India has experienced a whole array of social movements involving women, peasants, dalits, adivasis, and others. Can these movements be understood as ‘new social movements’? Gail Omvedt in her book Reinventing Revolution points out that concerns about social inequality and the unequal distribution of resources continue to be important elements in these movements. Peasant movements have mobilised for better prices for their produce and protested against the removal of agricultural subsidies. Dalit labourers have acted collectively to ensure that they are not exploited by upper-caste landowners and money-lenders. The women’s movement has worked on issues of gender discrimination in diverse spheres like the workplace and within the family.
At the same time, these new social movements are not just about ‘old’ issues of economic inequality. Nor are they organised along class lines alone. Identity politics, cultural anxieties and aspirations are essential elements in creating social movements and occur in ways that are difficult to trace to class-based inequality. Often, these social movements unite participants across class boundaries. For instance, the women’s movement includes urban, middle-class feminists as well as poor peasant women. The regional movements for separate statehood bring together different groups of people who do not share homogeneous class identities. In a social movement, questions of social inequality can occur alongside other, equally important, issues.