the Court for maintenance from her husband under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Act and the Court granted her demand. The orthodox Muslims, however, protested against interference with their personal law. In 1986, the government introduced the Muslim Women’s (Protection of Rights in Divorce) Bill denying Muslim women redress under Section 125. Women’s associations protested against this outside Parliament. The Committee of the Status of Women also stated in its report that seats should be reserved for women in municipalities, and proposed that panchayats should include women to secure a minimum percentage of female participation.
In 1993 this was adopted nationally when the Constitution Act 1992 (73rd Amendment) and The Constitution Act 1992 (74th Amendment) were passed, relating reservations for women to panchayats and municipalities. One-third of seats in all panchayats and municipalities nationwide, as well as one-third of the position of being chairpersons in the bodies, were reserved for women .The reservations acts were passed without any opposition in the Parliament, and with only a minor debate. However, the bill on Women’s reservation in Parliament has not yet been passed. Over the years it has become clear that changing laws alone means little unless there is a will to implement them and unless there is education and literacy which makes women aware of their rights and allows them to exercise them effectively.
It was this realization that has led the women’s movement to take up, in a more concerted manner, programmes of legal literacy and education, gender sensitization of textbooks and media. The issues today are sexual harassment at the work place, the violence of development, caste and communal violence, lobbying for increased political participation of women in the highest levels of decision-making, etc. The success of the women’s movement has not been in the number of women appointed to office or in the number of laws passed but in the fact that it has brought about a new consciousness on the entire question of women in Indian society.