India is often referred to as a sub-continent due to its geographical size, diversity and population of over a billion. Its diversity is reflected in its many ethnic groups, languages, cultures and faiths.
It is hailed as the world’s largest democracy and an emerging global power, but the powerful interplay of caste, ethnicity, patriarchy and feudalism create deep-rooted divisions that deny equal rights and opportunities to all.
Exclusion and discrimination
Poverty in India is not just economic: it is also closely linked to social factors. Particular tribes and castes (known as Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes) and some religious minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty driven by discrimination and exclusion.
These groups are deprived of access to resources and services, assets and opportunities, dignity and the ability to participate equally in development. Women and children from socially excluded communities are the most affected.
Positive government and public sector actions to address centuries-old discrimination have made some progress and the Indian constitution provides safeguards to protect Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes from marginalisation. But when excluded groups attempt to access their rights and entitlements, they still often face a serious backlash, human rights violations, and increasing atrocities amid a culture of impunity.
The intensity and scale of poverty among socially excluded communities is maintained and reinforced by established social norms, beliefs and attitudes around caste, ethnicity, class, religion and gender.
India faces natural disasters that affect several million people every year. The country’s coastline is prone to cyclones, heavy rains, floods and the occasional tsunami, while drought affects millions of farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture.
Most of northern India is susceptible to earthquakes and landslides. The growing uncertainties due to climate change have increased the vulnerability of communities in these areas.
The pressure on natural resources such as land, water, forests and minerals is mounting. The expanding demand for land has put undue strain on agriculture that may have a further impact on food security.
In the past two decades, India has witnessed caste, ethnic and communal conflicts, putting its delicate social fabric under constant pressure. Excluded communities and women are the worst affected by these challenges.
Universal access to basic and essential services – such as quality education, clean drinking water and sanitation, affordable healthcare and housing – continues to present a huge challenge.