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…., nearly all ‘new social movements’ have emerged as corrective to new maladies – environmental degradation, violation of the status of women, destruction of tribal cultures and the undermining of human rights – none of which are in and by themselves transformative of the social order. They are in that way quite different from revolutionary ideologies of the past. But their weakness lies in their being so heavily fragmented. …… …. …….a large part of the space occupied by the new social movements seem to be suffering from.. various characteristics which have prevented them from being relevant to the truly oppressed and the poor in the form of a solid unified movement of the people. They are too fragmented, reactive, ad hocish, providing no comprehensive framework of basic social change. Their being anti-this or that (anti-West, anti-capitalist, anti-development, etc) does not make them any more coherent, any more relevant to oppressed and peripheralized communities. — Rajni Kothari

(a) What is the difference between new social movements and revolutionary ideologies?
(b) What according to the author are the limitations of social movements?
(c) If social movements address specific issues, would you say that they are ‘fragmented’ or that they are more focused? Give reasons for your answer by giving examples.

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(a) The author identifies the difference between the social movements and the revolutionary ideologies that existed in the past, for instance the Communist ideology.

The revolutionary ideology believed in total change in the social structure by means of violence and armed rebellion. It represented a critique of the existing social structure and desired complete overhaul of the system.
Social movements, on the other hand, seek to address a particular issue, be it environment, women or tribal groups. Although none of them seeks total transformation of the social structure, they indeed represent a change in the existing system of relationships, values and norms concerning them. They do not have rigid programmes based on set ideologies for the society.

(b) The author identifies the following weaknesses of social movements:

1. Most of the social movements suffer with the problem of exclusiveness; they are preoccupied with their own particular issues of struggle. Efforts are rarely made for joint action, consolidating itself into a unified movement of the people transcending different issues they seek to represent.

2. They are too fragmented, reactive and temporary in nature. They represent a sporadic occurrence against the existing social order but their influence generally withers away with time. They become too isolated in their functioning and approach.

3. If social movements are unable to press for a change, influence party politics or attain something substantial, they lose their impact and mass-support base.

(c) There are a large number of social movements that reflect diverse issues as they reflect people’s disenchantment with the existing political system. In fact, their increased assertion of rights and political mobilization has been the most significant trend in Indian politics.

Presently, social movements have to face a harsh dilemma. Most of the social movements are too specific in their approach. For example, Dalit-based movements may only focus on caste-based contradictions and rarely focus on other issues like land relations, gender based inequalities, etc. They are criticised of being too fragmented in their approach, rarely bringing about a change; therefore, it is argued that social movements must align themselves with more explicit movements to bring about a genuine change.

But the very strength of a movement lies in raising specific issues and then gradually becoming broader in its character. For example, the anti-arrack movement started to demand ban on the sale of arrack and gradually brought other issues related to domestic violence and gender inequality within its fore.

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