Social exclusion can be understood as a form of discrimination or a systemic process whereby individuals or a group of individuals or a minority social community in a broader sense is relegated and subjugated to discrimination from a social system and is devoid of its rights and privileges. This kind of relegation is manifested through the idea of difference, which is predominantly antagonistic.
However, to avoid such systemic discrimination and exploitation, a state bears the responsibility to ensure equal rights and privileges to the people who are dispossessed or form a disempowered minority social group. A state is supposed to act against the processes and practices through which exclusion takes place. A state acts under a legal framework whereby every citizen belonging to nation-state have equal rights and opportunities.
There are constitutional provisions and sensitisation programmes run by the governments to inculcate the idea of inclusivity amongst people of myriad socio-political, economic and identity backgrounds. A modern nation-state like India ensures inclusion by promulgating equality before the law and equal protection under the law. Furthermore, it ensures affirmative actions like reservations to various minority communities. The whole concept of social exclusion primarily focuses on individuals or group of individuals who are excluded from what we attribute as a ‘mainstream’ of a society.
However, if the concept of social exclusion is to be carefully observed, the two words that formulate as a conceptual category are paradoxical. To understand social exclusion, one has to know how society is defined.
A society can be understood as a group of people with common territory, interaction, and culture and consist of people who interact and identify with one another. It can be broadly attributed as a group of individuals unified by relations or modes of behaviour which mark them off from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour.
Society forms a subset of an entity called nation. The constituent elements that help the formation of a nation are a common territory or common race or religion or common language, common history or culture or common political aspirations or combinations of any of the elements stated above. An individual manifests or develops an allegiance to multiple identities like gender, religion, race or ethnicity.
The idea of the nation is supposed to subsume all such identities and adopt a majoritarian identity as the character of a nation. This majoritarian identity is often characteristics of the dominant elite in a nation-state. Thus, a unique characterisation that makes a nation-state of which society forms a subset is different from its neighbours and others is what is premised and leads to the idea of exclusion.
So even though the idea of ‘exclusion’ is not explicitly expressed in explicating a society but it indeed plays a definitive clandestine role in it. Every society works upon an idea of delimitation by ‘otherisation’ of certain identities that do not conform to the dominant structure or process of a society. This ‘otherisation’ can be manifested through institutions, languages, conventions, ethnicities or religion.
Therefore, the pairing up of the phenomenon ‘social’ and ‘exclusion’ is rather contradictory. Social exclusion as a phenomenon is used by a state to comprehend the marginalisation of individuals or a group of individuals within a society. However, the very understanding of a society is premised on a sense of difference from the rest and thus ‘social exclusion’ seeks to identify a phenomenon that itself is paradoxical.
The problem lies with such understanding is that this concept is used to comprehend the substantive effects of inequality and their ability to apprehend social, cultural and institutional complexities. The solution usually put forth is often economic that gives a sense of linearity to complex and multifaceted inequality issues.
So, for instance, reservations in government jobs were constitutionally promulgated in the case of India. It was done with the intent to economically strengthen the disposed and socially oppressed that will bring them to the mainstream of the society. However, even after more than seven decades of independence, caste as a social category has exacerbated and compounded into a socio-political character in India.
It is still a divisive force in Indian society which is used by the political elites for electoral gains. Now such political elites when elected, become an adjunct of the same ruling government that is an apparatus of the state. The internal border thus drawn within a nation-state by political elites are ironically assigned to work on an inherent paradoxical phenomena ‘social exclusion.’
So, what is the road ahead? Is a near realisation of Plato’s ideal state (that is premised on the foundation of justice meaning thereby to provide one with what’s due) as an answer to combat contemporary paradox in society? Not really, owing to its regimented, autocratic and elitist tendencies. The larger argument is to understand that there will be disaffected and disenchanted population in a state no matter how homogenised it is.
It is impossible to draft a nation-state where individuals possessing and manifesting multiple identities simultaneously be congruent with all other members of a state. The goal is to acknowledge the difference with a vocabulary that is not inherently paradoxical and perplexing. The term social exclusion struggles with a conceptual clarity amidst its use to locate and study the structure or process of exclusion within the framework of a nation-state.