In 1991 Indian economic planners officially embarked on a path of macro-economic reform that seemed to jettison the legacy of nationalist protection and redistributive focus that had seen the national economy grow very modestly for the previous four decades. Like other parts of the world that experienced structural adjustment programs or other deep cuts to the developmental state, India, in the last two decades, has also battled perceptions and real shifts that have exacerbated social inequality in the aftermath of liberalization. It is a measure of the anxiety that these shifts have caused to governing coalitions that the National Democratic Alliance lost office in 2004 despite presiding over some of the most spectacular GDP growth India experienced in its entire history. And its successor, the United Progressive Alliance, has reinvented social development investment on an unprecedented scale since 2005 with employment guarantee schemes more ambitious than any seen in the earlier far more overtly socialist period, and plans to greatly expand public spending on essential services and social security or insurance. General elections in 2014, or earlier, will provide a public assessment of the debate on growth with distribution that has gained new currency in the last decade in India. So, we propose, as some state elections conclude, to review this debate in an international conference at Yale.
When we meet in April 2013 we will not merely discuss macroeconomic policy and its evaluations, but explore the connections between inequality and mobility – how one produces the other, and hierarchies change as the people affected by them become footloose. Migrations, especially, circular migrations, are on the increase – providing evidence of enduring poverty, but of also new horizons of opportunity. And as people circulate, their social networks are also altered. Family, neighborhood, community, professional association, and friendship take new forms, becoming differently salient in the reproduction of the individual and the collectivities to which men and women, youth and elders, belong over time. As prevailing norms are challenged they also win inflexible support from influential community leaders. This leads to conflict, violence and regimes of enforcement that are extremely harsh. Thus, changing conditions of inequality, and mobility, have also brought new forms of benign and brutal sociality in the most intimate circles of family and caste.
Broader political formations which may be assessed through caste or ethnic identification or the rise of regional parties or organizations explicitly articulating the aspirations of historically marginalized groups remind us that potentially revolutionary changes in sociality are underway in the public domain as well. And these political expressions and mobilizations may be evidence of the combination of physical and social mobility that is currently manifest in everything from insurgencies in northeast India or central Indian forest regions, or the rise of urban middle classes and poor in support of the anticorruption movements symbolized by Anna Hazare and his fasts.
Some of the themes around which discussion will take place over the three days of the conference include:
- - an overview of scholarship on inequality in India
- hunger, scarcity and vulnerability
- changing aspirations and opportunities associated with development
- media, public culture, and identity
- new forms of sociality created by people as they move