Dalit exclusion: The empirical evidence

By Sukhadeo Thorat

In 60% of Rajasthani villages surveyed, dalits are not hired to cook midday meals. In 25% of 555 villages surveyed nation-wide, dalits were paid less wages; in 35% they were not allowed to sell goods at village markets; and in 47% of villages they were not allowed to sell milk to cooperatives. No wonder dalits have lower human development and higher poverty levels

Social exclusion

Social exclusion is the denial of equal opportunities imposed by certain groups of society on others, leading to the inability of an individual to participate in the basic political, economic and social functioning of society.

Amartya Sen draws attention to various meanings and dimensions of the concept of social exclusion. He draws a distinction between situations where some people are kept out (or left out), and where some people are included (forcibly) on deeply unfavourable terms. The two situations are described as "unfavourable exclusion" and "unfavourable inclusion". Sen argues that it is important to distinguish between 'active exclusion' -- fostering of exclusion through deliberate policy interventions by the government or by any other wilful agents (to exclude some people from some opportunity), and 'passive exclusion', which works through the social process in which there are no deliberate attempts to exclude, but nevertheless may result in exclusion from a set of circumstances.

Sen further distinguishes the "constitutive relevance" of exclusion from that of "instrumental importance". In the former, exclusion or deprivation have an intrinsic importance of their own. For instance, not bring able to relate to others and to take part in the life of the community can directly impoverish a person's life, in addition to the further deprivation it may generate. This is different from social exclusion of "instrumental importance", in which the exclusion in itself is not impoverishing but can lead to impoverishment of human life.

Mainstream economists have further elaborated the concept of discrimination that operates particularly through markets.

Caste exclusion and discrimination

In India, exclusion revolves around the societal interrelations and institutions that exclude, discriminate, isolate and deprive some groups on the basis of group identities like caste and ethnicity. It is caste-based exclusion which forms the basis for various anti-discriminatory policies.

Historically, the caste system has regulated the social and economic life of the people in India. The organisational scheme of the caste system is based on the division of people into social groups (or castes) in which the civil, cultural and economic rights of each individual caste are predetermined or ascribed by birth and made hereditary. The assignment of civil, cultural and economic rights is therefore unequal and hierarchical.

The most important feature of the caste system, however, is that it provides for a regulatory mechanism to enforce social and economic organisation through the instruments of social ostracism (or social and economic penalties), and reinforces it further with justification and support from philosophical elements in the Hindu religion (Lal, 1988; Ambedkar, 1936 and 1987).

The caste system's fundamental characteristics of fixed civil, cultural and economic rights for each caste, with restrictions on change, implies "forced exclusion" of one caste from the rights of the other caste, or from undertaking the occupations of other castes. Exclusion and discrimination in civil, cultural, and particularly in economic spheres such as occupation and labour employment, are therefore internal to the system and a necessary outcome of its governing principles.

In the market economy framework, occupational immobility operates through restrictions in various markets such as land, labour, credit, other inputs and services necessary for any economic activity. Labour, being an integral part of the production process of any economic activity, would obviously become part of market discrimination. This implies that the caste system involves the negation of not only equality and freedom, but also of basic human rights, particularly of low-caste untouchables, thus becoming an impediment in personal development.

The principles of equality and freedom are not the governing principles of the caste system. This is because the underlying principles of the caste system assume particular notions of 'human rights'. Unlike many other human societies, the caste system does not recognise the individual and his/her distinctiveness as the centre of the social purpose. In fact, for the purpose of rights and duties, the unit of Hindu society is not an individual. Even the family is not regarded as a unit in Hindu society, except for the purposes of marriage and inheritance. The primary unit in Hindu society is caste, and hence the rights and privileges (or lack of them) of an individual are on account of him/her being a member of a particular caste (Ambedkar; first published in 1987).

Also, due to differential ranking and the hierarchical nature of the caste system, the entitlements to various rights become narrower and narrower as one goes down the hierarchical ladder within the caste system. Various castes get artfully interlinked and coupled with each other in a manner such that the rights and privileges of the higher castes become the causative reasons for the disadvantage and disability of the lower castes, particularly the untouchables.

As Ambedkar observed, a caste does not exist in a single number, only in plural. Castes exist as a system of endogenous groups that are interlinked with each other in an unequal measure of rights and relations in all walks of life. Castes at the top of the order enjoy more rights at the expense of those located at the bottom. Therefore, the untouchables located at the bottom of the caste hierarchy have much fewer economic and social rights.

Since the civil, cultural and economic rights (particularly with respect to occupation and property rights) of each caste are ascribed, and are compulsory, the institution of caste necessarily involves forced exclusion of one caste from the rights of another. The unequal and hierarchical assignment of economic and social rights by ascription obviously restricts freedom of occupation and human development.

Forms of caste exclusion and discrimination

The practice of caste-based exclusion and discrimination thus involves what has been described as "living mode exclusion", exclusion in political participation, and exclusion and disadvantage in social and economic opportunities (Minorities at Risk, UNDP HDR 2004).

Caste/untouchability and ethnicity-based exclusion reflects in the inability of individuals and groups like former untouchables, adivasis and similar groups to interact freely and productively with others and to take part in the full economic, social and political life of a community (Bhalla and Lapeyere, 1997). Incomplete citizenship or denial of civil rights (freedom of expression, rule of law, right to justice), political rights (right and means to participate in the exercise of political power), and socio-economic rights (economic security and equality of opportunities) are key dimensions of impoverished lives (Jonas Zoninsein, 2005).

Caste and untouchability-based exclusion and discrimination can be categorised in the economic, civil, cultural, and political spheres as follows:

Firstly, economic exclusion can be practised in the labour market through denial of jobs; in the capital market through denial of access to capital; in the agricultural land market through denial of sale and purchase or leasing of land; in the input market through denial in sale and purchase of factor inputs; and in the consumer market through denial in the sale and purchase of commodities and consumer goods.

Secondly, discrimination can occur through what Amartya Sen describes as "unfavourable inclusion", through differential treatment in the terms and conditions of contract, one of them reflecting in discrimination in the prices charged and received by discriminated groups. Discriminated groups can get lower prices for the goods that they sell, and could pay higher prices for the goods that they buy, as compared with the market price or the price paid by other groups.

Thirdly, exclusion and discrimination can occur in access to social needs supplied by government or public institutions, or by private institutions in the fields of education, housing and health, including common property resources like waterbodies, grazing land and land for common use.

Fourthly, groups (particularly untouchables) may face exclusion and discrimination from participation in certain categories of jobs (the sweeper being excluded from household jobs) because of the notion of purity and pollution, and may be restricted to so-called "unclean" occupations.

In the civil and cultural spheres, untouchables may face discrimination and exclusion in the use of public services like roads, temples, waterbodies, and institutions delivering services like education, health and other public services.

In the political sphere, untouchables could face discrimination in the use of political rights, and in participation in the decision-making process. Due to physical (or residential) segregation, and social exclusion on account of the notion of untouchability, they may suffer from a general societal exclusion.

Since there is a societal mechanism to regulate and enforce the customary norms and rules of the caste system, untouchables generally face opposition in the form of social and economic boycott, violence, and such acts as a general deterrent to their right to development.

Caste and untouchability-based exclusion and discrimination are essentially "structural in nature" and comprehensive and multiple in coverage, involving the denial of equal opportunities.

Caste exclusion and discrimination: Empirical evidence

Studies show that dalits suffer from limited access to capital assets like agricultural land and non-land assets (and/or low productivity of those assets), less urbanisation and employment diversification away from agriculture, exceptionally high dependence on casual wage labour, high underemployment, lower daily wages, particularly in non-farm activities, and low levels of literacy and education compared with non-dalit/adivasi groups in Indian society.

The question is why dalits and adivasis, categorised as scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs), have poor access to resources that directly and indirectly determine the level of income. Why their ownership of agricultural land and non-land capital assets is low compared with non-SC/STs. Why unemployment rates are high compared with non-SC/STs. Why daily wage earnings of SC/STs in non-farm activities are lower compared with non-SC/STs. Why literacy rates and education levels are much lower when compared with non-SC/STs.

We first need to look at the evidence on discrimination in civil, cultural and political spheres provided by official data, besides an all-India study and four regional studies. These include an all-India 2000 ActionAid study ('Untouchability in Rural India' by Ghanshyam Saha, Satish Deshpande, Sukhadeo Thorat, Harsh Mander, Amita Baviskar and research and other regional staff, Delhi), a study on Karnataka (1973-74 and 1991), Andhra Pradesh (1977), Orissa (1987-88) and Gujarat (1996). The all-India study presents evidence from 11 states. The studies based on village surveys bring out the actual magnitude of the exclusion, discrimination and atrocities against dalits.

Economic exclusion and discrimination

ActionAid's study -- conducted in 555 villages across 11 Indian states -- found that discrimination in labour markets operates through exclusion in hiring, and unfair or low wages. In about 36% of the villages, SCs were denied casual employment in agriculture. In about 25% of villages, SCs faced discrimination in wage payments. SCs received daily wages at a rate that was less than the market wage rate, or wages paid to non-SC workers. Belief in the concept of purity and pollution also impacted hiring of SC labourers -- in about one-third of villages SCs were excluded from employment in the construction of houses.

In the case of other markets, the study observed discriminatory treatment of SCs in access to irrigation water and public and private services. In a little more than one-third of the villages, SCs were denied access to water for agriculture. In case of agricultural land, selective evidence from some states brings out the restrictions placed by the high castes on SCs in the purchase of private agricultural land, and use of public land for agriculture and housing. In the case of access to common property resources like grazing land, fishing ponds, and other resources, SCs faced exclusion in about one-fifth of the sample villages.

The notion of pollution and purity reflected in the exclusionary and discriminatory behaviour of higher castes in the consumer markets -- in the sale and purchase of consumer goods, particularly milk, vegetables and other such goods. In 35% of the villages surveyed, SCs were not allowed to sell any kind of goods at village-level markets. In about 47% of villages, SCs were not allowed to sell milk to village cooperatives and private buyers. The survey data also reveals some isolated evidence of exclusion and discrimination in the sale and purchase of consumer goods like bakery products and vegetables. Such restrictions compelled SCs to go to small towns and other nearby marketplaces where their caste identity was not so obvious, or was hidden.

Micro-level studies such as those from Andhra Pradesh (Venketeswarlu, 1990) and Karnataka (Khan, 1995) provide some evidence on economic discrimination in occupation, employment, wages, and the credit market as well as in other economic spheres. The Andhra Pradesh study observed that SCs faced restrictions in efforts to change their occupation. Similarly, the Karnataka study revealed that nearly 85% of SC respondents continue to be engaged in their traditional occupations, with only 15% able to make a switch-over. The Orissa study (Tripathy, 1994) observed discrimination in land lease, credit and labour markets in rural areas. Nearly 96% of untouchable respondents in one village and all untouchable respondents in the second village were discriminated against in wage payment, with 28% in one village and 20% in another facing discrimination in payment of rent.

For urban areas, Banerjee and Knight (1991) observed that "there is indeed discrimination by caste, particularly job discrimination" and that "discrimination appears to operate at least in part through traditional mechanisms, with untouchables disproportionately represented in poorly-paid dead-end jobs... Even if discrimination is no longer practised, the effects of past discrimination could carry over to the present. This may help explain why discrimination is greatest in operative jobs in which contacts are more important for recruitment, and not in white-collar jobs in which recruitment involves formal methods."

Such economic discrimination had obvious impacts on the earnings of SC households, and reflected in the incidence of high poverty among them.

Caste discrimination and the right to food

Empirical studies also show denial of access and differential treatment in food security programmes like the midday meal (MDM) scheme and fair price shops (FPS). The study on the midday meal scheme in Rajasthan reported the exclusion of scheduled caste persons from employment as cooks and helpers in almost 60% of the sample villages (Jean Dreze, 2003). Another study based on a sample of about 550 villages in five states -- Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan -- reported exclusion and discriminatory treatment in the operation of midday meal schemes and fair price shops (Thorat and Lee, 2003).

In terms of scale, caste discrimination afflicts more than one out of three fair price shops and more than one out of three government schools serving midday meals. In terms of geographical spread, it is unquestionably a nationwide problem -- from 24% in Andhra Pradesh to 52% in Rajasthan, to a vast majority in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respondent villages from every state reported problems of caste discrimination and exclusion in the midday meal scheme. Likewise with the FPS, no state is free of discrimination -- from 17% in Andhra Pradesh to 86% in Bihar. For instance, every state reports a substantial percentage of dominant caste public distribution system (PDS) dealers practising caste-based discrimination in the distribution of PDS goods, for example preferential order of service by caste, or hierarchically segregated timings for dominant caste and dalit customers.

While the problem is nationwide, its degree varies considerably from state to state. Where higher percentages of midday meal cooks and organisers are dalit, and where a higher percentage of midday meals are held in dalit colonies, a lower incidence of caste discrimination in the scheme is reported. In Andhra Pradesh, where indicators of dalit participatory empowerment and access are relatively high (49% of respondent villages have dalit cooks, 45% have dalit organisers, and 46% are held in dalit localities), reported caste discrimination in the midday meal scheme stands at 24%. In Tamil Nadu, where the same empowerment and access indicators are lower (31%, 27% and 19%, respectively), reported discrimination stands at 36%. And in Rajasthan, where the indicators are alarmingly low (8% dalit cooks, 0% dalit organisers, 12% held in dalit colonies), reported discrimination was extremely high at 52%.

A similar pattern emerges in access to fair price shops, where higher proportions of dalit dealers and FPS held in dalit colonies correspond with lower proportions of reported discrimination and 'untouchability' practices.

Exclusion and discrimination in civil and political spheres

Macro-level evidence

During 1999-2001, an average of 28,016 cases per year were registered by untouchables in the country under the Anti-Untouchability Act of 1955 and the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. This comes to about three cases per 100,000 population and included restrictions on access to temples, wells, taps, tea stalls, restaurants, community baths, roads, and other services. The ratio of such cases was highest in Rajasthan (9.3), followed by Madhya Pradesh (7.7). The ratio was about three cases per 100,000 population in Orissa, Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

The break-up of crimes against untouchables for the year 2000 include 526 cases of murder, 3,497 of grievous hurt, 290 cases of arson, 1,000 cases of sexual assault, and 11,587 cases of other offences. During a nine-year period between 1992 and 2000, a total of 252,370 cases of crime, including cases of discrimination and atrocities, were registered by untouchables.

Evidence from primary surveys

First, the results of the most comprehensive study based on an intensive survey of 555 villages in 11 states across India. In this section, we consider the practice of discrimination in the "secular public sphere", including access to water sources, public thoroughfares, transport, and other village-level services and amenities like tea shops, barbers' or watermen's services, and so on.

Out of all the villages surveyed, complete denial was observed in a little less than half the villages -- 48.4% in terms of access to public water/drinking places, 36% in terms of access to shops, 26% in terms of the use of restaurants/hotels, 21% in terms of entry to health centres/clinics, 9.2% in terms of public transport, and 3.2% in terms of entry to cinema halls/recreation facilities, etc.

In the case of individual service-providers also, the denial was more than apparent. Out of all the villages surveyed, denial of barber services was reported in 46% of the villages, washerperson services in 46% of the villages, carpenter services in 26% of the villages, and potter services in about 20% of the villages. While complete denial of access to particular water sources (well, tank, tubewell, etc), village shops, health clinics, transport used for public purposes, services offered by washerpersons, carpenters, tailors, potters, etc, is the most evident form of social exclusion, what is more common is the imposition of differential treatment in access to these and other public services, which takes various forms. This was observed in one-third of the villages in the form of separate seating arrangements and a separate set of cups at tea stalls/restaurants for untouchables. Similar forms of discrimination were observed in purchases from shops, entry into public transport, and treatment at private health clinics, etc.

Karnataka study

The Karnataka study for 1973-74 is based on a fairly large sample of 76 villages, 38 urban centres and 3,330 households. Of the total households, 73% are untouchables (Parvathamma, 1984). A little more than half the untouchable respondents were not allowed to draw water from the public well in the village. The magnitude of the problem was less severe in urban centres, but even in urban areas 15% of respondents reported restrictions on the use of public waterbodies. The practice of untouchability was more widespread in terms of access to the village temple and access to high-caste houses. More than 60% of untouchables were not allowed into the village temple. A little less than half the dalits were not allowed free access to the local village teashop. In urban areas, the discrimination was much less (only 6%). In essential services, the practice of untouchability was widespread. A little more than half of the respondents did not receive the services of a barber and washerman in the village. In urban areas, access improved considerably.

In public services like postal services, health and education, the practice of untouchability was much less. Almost all had access to postal services, but half of the respondents faced some kind of discrimination insofar as postmen avoided entering dalit residential areas. Generally, discrimination in services rendered by government doctors and nurses and the village school was less.

Still, in the early-1970s, one out of 10 persons among the scheduled castes was not allowed inside the village shops. One out of 10 persons among the scheduled castes could not wear clothes or ornaments of their own choice without being harassed.

Nearly 20 years later, another study was conducted in Karnataka taking 941 respondents from 52 villages and from most of the districts (Khan, 1995). In the political sphere (that is, sitting together or drinking tea in the village panchayat office), the discrimination was much less. Otherwise, not much had happened in the two decades since the previous study was carried out. About three out of four respondents were denied entry into the village temple and also denied participation in religious processions. Social mixing or relations across caste barriers were also not allowed. Most people among the untouchables did not have free access to the water taps of the high castes, and three-fourths of them had no access to the village tank.

Orissa study

The Orissa study covered 65 untouchable respondents from two villages (one small and one large) in 1987-88 (Tripathy, 1994). In both villages, the settlements of untouchables were separated from those belonging to the upper castes. An overwhelming majority -- 80% -- of respondents in the small village and 70% in the large village were prohibited from drinking water from the public well and public tubewell. In the large village there were separate pulleys in wells for the untouchables.

At village community feasts and marriages in both the villages, the former untouchables were treated unequally. The same is true of temple worship, barber services, washerman services, priest services, etc. Sixty-four per cent in the large village and 100% in the small village were treated unequally in the village meeting. Eighty per cent of the respondents in both villages did not have access to teashops; 70% in the large village and 80% in the small village faced unequal treatment or discrimination in getting services from grocery shops. Their small number, poverty and fear (in the small village) discouraged the dalits from contesting elections. But dalits had free access to schools and hospitals in both villages.

Gujarat study

The Gujarat study was conducted in 69 villages, in 1996, to observe changes in the practice of untouchability (Shah, 1998). The study examined 17 spheres of village life. The practice of untouchability in the seating arrangement of students in village schools was negligible and non-SC students mingled freely in the school. Non-SC teachers do not discriminate against SC students, but they are not easily accessible to SC students outside the school boundary.

Not all schools have the facility of drinking water for students. Where it exists, all students take water from a common vessel. Nearly 10% of village schools have teachers belonging to SCs. None of them complained that their colleagues discriminated against them in school. However, except in south Gujarat, these teachers do not get accommodation in the high-caste locality of the village. They either commute from their village or the nearby town, or they rent a house in the SC locality.

Almost all villages are covered by state transport. Except in 7% of the villages, untouchability is not observed whilst boarding and sitting in the bus.

Open or subtle untouchability is practised at panchayat meetings in 30% of the villages. The seating arrangement in panchayat offices is common for all members, but there is a tacit convention whereby certain seats are marked for SC members. Though tea and snacks are served to everyone, separate plates and cups are reserved for SC members, and they are stored separately. In most village temples, 75% of SCs are not allowed to enter beyond the threshold, though they may worship from a distance. Many villages with large numbers of dalits have constructed temples in their localities to avoid confrontation.

In 46 villages, SCs had separate water facilities near their localities. In the remaining 23 villages in which untouchables take water from a common source, SC women take water after the upper-caste women. In seven villages (11% of the sample) SC women are not allowed to fetch water from the well. They have to wait till the upper-caste women pour water into their pots. The upper-caste women shout at them constantly and humiliate the SC women: "Keep distance, do not pollute us!"

Most tailors do not practise untouchability. However, in most cases, they do not alter the used clothes of SCs. Nearly one-third of potters observe untouchability while selling pots to SC clients. Most barbers (nearly 70%) refuse their services to SC males. The extent of untouchability has remained almost intact in the sphere of house entry. Except for a few villages, SC members of villages do not get entry beyond the outer room of the houses of high castes. Even in villages where the young folk do not believe in physical untouchability, and who serve tea to SC guests in their houses, entry into the dining room is not encouraged.

The practice of untouchability has considerably reduced in some public spheres that are directly managed by state laws, such as schools, postal services and elected panchayats. The practice of untouchability on public roads, restricting free movement of SCs, has considerably declined although it is too soon to say that dalits are not discriminated against in the public sphere.

Access to justice

A number of anti-discrimination statutes and other legal provisions exist as legal safeguards against caste and untouchability-based discrimination. As mentioned earlier, the primary piece of legislation designed to provide a measure of protection to people from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and to enforce their rights are the Anti-Untouchability Act, 1955 (in 1979 it was re-named the Civil Rights Act) and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989.

There are limited studies that examine the effectiveness of these legislations and access to institutions of justice. However, available evidence indicates that these legislative provisions are highly underutilised. SC/STs also suffer from discriminatory access to institutions of justice such as the police and the judiciary. Studies indicate that the scheduled castes/tribes face insurmountable obstacles at various levels from village-level functionaries like sarpanchs to the police, public prosecutors and other functionaries who are extremely non-cooperative and discriminatory. This is essentially reflected in denial of justice to SC/STs.

Official data on civil rights cases shows that of the total number of cases registered in 1991, only 1.56% were convicted. The conviction rate came down to .60% in 1999 and .85% in 2000. This shows that the conviction rate in cases relating to civil rights violations and atrocities was less than 1% and close to 0%.

Analysis of 100 documented cases of atrocity during 2000-2003 in Andhra Pradesh throws some light on the reasons for the low conviction rate. The case studies indicated "a disturbing trend of subversion of the rights of dalits to justice and compensation under the law once an atrocity takes place" (Agrawal and Gonsalves, Dalit Human Rights Monitor 2003). The study observed negligence and collusion at the stages of registration, chargesheeting and investigation, at seeking justice before the law in the courts and in giving compensation. About the role of the judiciary, Dalit Human Rights Monitor 2003 observed: "If the low conviction rate under the Act is any indication, the judiciary has responded poorly to the Act. Judiciary delay and dilution of the scope, applicability and meaning of the SC/ST Act has resulted in denial of justice to the dalits" (Dalit Human Rights Report -- 2000, AP 109).

The interface of caste and gender

Assessments of human development at the aggregate level hide gender differences. Women belonging to marginalised groups suffer triple deprivations arising out of lack of access to economic resources, caste and gender discrimination. SC and ST women constitute perhaps the most economically deprived section of Indian society. Most of them don't own agricultural land and work as wage labourers.

In 2001, about 57% of SC and 37% of ST women respectively were agricultural wage labour in rural areas, as compared with 29% for non-SC/STs. In urban areas, 16% SC and 14% ST women were daily wage labourers as compared with only 6% from non-SC/STs. Only 21% of SC women were cultivators compared with 51% for STs and 45% for non-SC/STs. SC/ST women also faced differential treatment in wage-earning, particularly in urban areas. In 2000, SC and ST women casual labourers received daily wages of Rs 37 and Rs 34 respectively, compared with Rs 56 for non-SC/ST women; the national average was Rs 42.

Besides this, a large number of SC women are engaged in so-called 'unclean' occupations, like scavenging. Because of their association with these occupations, the women face discrimination in the social and economic spheres.

Lack of educational development is another important problem. In 2000, the literacy rate among SC and ST rural females (aged 15 and above) was 24% and 23% respectively, compared with 41% for non-SC/ST women. The literacy rate among SC women in urban areas was 48%, compared with 54% and 70% for ST and non-SC/ST women respectively. The dropout rate among SC and ST women is also relatively high at every stage of education. The high dependence on casual labour, with relatively low earnings, among SC and ST women induced a high degree of deprivation and poverty among them.

The gender break-up of poverty is not available. However, the high degree of deprivation is reflected in other indicators of wellbeing -- under-nutrition and health. About 65% and 56% of ST and SC women respectively suffered from anaemia compared to 47.6% of non-SC/ST women. In 1998-99, 21.2% of SC and 26% of ST children under four years of age suffered from malnutrition (based on weight-for-age). Of these underweight children, 54% of SCs and 56% of STs were severely undernourished. There is a significant difference between SC and ST children and non-SC/ST children, 13.80% and 41.1% of whom are malnourished and undernourished respectively.

While the Government of India has adopted the national goal of reducing the present infant mortality rate (IMR) to 60 by 2000, the SC's IMR, child mortality and under-5 mortality is 83.00, 39.50 and 119.3, respectively. Compare this with 61.8, 22.2 and 82.6 for non-SC/STs, respectively. Similarly, IMR, child mortality and under-5 mortality are 84, 46.3 and 126 among STs.

About 72% of births to SC women and 81% of births to ST women took place at home; the corresponding figure for others is 59%.

Because of their lower social status, sexual exploitation of SC/ST women is also high. There are some caste-related social customs and religious practices in Hindu society that exploit only women from dalit communities. One of these customs is devdasi or jogini, involving religious prostitution imposed on unfortunate girls who are married to a village god and then become the subject of sexual exploitation by upper caste men in a village. A primary survey estimates the number of joginis in six districts of Andhra Pradesh at 21,421. There are similar practices in states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra where dalit women are designated devdasis or devotees of god.


From the empirical evidence it becomes clear that caste-based exclusion and discrimination of SCs in the past and its continuation in the present (through residual traditional attributes) continues to be one of the main reasons for their lower human development and higher deprivation and poverty.

The approach of Indian policymakers to overcoming discrimination and addressing social exclusion include such policy interventions as legal enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, reservation and preferential and general empowering measures that form part of anti-poverty programmes. These polices have brought about positive changes, but the rate of improvement has not been fast enough to reduce the absolute level of deprivation and the gap between the excluded group of scheduled castes and tribes and other advanced sections. The continuing exclusion-induced deprivation of disadvantaged groups of SCs indicates that addressing social exclusion is often much more difficult than addressing poverty.

Social and cultural sources of exclusion (in economic, civil and political spheres) are rooted in informal social structures and institutions of caste and untouchability covering not only the private but public domain governed by the State. In this context, the inclusion of excluded groups is different from the social inclusion of materially deprived people. Poverty, even when broadly defined as exclusion from the means necessary for full participation in the normal activities of society, is largely a question of access to resources and services. The social exclusion of groups or individuals within that group is foremost a denial of equal opportunity, respect and recognition of the right to development. Fighting discrimination therefore calls for additional policies complementing anti-poverty and economic development programmes. But there is also considerable overlap, and therefore the need to combine and complement, and not divide, programmes against poverty and economic deprivation and policies for equal rights and social inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

Excerpted from 'Caste, Social Exclusion and Poverty Linkages -- Concept, Measurement and Empirical Evidence' by Sukhadeo Thorat, reprinted from www.empowerpoor.org, October 2008

(Sukhadeo Thorat is Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Government of India. He is also Director of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies and Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He lives in New Delhi)

InfoChange News & Features, October 2008