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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 22 New Delhi May 19, 2018

Social Capital and Empowerment of Bahujan Bharat — Role of Agency

Sunday 20 May 2018

by Mahi Pal


The author is neither a historian nor a scholar of Bahujan which encompasses all forces except the Brahaminical Social Order (BSO). However, as a keen student of social development he has relations with various people of the community and is also associated with different organi-sations of the community. While working in the erstwhile National Commission for SCs and STs for two years, I informed myself about the problems of the marginalised groups. Almost a decade ago I was also involved in mobilisation through building awareness among them as to how they have been exploited by the established forces in the country. Besides, the author, as a student of rural governance, planning and development, has studied social movements, community engagement and social mobilisation processes in the country. Based on my under-standing of the problems of Bahujans, I have decided to write my view on social capital and empowerment of vulnerable groups in the country.

One can suggest that the empowerment of these sections may be done through diversification of agriculture which is the mainstay for their livelihood, induction in government jobs, engage-ment in business and other non-agricultural activities. There should be no denial to them as these are important for their development. But these efforts may be supplemented and complemented with social initiative and social mobilisation. The social capital, in this context, has become important to create a visible impact among them for their holistic development in the global context. Most of these people have been living in rural areas, urban areas, speaking different languages, following different cultures and religions but having the common problems of disorganisation, lack of coordination and cooperation, no active bonding, relations, interaction. It is said that although they have common problems and common enemy they do not understand as they have been in delusion due to their ignorance and habits.

In the present article, an attempt has been made to give a conceptual framework of social capital and how it would promote Bahujan empowerment.

Conceptual Framework

The concept of social capital (SC) has been an evolving one. Different scholars have defined it differently. Robert Putnam, who may be described as the father of the concept of SC, defines it as features of social organisation such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and co-operation for mutual benefit. It shows two dimensions of SC. The first is structural which consists of asso-ciations, networks, roles, rules, precedents and the second is cognitive which relates to trust, norms and beliefs. The cognitive elements of the social capital incline a person towards collective action and the structural elements of SC facilitate such action. It is in essence a fact that whatever associations of the community are in existence at the national, regional, district and sub-district levels, these have been ineffective due to lack of effective demand or collective action from the people of different castes in the Bahujan fold due to latent or dormant social capital.

 As mentioned in the beginning, the concept of SC is evolving. Woolcock in 2001 classified three forms of SC, namely, bonding, bridging and linking.

(i) The bonding form of SC may be defined as the relationship of individuals within a uniform or similar or likeness group with strong bond, which motivates, creates confidence to collaborate, supports and helps each other to fulfil their requirements.

(ii) The bridging form of SC increases social relationship between individuals to cooperate with other individuals or not uniform or heterogeneous or dissimilar groups with the purpose of optimising benefits. It is found this sortis of social relationship is comparatively weaker than the bonding form.

(iii) Linking form of SC may be defined as the relationship between individuals in the power structure in order to receive support from formal institutions. It is very necessary for successful development, provided a strong rule of law and basic political institutions exist for such capital.

It may be concluded that the concept of social capital is associated with associations and their network having the function of a coordinated social organisation to improve collective initiative. All the stakeholders associated with a particular task are networked in participation, supporting and reciprocal exchange following set norms.

 Existing Scenario

There are umpteen associations of Bahujan at different levels. There are various associations which emerged due to the anguish among them with the purpose to educate, agitate and organise the community against the system which is exploiting them. But these institutions could not sustain due to lack of leadership and intellectual capability on the part of the organisers and therefore could not deliver the desired results to the society.

It is also noticed that the class in the caste also comes in the picture and acts against the building of social capital. But where there is not much difference in the caste on the basis of the class these assertions work better and also where the leaders are mature enough there these assertions work better. But these are exceptions. Conversely, it may be stated that these institutions are in existence only for namesake. Had the meetings of these institutions been held properly it would have not only made people’s involvement possible but the process of holistic development of Bahujan would have also been activated.

Two factors have been responsible for such a plight of these institutions. First, there is no coordination between and among various institutions at different levels. Second, these institutions are themselves dormant. The social capital in the form of these institutions is in existence but not active. To put it differently, in case of the institutions which have been formed by the community leaders themselves, coordi-nation does not exist among them. Convergence among them does not take place. Rarely has the author seen some programme of a particular community which was organised in tandem with different associations in the convergence mode. This may be due to lack of awareness and lack of interest on the part of those who are expected to operationalise these associations. Egoistic attitude of the office-bearers of most of the associations is also responsible for such a situation in the country.

 There is a lack of interaction between the office-bearers of different associations at different levels in the community. If there is no regular interaction, it is on account of lack or absence of social capital in the activities of these organisations. Regular interactions, discussions, dialogue and seminars promote democratic participation of people in their development. But it is not happening mainly due to the lack of SC or a dormant SC.

How to Form/Activate New and Dormant Social Capital

However, the above mentioned deficiencies could be removed by initiating proper social mobili-sation (SM) at different levels because SM would provide an enabling environment for various stakeholders to participate in decision-making from the micro to macro levels through the meso level. In order to operationalise SM in the field, a band of activists must act as catalysts as well as facilitators. A module and reading materials have to be developed for this purpose.

In a nutshell, there does not exist coordination and cooperation in the following:

• Associations at different levels in the community;

• Organisations at various levels in the community;

• Associations of community and associations of other communities.

It may be mentioned that over a period of time, there have been discussions at different fora to activate committees of different asso-ciations and organistions for effective collective action. But not much attention has been given to make them active perhaps assuming that if these institutions become active, they will question the accountability of the Presidents and other office-bearers of the associations. Keeping in view the apathy of the office-bearers of these associations, the role of an agency, which may be individual or a group of enligh-tened persons of the community or civil society, is very important in making SC active and this in turn activates the community organisations making them effective and responsive. It may be said that where such groups are involved as watch-dogs, there these institutions work effectively. Hence, the role of the agency is important in activating the latent SC and further forming social capital in the society.

Role of the Agency

It is interesting to note that wherever there are organisations or associations, people prefer an agency which can help them in effective delivery of their services. It may be persons among its members or any other organisation which can activate different stakeholders so that they could perform their work properly. In this way, there would be proper coordination and cooperation with different connecting organisations and associations, movements etc.

The diagram given here depicts the relationship between and among development of Bahujan communities, SC and the agency. It may be seen from the diagram that SC could be activated through the agency which in turn can make the activities of the Bahujan associations effective and meaningful. In fact, promotion of social mobilisation enhances social capital and forges linkages with other formal and informal stakeholders engaged in developmental activities of Bahujan and other like-minded communities.

It may be stated that the agency’s role differs from place to place, region to region, town to town and village to village. For example, in northern India three communities of the Bahujan, namely, Jatav, Meena and Yadav may act as the agency to activate social capital in this area.


To conclude the above discussion, it may be stated that associations and organisations of the Bahujan could be made effective and responsive if there is pressure from the people to get benefits from these organisations The pressure from the people could be generated by organising them into associations, and through their networking. However, their social norms, relations and trust in each other will have to be kept in view while doing so. That could be built up by initiating the process of social mobilisation (SM) on a sustained basis. This is essential because our own experiences show that the associations and groups formed without undergoing the process of SM are in fact depleted of the linked stock of SC that is available in the society. This has happened on account of the inability or incapacity of the agency involved in formation, nurturing and sustaining the SC. Hence, the capacity of the agency may be built up in order to build the SC for effective delivery of services by different associations and organisations towards empowerment of communities in the Bahujan fold.

Dr Mahi Pal, now retired, is a former officer of the Indian Economic Services.

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