This panel will explore how existing socio-economic inequalities in India are sustained, exacerbated and challenged in the 21st century. Hierarchies of caste, class and gender persist in both rural and urban societies but are far from unchanging. At the same time, the macroeconomic shift to neoliberalism since the 1990s has unleashed new social forces in this landscape. Through papers on agriculture, land markets, informal sector workers and everyday politics in India, this panel will discuss the changing structures, actors and struggles shaping the nature of inequalities in this region of the world.
Currently considered to be the fastest growing economy in the world, India is marked by increasingly extreme social and economic inequalities. India’s overall human development indicators are considerably worse than those of other emergent economies and indicators such as child malnutrition are worse than poorer regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Hierarchies of caste, class, religion, ethnicity and gender persist in both rural and urban societies, although they are not static. At the same time, the macroeconomic shift to neoliberalism since the 1990s has unleashed new social forces in this landscape. Resistance to inequalities manifests in both major political mobilisations, such as mobilisations by farmers’ unions and Dalit-rights organisations in recent years, and in everyday forms of politics documented by many scholars. This panel will explore how existing socio-economic inequalities in India are sustained, exacerbated and challenged in the 21st century. The first paper will explore the everyday struggles of street vendors in Mumbai. Through an ethnographic study of their livelihoods and interaction with the state, the paper will present a glimpse of the inequalities embedded in India’s urban informal sector. The second paper moves the discussion to the rural landscape of north India. It studies how the accumulation strategies of capitalist farmers in Punjab have changed under a liberalised policy regime, especially in terms of their negotiation of agricultural markets. Through these two cases, the panel will discuss how the changing structures, actors and struggles are shaping the nature of inequalities in India today.