Experience shows that almost all societies of the world are divided or stratified into classes. Great thinkers and scholars have pondered over this issue since times immemorial. Social stratification may happen on account of economic, social, religious or even political reasons.
In modern democratic societies, deep rooted societal divisions may cause mis-representation or under-representation of desires and aspirations of the disadvantaged groups of people. This leads to a process of translocation of aspirations.
Condition of India’s downtrodden seems to most pronounced in this respect, as the deep and antiquated stratification of Hindu society is virtually institutionalized by religious sanction. The Indian caste system affects the articulation of aspirations, especially of the long suppressed classes.
In the post-independence era, even though India adopted a new forward-looking constitution, downtrodden section still appear to be suppressed. This is so despite despite adoption of several progressive measures.
This phenomenon is perhaps most evident, in the operations of grass-root democratic institutions in India’s Panchayat Raj.
It is the experience of administrators all over India that the village level Panchayat elections are most difficult to conduct, as these elections experience maximum amount of electoral malpractices and violence.
As Indian rural society is organized on the basis of rigid caste lines, one witnesses the ‘vitriolic’ nature of Panchayat elections.
Community feeling seems to be very weak at village level. There is a pre-dominance of caste and clan loyalty. The entire concept of universal adult suffrage is transposed as ‘caste suffrage’. Though it may be debated that the right of free adult franchise is available to every Indian citizen, in reality it is the caste groups that decide the direction of the right of franchise.
Thus, in Indian social reality, caste aspirations are transposed onto individuals. Elections are fought and won on caste line, not only at village level but this is the stark reality in state as well as parliamentary elections.
Coming back to Panchayat level elections, owing to the hierarchical nature of caste system, it is quite apparent that superior caste groups enjoy an edge in an electoral contest.
The superior caste groups are generally able to muscle their way into positions of power at the Panchayat level. Once this happens, they are able to hijack the agenda of development at the local level.
Very often, powerful higher caste groups transpose their own aspiration forcibly upon not-so-powerful sections, thereby denying basic rights to large portions of population.
As an illustration, if a metaled road is to be built out of the Panchayat funds, it is more likely that the road would be built in the areas occupied by the dominant castes, instead of areas occupied by the weaker sections, where the road may actually be required.
Such instances occur on an everyday basis all over the country. Aspirations of weaker groups are denied. These may be translocated and hijacked as aspiration of stronger caste group.
The phenomenon, where the desires and aspirations of weaker sections of society are translocated and usurped by the politically powerful groups, may be referred to as the “Refraction of Aspirations”.
The phenomenon may occur at two levels – one at the individual level, where the aspirations of powerful caste groups over-ride the aspirations of the individual members of that caste, and second, where the superior and powerful caste groups over-ride the aspirations of entire inferior or lower caste groups.
Refraction of aspirations causes a distortion in the smooth functioning of democracy. It is also felt that as the foreign-inspired political system does not harmonize well with the social reality, the phenomenon is exacerbated and appears to be more pronounced in India.
The question then arises: How can a political system succeed where the fundamental aspirations of the individuals within a group, and entire groups of disadvantaged persons is constantly trans-located?
It is felt that the polity can address the problem of refraction of aspirations in a number of ways.
One may be by bringing about a deep-rooted, widespread and a fundamental change in the society, so that stratification of the society is diluted. This may be affected through socio-religious reform movements. There have been several such instances in India in the past.
Second may be through a widespread and inclusive economic empowerment of the weaker groups. There have been several such success stories in India, such as the wonderful achievement of the cooperative movement in Gujarat.
Third may be by affecting political change through laws, as been the case of empowerment of weaker sections through elections and political action.
Fourth may be through administrative action where resources are channelized specifically towards the benefits of the suppressed classes of people.
However, most of the above choices are extremely difficult options for governments around the world. It is not easy for authorities, on account of a variety of reasons, to address such issues effectively in theory, and even more tough to achieve in real practice.
Even though constitutions around the world seem to profess a great deal of idealism and utopian objectives, it seems that when it comes down to actual implementation of corrective measures on ground, there seems to be more lip service than actual action.
It may therefore be concluded that there may be an urgent need in modern democratic nations for governments to focus on countering the phenomenon of Refraction of Aspirations.
A need is felt in the present times, especially in developing nations like India, that the political system of such countries should engage in undertaking large-scale people’s action, to address the problem of Refraction of Aspirations.