Social movements in India

Social Movements in India

This entry is part 3 of 16 in the series Communication and Social Change

Social Movements in India and the World

Social movements in India and elsewhere have shaped and continue to shape our world. We often assume that the rights we enjoy happen to exist. However, these are the results of the struggles in the past that made these rights possible. Social movements not only change societies, they also inspire other similar movements.

19th-century social reform movements against caste and gender discrimination, the nationalist movement in India that led to independence in 1947, the civil rights movement for equal rights of blacks in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, have all changed the world in fundamental ways.

Social movements in India

A social movement requires sustained collective action over time. Such action is often directed against the state and demands state policy or practice changes. Therefore, spontaneous, disorganized protests cannot be called social movements.

There must be some degree of organization in collective action. This organization may include leadership and a structure that defines how members relate to each other, make decisions, and carry them out.

Me Too Movements

Those participating in a social movement also have shared objectives and ideologies to bring about change on a public issue.

It is important to note that social movements cannot change society easily. Since it goes against vested interests and values, there is bound to be opposition and resistance. But over a period of time, changes do take place.

Distinguishing Social Change and Social Movements

Sunderlal Bahuguna
Sunderlal Bahuguna | Chipko Movement (1973)

It is important to distinguish between social change in general and social movements. Social change is continuous and ongoing. The broad historical processes of social change are countless individual and collective actions gathered across time and space. Social movements are directed towards specific goals. It involves long and continuous social effort and action by people.

Theories of Social Movements

Relative Deprivation Theory

Samuel Stouffer, a sociologist, created and popularized relative deprivation theory in his 1949 book “The American Soldier.” According to this theory, people who feel deprived of something essential in their society (e.g., money, rights, political voice, or status) will organize or join social movements dedicated to obtaining the things they feel deprived of.

Critics of this theory have argued that while perceptions of deprivation may be necessary for collective action, they are not a sufficient reason in themselves. All instances where people feel relatively deprived do not result in social movements. Additionally, the relative deprivation theory does not account for people participating in movements that do not benefit them directly.

The Collective Action Theory

This theory was first published by Mancur Olson in 1965, in his book, The Logic of Collective Action. Olson’s theory is based on the notion of the rational, utility-maximizing individual. He argues that a social movement aggregates rational individual actors pursuing their self-interest. A person will join a social movement only if he will gain something from it and the gains are greater than the risks.

Resource Mobilization Theory

In 1977, John McCarthy and Mayer Zald published a key paper outlining the ideas of resource mobilization theory. They rejected the Olson assumption that social movements comprise individuals pursuing their own interests.

The theory argues that a social movement’s success depends on its ability to mobilize resources such as leadership, organizational capacity, and communication facilities, and its effective use within the available political opportunity structure.

Types of Social Movements

There are different kinds of social movements:

  1. Redemptive
  2. Reformist
  3. Revolutionary

Redemptive Social Movement

It aims to bring about a change in the personal consciousness and actions of its individual members. For instance, Narayana Guru persuaded members of the Ezhava community in Kerala to alter their social customs.

Narayana Guru
Narayana Guru movement against caste discrimination in Kerala

Reformist Social Movements

It strives to change the existing social and political arrangements through gradual, incremental steps. The 1960s movement for reorganizing Indian states based on language and the recent Right to Information campaign are examples of reformist movements.

RTI activist Aruna Roy
RTI activist Aruna Roy protesting against RTI Amendment Bill

Revolutionary Social Movements

It attempts to radically transform social relations, often by capturing state power. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia, which overthrew the Tsar to create a communist state, and the Naxalite movement in India, which sought to remove oppressive landlords and state officials, can be described as revolutionary.

However, most movements have a mix of redemptive, reformist, and revolutionary elements.

Social Movements in India

The social movements in India are the rhythm that drives the country. These are more than just demonstrations; they represent a nation demanding progress, equality, and justice. Every social movement in India has added a stroke to the ever-changing image of the country’s history.

A few of India’s most prominent social movements and their impact on cultural change and societal progress are listed below:

Social Movements in India

The Freedom Struggle: 1857–1947

Post-Independence Movements: 1947–1980

Late 20th Century: Liberalization and Beyond: 1980–2000

The 21st Century: New Media, New Movements: 2000–Present

In the following posts, we’ll individually discuss all these social movements in India.

The CUET UG 2024 Mass Media and Communication syllabus contains this topic under the Communication section.

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