Being socially excluded is both about status and self-perception. In Nepal, the issue of social exclusion has been reduced to identity. Again, the issue of identity has been reduced to caste, ethnicity and geographical location. Overemphasis on such identity has diluted the importance of capabilities for human development and governance.
Nepal is a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, but at the same time, it is argued that the ‘melting pot’ concept of inclusion is not a pragmatic approach in the face of Nepal’s diversity and disparities. I also argue that the issue of identity is a long-term struggle as it cannot be solely addressed by constitutional and legal means. While we continue our struggle on identity, we should advance human development and governance as important dimensions of social inclusion to ending poverty and inequality.
The origin of the concept of social exclusion can be traced back to the eighteenth century Enlightenment in France, which emphasized solidarity and the idea of the state as the embodiment of the will of the nation: a will encapsulated in the revolutionary demands for “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”.The concept of social exclusion became increasingly prominent in Western Europe in the latter part of the twentieth century. Although less salient in other global regions, it diffused from the Northern Hemisphere to the South from the early 1990s.
Social exclusion is not static. Social exclusion deprives people of the opportunity to participate in social, economic and civic processes, and limits their ability to lead productive, creative lives in accordance with their needs and interests beyond the issue of material poverty. Socially excluded people find themselves confined to the fringes of society.In this sense, social inclusion is both an end and a means of enabling people and community to fully participate in society. Inclusion of the excluded is an outcome and a process of empowering the poor, oppressed and people in crisis.
Taking social inclusion in this perspective, inclusion of the excluded has three major dimensions. They are intricately linked.
First, Human Development Index, which is about expanding capabilities by our own efforts and by the institutions and conditions of our society to equitably access human well-being: health, education and income. This is the foremost requirement of social inclusion in Nepal and there is a need for long-term policy commitment to social inclusion to expand people’s choices, capabilities and freedoms.Let’s make the public services work for health care, education,employment and law enforcement. Absence of such services may increase vulnerabilities and limit choices, and one can be socially excluded as an individual or a group. Let us ensure public social safety-net programs for poor and vulnerable, and effectiveness of humanitarian response meeting the needs of people in crisis. This is social inclusion.
Second, Governance Index, which is about enabling people’s participation and representation at all levels in governance structure. In Nepal, people are excluded from taking advantage of an opportunity partly because of deliberate policy or practice in society (active exclusion), and partly as a result of a complex web of social or bureaucratic processes in which there are no deliberate attempts to exclude (passive exclusion). In both cases, the traditional attitudes of related stakeholders remain as one of the major barriers to people's participation in governance. Let us work toward removing potential active and passive exclusions in the governance structures and processes initially through affirmative actions for historically excluded groups. In the short term, reservation could help numerically to bridge the gaps. For sustainable results, merit should take over numeric adjustments in the long-run. We will require focusing on increasing access to quality education, promoting diversity and generating employment with strong rule of law. This is social inclusion.
Third, Identity, last but not the least, which is about empowering people. In psychological sense, it is about empowering self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence irrespective of caste, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief. And, in political sense, it is about empowering people’s participation in decisions that affect their lives and the future. Caste, ethnicity and geographical location matter as identity. But we need to be mindful that people have multiple identities, and identity is not fixed. Our identity is continuously shaped by our environment in which we live and our interaction with different people. Let us promote development that is people-centered, where people are the beneficiaries and also the agents of change, both as individuals and as groups. This is social inclusion.
Social inclusion is not a zero-sum-game. Things have changed and will continue to change. Let’s promote acceptance, harmony and coherence among three dimensions of social inclusion: human development, governance and identity for inclusion of the excluded. Social inclusion is multidimensional and we all have the responsibility to make it work as individual and as a group.
Dr.Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org