In determining India's future, Britain's focus on the Congress Party and Muslim League diverts attention from social and religious minorities. Communal violence mounts over conflicting visions of an independent India.
India's poverty and social indicators are among the world's worst. Partition unleashes a wave of violence, misery, and loss of life and property, as millions flee Pakistan for India and vice versa. Discrimination against the "scheduled," or socially disadvantaged, castes and tribes (referred to by Gandhi as "harijan") is prohibited by the constitution, but discrimination remains entrenched.
Violence continues following the reorganization of states along linguistic lines. New legal reforms to emancipate women are poorly enforced. One of the first family-planning efforts in the developing world begins. The government grants Dalits, a caste representing 16 percent of India's growing population, additional protections against discrimination, despite protests from the upper castes.
The high rate of population growth severely hinders economic development. The government launches anti-poverty programs, including food subsidies and rural self-employment, but poverty rates fluctuate with no clear trend, and food shortages accentuate inequality. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution extends existing affirmative-action measures until 1980.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, seeking to eliminate poverty, pursues land reform and places ceilings on personal income, private property, and corporate profits. But a rupee devaluation aggravates famine, labor unrest, and misery among the poor. Activists form social movements to represent the interests of farmers, women, and environmentalists. National civil disobedience marks 1974.
During the two-year state of emergency, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi implements several controversial social measures, including forced sterilization for the poor and eviction of urban squatters. Half of India's population remains in poverty, but poverty incidence begins to decline. The Fifth Five-Year Plan includes programs to improve access to health care among the rural poor.
A controversial report recommends that 27 percent of all government jobs and university admissions go to "backward classes," who represent 52 percent of the population. The proposal is not immediately accepted. The Sixth Five-Year Plan aims at training health workers and controlling communicable diseases. Parliament endorses the National Health Policy, criticized for its lack of specific measures.
The government tries to expand access to basic social services and redirect industry to "backward areas." The National Policy on Education initiates programs aimed at improving the country's education system. The central government funds an increasing number of family-planning programs. The economy is unable to generate sufficient jobs for the rapidly growing labor force.
Prime Minister V.P. Singh supports the affirmative-action proposals of 1980, triggering riots in the North. Many of the unemployed join militant religious groups, rekindling Hindu-Muslim tensions that culminate in violent riots in 1992. While 38 percent are still in poverty, India's growing middle class contributes to and benefits from the country's thriving high-technology industry.
Noticeable improvement in several social indicators, including literacy and infant mortality rates, is limited primarily to urban areas. Poverty worsens following poor harvests and implementation of the 1991 stabilization policies. In particular, relative neglect of the agricultural sector, in favor of industry, contributes to the perpetuation of rural poverty.
Sustained economic growth between 5 and 6 percent still falls short of the 8 percent rate considered necessary to put a dent in poverty. An earthquake in the Northern state of Gujarat kills 20,000 people and leaves 600,000 homeless. Hindu fundamentalism is on the rise; the government is accused of complicity with right-wing Hindu groups that seek to rewrite Indian history.
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