Introduction to Social ProblemCertain adverse situations that may have harmful consequences may affect societies. They may hinder the normal functioning of the society. Such harmful situations are known as social problems. These problems arise because every society has certain norms and values. When these norms and values are violated, they result in social problems. They are problems because such deviation of norms and values are dysfunctional in the society. Some of the examples of social problems are drug addiction, terrorism, youth unrest, juvenile delinquency, corruption, offences against women, environmental degradation, etc.
However, not all violations of social norms and values result in social problems. For example, when a person sports an unusual hairstyle it does not become a social problem. Similarly, social problem may vary with time and over space. Smoking was not considered a social problem earlier. At present with rising health consciousness, smoking is considered a major social problem. Similarly, sati was not considered as a problem in the medieval India. However, in modern India it is seen as a social problem.A society may consider a certain practice as a social problem where as it may not be a problem in another society. This is because the norms and values are not the same in all the societies. Divorce may be seen as a serious problem in some societies, but it may not be so in other societies. However, there are certain practices that are considered harmful in all societies’ viz. murder, terrorism, rape, etc.
Many scholars have tried to define social problem but it is difficult to arrive at a commonly accepted definition. According to Fuller and Myers, a social problem is “a condition which is defined by a considerable number of persons as a deviation from some social norms which they cherish”.
Merton and Nisbet define social problem as “a way of behaviour that is regarded by a substantial part of society as being in violation of one or more generally accepted or approved norms”.
However, these two definitions are applicable for certain social problems like corruption, drug addiction and communalism. It is not applicable to problem like population explosion. Further some problems are caused not by the abnormal and deviant behaviour of the individuals but by the normal and accepted behavior. For example, the degradation of the soil in certain regions of Punjab and Haryana is being caused by the accepted methods of farming.
Therefore, according to Carr, “a social problem exists whenever we become conscious of a difficulty, a gap between our preference and the reality”.
Characteristics of Social ProblemsOn the basis of the above discussion and definitions, following characteristics of social problems can be deduced:
• All social problems are situations that have harmful consequences for the society.
• All social problems are deviations from the ideal situation.
• Social problems are caused by many factors.
• All these factors are social in origin.
• Social problems are interrelated.
• Social problems affect every individuals of the society.
• Social problems affect different individuals differently.
Social Problems in Indian Context
We have discussed that social problems vary with time. Similarly, social problems in India have changed with different historical phases. The major social problems in each of these phases reflect the then existing social norms and values.
The major social problems in the early phase of the Indian civilization were increasing rigidity of social hierarchy, continuous conflicts between the Aryans and the Dasas, emphasis on the observance of rituals, sacrifice of animals etc. With the advent of the Muslim rule in India, new social problems like sati, purda, introduction of caste system among the Muslims, etc. emerged.
In the contemporary phase, India is facing several social problems. We have the problems of terrorism, violence, offences against women, children and minorities, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, communalism, youth unrest, corruption, migration and displacement, environmental degradation, population explosion, prostitution, HIV/AIDS, etc. These problems are the result of various factors that include economic, political, legal, cultural as well as historical.
Types of Social Problems
Broadly, social problems can be divided into two types.• Social problems at the individual level
• Social problems at the collective level.
Social problems at the individual level include juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, suicide etc.
Social problems at the collective level emerge when the mechanisms of social control fail to regulate the behaviour of its members or when there is breakdown of effective institutional functioning. For example, poverty, exploitation, population explosion, untouchability, famine, floods etc.
Social problems can also be divided into following types in relation to their causative factors:
• Social problems due to cultural factors.
• Social problems due to economic factors.
• Social problems due to political and legal factors.
• Social problems due to ecological factors.
Social Problems Due to Social Factors
The nature of heterogeneous societies has been the cause of a number of social problems. In heterogeneous societies like India, where there are people of several religions, castes, linguistic groups and tribal groups living together, several types of social problems can be seen. The conflict among the different religious groups has given rise to the problem of communalism. In India, Hindu-Muslim conflict has been a major problem. Similarly, the caste system in India has divided the society into various groups. It has led to the discrimination of one group by the other. The problem of untouchability in India is due to the caste system. Caste system is also responsible for the educational backwardness of the country.
Traditionally, the caste determined the eligibility of the people for education. In the traditional system, education was considered to be the prerogative of the upper castes. As a result, the masses were deprived of education. This explains the high rate of illiteracy in India. Another social factor that may lead to social problem is language. In a country where several languages are spoken, conflict between different linguistic groups can be seen. In India, we have experienced the conflict between different linguistic groups.
Social Problems Due to Cultural Factors
Several cultural factors have been responsible for a number of social problems. In a traditional society like India, some of the cultural factors that have led to social problems are:
• Male child preference
• Patriarchal system
• Lack of regard for public property
In India the value system is such that a son in the family is considered necessary. It is desirable to have more sons. As a result, the members in the family go on multiplying. This has led to population explosion. The population in India has grown at a phenomenal rate after independence. At present, the population of the country is well beyond one billion that makes India the second most populated country of the world .As elsewhere in the world, Indian society, by and large, has been patriarchal where woman is subjected to man. They are not seen beyond the roles of a wife or a mother. The woman is given an inferior social status to that of a man in almost every walk of life. As a result, almost half of the population has remained deprived. This deprivation is compounded when the woman belongs to the Scheduled Caste or the Scheduled Tribe.
Another trait of the Indian society that has implications for corruption is the disregard for public property. This lack of respect for public property is one of the root causes of corruption, black money, tax evasion, misappropriation of public goods and use of substandard materials in public construction.
Social Problems Due to Economic Factors
Economic factors are also responsible for some of the major social problems being faced by the contemporary society. It is more conspicuous in societies of developing countries like India. Unequal distribution of wealth has led to disparity in the distribution of benefits occurring due to development. As a result there is the problem of poverty. Poverty in turn aggravates other problems like high morbidity and mortality, crime, slum, illiteracy, etc. Further, the process of urbanization and industrialization in India has been very slow.
This has resulted in regional disparity in economic development. There are pockets of development where high level of urban and industrial growth can be seen. However, the other regions are still under-developed. It has attracted large number of people to migrate from the under-developed region to the developed region. This in turn has affected the population structure of both the regions. In addition to it, the regions receiving the migrants are facing the problems of slum, congestion, unemployment, pollution, etc.
Social Problems Due to Political and Legal Factors
Some of the political factors that may cause social problems include electoral politics, political functioning, corruption, etc. In order to win elections and come to power, political parties do not shy away from using communal or parochial modes of mobilization like caste, religion, and language. Even some of the decisions taken by the ruling party may lead to social problem as they may benefit a particular section of the society at the cost of the entire society. It may result in conflict between different sections of the society. Another problem is the increasing political corruption. Leaders are found indulging in nepotism and red-tapism. They are also seen accepting money in return of some favor.
Social Problems Due to Ecological Factors
Earlier, in an attempt to develop rapidly, environment was grossly ignored. The ecological consequence of such an attempt has now emerged as a major social problem. Rapid industrialization has led to increase in environmental pollution that includes air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, and degradation and desertification of the land. This in turn has led to increased morbidity and mortality, emergence of new types of diseases, global warming, ozone depletion, floods etc.
That has threatened the existence of mankind itself. Further, to feed the increasing population of the world more and more land is being brought under cultivation. This has disturbed the global ecological balance. Application of modern technological inputs in agriculture like the pesticides, weedicides, insecticides, high yielding variety of seeds, genetically modified crops are threatening the biodiversity of the world. It has also increased the probability of the emergence of super weeds and insects that may be beyond the human control.