Social Policy (Education, Ageing, Identity)

Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies, IIT Bombay > Research > Social Policy (Education, Ageing, Identity)

Material inequalities in India continue to be denied the attention it deserves. When it is addressed the meanings of inequality are diluted such that the responsibilities of policy makers rarely extend beyond ensuring a floor minimum of basic needs. Consequently, while the formerly indigent sections experience marginal improvements in living standards, the rate of concentration of wealth continues unchecked. The piling evidence of rising inequalities fuelling resentments that can be destabilizing for societies remains ignored in policy circles.
The Centre for Policy Studies intends to raise inequality as a central issue in policy dialogues in India. In addition to the problem of unethical variation in access to basic needs in unequal societies, material inequality in India is made more resilient by the membership in overlapping categories – gender, caste, religion, urban/rural, sexuality, age, and political affiliation.

Ongoing Work


Within policymaking contexts, gender is an integral category in the discourse of ‘inclusion’. The links between material inequalities and gender injustices are very rarely made; often gender becomes a term for virtue-signalling for policymakers. Under this research area CPS hopes to reveal this link between gender injustices and wealth inequalities. CPS is keen on developing gender-based critiques of existing policies and collaborating with scholars and rights-groups for making state-agencies more sensitive to well-being of sexual minorities.


CPS intends to bring ageing to policy attention and create a society that accommodates without discriminations the inevitable frailties of ageing. Social policy analysts have noted the demographic changes resulting from the reducing fertility and rising longevity is bound to require more focused policy attention on ageing. A ‘life-cycle approach’ is adopted, that traces the well-being of older persons to factors that influence the earliest stages of human life – maternal health, childhood, youth, middle age and old age. Like gender, ageism gets compounded with other forms of discrimination like sexism, casteism, and wealth inequalities.

Research Topics

Rahul Sapkal

Topic: At Risk of Precarity? Exploring the Moderating Effect of the Legal Infrastructure on Health and Wellbeing of Platform Economy Workers in India

Description: In 2018, an inter-ministerial task force reported the presence of 53,236 manual scavengers nationally and 5,75,000 municipal waste-workers across 205 municipal corporations (Bajpai, 2018). These numbers exclude the undocumented informal waste-workers. Yet, the existing scholarship on urban waste in India continues to focus on two concerns: environmental effects and sustainability, and efficiency in waste-management and governance, while overlooking how caste-based division of labour operates in the urban waste sector and its impacts on the waste-workers. This project aims to fill this lacunae in existing research by: 1] documenting how the historical relationship between caste and waste-work operates in the formal and informal waste system and 2] analysing the impacts of caste-based wastework on the socio-economic and health conditions of wasteworkers. By waste-workers we refer to both formal and informal workers, including sweepers, waste-worIndian historians have focussed on two issues related to waste: 1] How cultural differences between the British colonizers and Indians have produced different notions of garbage across different classes in modern India [Chakrbarty and Kaviraj]; and 2] How the British government in Indian cities used the existing caste-based approach to waste to institute an urban waste management system in colonial Indian cities [Masselos, EPW]. Indian scholarship from the fields of public policy, city-planning, and development studies scholarship has focussed on four issues: 1] Debates between public, private, and public-private waste-management on grounds of efficiency and democratic participation [Baud]; 2] Effects of informality on waste-workers []; 3] The best systems to reduce, reuse, and recycle solid waste; and 4] The impacts of privatization of waste-management on informal waste-workers [Gidwani]. A small scholarship has focussed on three themes relevant for this research: 1] The institutional linkages between different actors in the plastic recycling industry in Delhi and their relationship to caste identities [Gill, 2004, 2006, 2008]; and 2] An ethnographic study of waste-workers in Mumbai [Shinde]; and 3] The negligence of caste in waste-work by governmental policies [Teltumbe and Ghatade]. In addition, there exists a plethora of journalistic accounts on the debased working conditions of lower-caste manual scavengers and their resultant deathsDrawing on the existing scholarship in different disciplines, we argue that the issues of waste in general, and urban waste in particular, is located at the junction of four themes: 1] waste as a cultural construct, 2] formal and informal economies of waste recycling, 3] waste-work as stigmatised labour under caste-system, and 4] the impacts of these three on the economic, political and health mobilities of waste-workers in both formal and informal systems. However, most existing scholarship on waste and urban waste-management focuses on the first two themes, while overlooking its relationship to the later two themes. Our research aims to fill this gap in current scholarship by looking at the interrelatedness of all the four themes.

Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil
Topic: Age-Friendly Cities

Description: The twin processes of urbanization and demographic ageing has led to the ageing of cities – the proportion of older persons is projected to constitute one-fourth of urban residents in developing countries. Design of cities of the future cannot ignore this transformation. In India, negotiating urban spaces already rendered fraught for citizens as a result of structural inequalities becomes even more fraught with age-related frailties. This project is jointly supervised by the IDC School of Design and the Centre for Policy Studies of Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. The project seeks to answer a normative question – what design principles and policy practice can ensure that interests of older persons in cities of future? and design models that can aid planning for inclusive future cities. The principles and model will be tested for robustness in Mumbai, India. The insights from unequal, hierarchical and segregated urban space can possibly be extended to other countries facing the twin challenges of urbanization and ageing. The study would require a practice-based approach in designing and deploying the ageing empathy kit, conduct the in-depth user and system studies and finally evolve finding that will inform what future systems should be to be more inclusive. The finding should inform the policy makers to help convert the cities to be age-friendly and more inclusive. Age-friendliness: The WHO’s normative framework ‘age-friendly cities and communities’ (AFCC) and its critiques provide the policy dimension of the project. The critiques are drawn from critical gerontology perspective that conceives of ageing as not just a biologically process socially constructed experience that can influenced by social policy (Baars, et al, 2016). Structural inequalities as impediments to parity in participation of older persons in cities is foundational to this perspective

Topic: Democratic Backsliding, Business, and Human Rights

For some years, scholars have raised concerns that democracy as we know it is in peril. The takeover and scuttling of democratic institutions are being systematically tracked by agencies such a V-Dem, Freedom House, and The Economist. Deterioration of democracy is bound to create problems for citizens and policy makers and also analysts of government like us – every institution that influences our lives and every model of policymaking assume democratic pre-conditions. These include the free and fair elections, universal franchise, and enlightened citizenry, free press, protection of human rights, and a commitment to equality. Policymaking will no longer proceed as expected and even if they are may not work as intended if any of these necessary conditions are absent.

This research stream focuses on the role of businesses in the context of authoritarian policymaking. The research hopes to reveal how the interests of corporate sector and political elites are merging and its impact on the steady erosion of democratic institutions.