Inclusion is Exclusion without Empowerment


Inclusion of citizens in planning processes generally and decision-making situations specifically have become integral to planning practice in India. From plan making to plan implementation, inclusion of people is seen to be crucial as it enhances acceptability of planning policies. To further the ends of inclusive polity, Government of India handed over planning function to duly elected local bodies through two significant amendments to the Constitution of India in 1992. To some extent these efforts have contributed to the democratization of planning by providing political opportunities to women and discriminated social classes as some of them have been able to achieve positions of leadership and responsibility. In many villages Panchesand Sarpanches from these classes have been looked upon to bring development projects to villages. Policy makers believe that inclusion is empowering, and hope that it could I bring about societal changes benefiting the excluded and marginalized communities. In many cases inclusion is indeed “empowering but this could not be conceived as the universal principal for bringing about empowerment. In this small commentary, I would like to advance the thesis that there is no difference between inclusion and exclusion if human agency remains disempowered. At this stage it becomes imperative that some discussion on empowerment takes place before moving to a discussion on the main argument of the paper.

Inclusion and Empowerment

Simply put, ability of individuals’ or collectivities to make societal changes for their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their communities is empowerment. Empowerment or ability to make a difference is part of human existence. Anthony Giddens (1984) points out that placing systematic and permanent limitations on one’s ability to exert power is a negation of one’s very humanity. Human existence without having any influence on matters of concern to an individual or community is disempowerment.

Elisheva Sadan in the book titled “Empowerment and Community Planning” captures the essence of the term ’empowerment’. Empowerment is a process of transition from a state of powerlessness to a state of relative control over one’s life, destiny, and environment. This transition can manifest itself in an improvement in the perceived ability to control, as well as in an improvement in the actual ability to control. Empowerment is a transition from this passive situation to a more active situation of control. The need for it is part of the realization of one’s very humanity, so much so that one could say that a person who is powerless with regard to his life and his environment is not realizing his innate human potential. Since the sources of powerlessness are rooted in social processes that disempower entire populations, the empowerment process aims to influence the oppressed human agency and the social structure within the limitations and possibilities in which this human agency exists and reacts (Sadan, 2004: 144).

Similarly empowerment is defined as a process whereby people, organizations, and communities gain command over their affairs (Rappaport 1981, 1984, 1985). For example, self determination within constitutional bounds in a democratic set up or democratic participation of individuals in the life of a community or society at large. Empowerment process is multidimensional, taking on different forms in different people, contexts, and times and it is also multilevel that is individual, organizational and community. Empowerment processes could be conceptualized at individual level, community level and in the context of professional context. All three processes of empowerment are not only related with each but also complement and contribute to each other.

Inclusion as Exclusion and Exclusion as Inclusion

Generally, debates on inclusion begin by rehearsing impacts of exclusion. For example, it may be argued that there are a number of individuals and communities who feel disempowered and their human agencies are disabled by the very same social structures and institutions, which were set up to empower them. Remember the photograph of Qutubuddin Ansari in tears with folded hands during the Gujarat riots, a picture of complete and total: disempowerment and dispossession. Solutions come thick and fast: inclusion of the members of the Muslim community into the mainstream remains one of the popular solutions of all. To my mind this form of inclusion is exclusion as it does not address the essence of inclusion including its nature and form. Primary issue here is how to create sustainable conditions for peaceful co-existence of communities belonging to different religions.

Likewise, families condemned to living in squatters and those economically better off social classes which are compelled to live in self-imposed enclaves, feel alienated and distanced. Planning as a modernist enterprise was set up by the state to plan for every family, class and community, but ended up in creating slums and squatters for a majority of the city dwellers. One significant planning issue before the nation today is: could we reverse this trend and handover the city to the majority of the population by creating spaces which are more like livable communities rather than slums and squatters where humans endure life rather than enjoy it. Here in spite of the fact that slums and squatters are part and parcel of the city, they exhibit characteristics of disempowered areas and populations.

While advent of inclusive planning should be regarded as advancement over the modernist rational planning practice, inclusion and participation of people in planning alone could not be viewed as the solution to resolution of city’s persistent problems of spatial inequality and marginalization of the socially discriminated people.

But before I move on to a number of illustrations to establish that inclusion could be viewed as exclusionary and disempowering, I also want to suggest that inclusion, exclusion, empowerment and disempowerment are social, economic and most important of all are spatial categories. Therefore, although these terms have originating from different disciplines, they properly belong to town and country planning. However, in a newsletter, there is no space available to elaborate on how these could be viewed as spatial categories.

As I move daily in and out of my house on the first floor of a building, I see slippers of a maid in front of my neighbor’s front door on the ground floor. This may be termed as symbolic exclusion, notwithstanding its deep sensory impact on the agency of the maid because important guests may not be asked to follow this custom. For the maid however this is natural. As she works in a number of houses, I suspect similar custom is followed in those houses also. Practiced enough, this symbolic exclusion has been internalized by this and other maids as a necessary ritual. Of course, this and other maids move about freely doing household work in the mornings and evenings in the entire area. Should we take moving about freely in the area and even within the individual houses as inclusion?

As we take tea and snacks in one of houses during a festive season, the maid of the house is also asked to take tea. As she obediently agrees, she is offered tea in a different cup. There is nothing wrong with the cup. She does not sit but stands by. She continues to take tea while also helping the house lady with small household chores. This maid has participated in the processing of taking tea with us. Should we take that since the maid has been offered tea by the house lady, the process of taking tea by the maid is an inclusive process? As this form of inclusion would discount the exclusionary process of taking tea in a different cup, this inclusion is exclusionary and disempowering.

This maid and other maids live in a nearby squatter settlement from where it is easier for them to commute to our middle-class residential area. Indeed, this squatter settlement is illegal from the point of view of government authorities. Nevertheless, the location of the squatter settlement is such that it is almost surrounded by flatted development from all sides. Taking a view from the squatter settlement, it may be said that it is rather centrally located as far as our area is concerned. Geographically that may be so, but in terms of social interactions of maids and their families with our middle-class families are concerned, it is strictly that of work that too specific work of cleaning cars, household chores, gardening, washing clothes, babysitting, manicuring and pedicuring, etc. Here also geographical proximity does not imply inclusion. In the night all gates of our area close for the squatter settlers as if they not people from this city or citizens of this country. As this form exclusion is disempowering in the night, so is the inclusion and free movement of squatters for various kinds of works during the day time.

Planners have been largely concerned with geographical exclusion, which is really separation not exclusion. Exclusion is not always disempowering; at times it could be reassuring and empowering. For example, the residents of my area feel safe and reassured in the night after gates get shut on the squatters and one of their own performs this duty of shutting squatters out. At this stage it seems there is no difference between inclusion and exclusion, what differentiates is the essence which connects these concepts to empowerment or disempowerment. What matters is whether inclusion or exclusion is able to transform human agency to have some control over her circumstances.

Before I close let me say that one does not even have to move out of his house to get a sense of exclusion and disempowerment. As I spent my formative years in a village, I saw workers were much sought after during the harvest season. When one of the laborers did not turn up for work, the farmer would come to fetch the worker from a worker’s house. As the farmer comes into the house, the worker would stand up from the charpoy, not with the purpose of welcoming the farmer, but making way for the farmer to sit on the charpoy although the charpoy is big enough to accommodate both of them. As the farmer sits on the charpoy, the worker sits on the ground near the charpoy in his own house. This worker is like an outsider who is constrained and distanced in his own house. Being inside his own house is no guarantee of inclusion because structurally this kind of inclusion is disempowering and exclusionary.


  • Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration, University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Rappaport, J. (1981) In praise of paradox: A social policy of empowerment over prevention, American Journal of Community Psychology, Vol.9, No.1, pp.1-25.
  • Rappaport, J. (1984) studies in Empowerment: Introduction to the Issue, Prevention in Human Services, Vol.3, No.2-3, pp.1-7.
  • Rappaport, J. (1985) Power of Empowerment Language, Social Policy, Vol.15, pp.15-21.
  • Sadan, (2004) Empowerment and Community Planning, (English translation e-book available on-line at Downloaded on 25 December 2009.


Dr. Ashok Kumar

Professor Department of Physical Planning
SPA Delhi
Annual NOSplan magazine 2012

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