Mumbai: For years, researchers and scholars studied how wealth and income inequality in India is, most often, divided along caste lines, with the upper castes taking a bigger slice of the pie.
However, the extent of their enrichment and the resulting impoverishment and exclusion of Muslim Dalits and Hindu Dalits has received less attention. A recent research paper that estimates poverty, wealth inequality and financial inclusion at the sub-caste level in Uttar Pradesh shows that Hindu Dalits and Muslim Dalits have the lowest consumption expenditures compared to to other sub-castes.
Similarly, Muslim OBCs and Muslim Dalits followed by Hindu Dalits (Paasi and Chamar) are the most common landless households in UP. Finally, both categories also register one of the highest levels of poverty.
Alternatively, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Brahmins, Thakurs, and other general Hindu castes have higher wealth accumulation, lower poverty, and less exclusion from formal financial services than Dalits. Moreover, within-group income inequality among upper castes is significantly less than within-group income inequality seen among Hindu and Muslim OBCs and Dalits.
The research paper, titled âPoverty, Wealth Inequality and Financial Inclusion Among Castes in Hindu and Muslim Communities in Uttar Pradesh, India,â is written by Chhavi Tiwari of the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED ), Paris ; Srinivas Goli, Australia-India Institute NGN Fellow; Mohammad Zahid Siddiqui of the Center for the Study of Regional Development under JNU; and Pradeep S. Salve of the International Institute of Population Sciences.
The study uses data from a unique primary survey collected by the Giri Institute of Development Studies (GIDS) to assess the social and educational status of OBCs and Dalit Muslims in Uttar Pradesh in 2014-2015.
It broadly categorized the economic and social status of a household into four broad areas, namely lifestyle deprivation, historical deprivation, household condition and wealth, and financial inclusion deprivation.
Lifestyle deprivation: poverty and spending
The study measured average per capita expenditure and the prevalence of poverty at all caste and sub-caste levels. The study found that average per capita expenditure showed much greater disparity across caste distributions.
- Brahmins and Thakurs spend far more than other Hindu generals and far more than OBCs and Dalits, regardless of religion.
- The Jaats, who belong to the OBC caste, have the highest average expenditure per capita compared to Brahmins and Thakurs.
- Paasi lags far behind and has the lowest average per capita expenditure compared to other castes. This means that deeply rooted caste supremacy in social and economic activity is still present in one form or another.
The study also highlights how caste-based social stratification continues to underpin poverty levels in India. The study provides estimates of rural poverty by caste:
- Muslim Dalits (52.5%), Hindu Dalits (51.9%), Muslim OBCs (38.2%), Hindu OBCs (38.0%) and General Muslims (31.3%). These are much higher compared to the general Hindu (14.4%).
- At the sub-caste level, the lowest levels of poverty were among the Thakur (9%), followed by Brahmins (15.9%) and other general caste groups (20%). Jaats (15.3%) of Hindu OBCs have less poverty than Brahmins and other caste groups, but more than Thakurs.
- In urban areas, the highest per capita expenditure was observed among Thakurs, other Hindu generals, Brahmins, Kurmis and Jaats
- Urban poverty is significantly lower among other general Hindus, Brahmins and Thakurs. Moreover, Kurmis and Jaats had less poverty than other Hindu OBCs, Muslim OBCs, Hindu Dalits and Muslim Dalits.
- The study found evidence to strengthen the argument that Dalits and Adivasis were likely to live in persistent poverty.
Land ownership and historical deprivation
Cultivable or non-cultivable land ownership plays an important role in terms of the spread of wealth inequality. The dominant landowning agricultural castes occupy key positions in society using their economic, political and social capital. Increased dominance in politics continues the cycle of wealth accumulation. This becomes even more complex in the case of a village (rural) economy where access to and ownership of land are the main means and instruments of economic position and power relations between different sub-caste groups.
The results of the study vis-Ã -vis the ownership of cultivable land by sub-caste paint a dismal picture.
- The most common landless households are Muslim OBCs and Muslim Dalits, followed by Paasi and Chamars, i.e. Hindu Dalits.
- While Hindu general castes made up 20% of the sampled household, they owned over 30% of the total cultivable land.
- The intra-caste distribution of land showed alarming disparities. For example, the share of land held by the Thakurs is 11%, followed by the Brahmins (15%),
Other Hindu castes (6%), Yadav (13%), Kurmis (4%) and Jaats (8%); however, the corresponding proportion of the sampled population is 7%, 10%, 4%, 10%, 3% and 5%, respectively. This indicates a great disparity within the category of Hindu OBCs compared to Hindu Dalits. Muslim OBCs and Dalits owned about 25% of the cultivable land while the rest of the sampled population.
- The study also estimated the average land size for landlord households: General Hindu has 2.89 acres of land, followed by General Islam (2.07), OBC Hindus (1.97), Dalit Hindus (1.28), OBC Muslims (1.09) and Dalit Muslims (1.05). ). The Kurmis (3.28), Thakurs (3.08), Jaats (2.94), Brahmins (2.8) and Yadavs (2.45) owned much more land on average than the rest of the caste category. In sum, the historically disadvantaged castes had a considerably lower share of agricultural land, regardless of their population size. Hindu Dalits, Muslim Dalits, Muslim OBCs and Hindu OBCs are more likely to be landless or smallholders.
- Land purchase statistics over the past 5 years also show that a significant proportion of Dalits have sold their land to other higher castes.
Deprivation in wealth accumulation, household conditions and amenities
India has faced the problem of a graduated caste system that perpetuates historical disparity in access to and accumulation of resources. Wealth inequality has been relatively less explored in the context of caste hierarchy. The study examines household wealth status among different sub-caste groups using respondents’ self-reported asset value information excluding agricultural land.
The results reveal some interesting findings:
- A significantly higher proportion of Jaats (55%), Thakurs (43%) and Brahmins (38%), other Hindu generals (37%) and Yadav (31%) belong to the richest wealth quintile .
- On the other hand, about 40% of Paasi, Dalit Muslim, Other Muslim OBC, Other Hindu Dalit, Chamar and Lodh households belong to the poorest wealth quintile.
Debt levels and financial inclusion
In the survey used in the study, households were first asked whether they had taken out a loan or not in the last 3 years. Second, the reason for the borrowing, and the third is the source of the borrowing. This allows researchers to construct direct measures of household indebtedness and credit constraints due to their caste status.
According to the study, contrary to the wealth situation of households, the proportion of households having taken out a loan in the last 3 years is the highest among the Jaats (43%), the Thakurs, the Kurmis, the Chamars, the Paasi and the Brahmins.
The majority of upper castes took out loans for agricultural activities. Almost three-quarters of Thakurs took out a loan for agricultural activities, followed by Jaats (66%), Brahmins (60%), Yadavs (46%) and Kurmis (33%). Loan taken for wedding ceremonies was highest among other Muslim OBCs (33%), Lodhs, Yadavs, other Hindu Dalits, Chamars and other Hindu OBCs.
Socio-economically repressed castes like Paasi and Chamars took out loans for health reasons, for wedding ceremonies and to meet family obligations. The highest loan levels for education are seen in the Hindu General Other, followed by the Lodhs and Shamar castes.
Socio-economic position plays a central role in determining the sources of loans. The lower socio-economic castes mainly obtained loans from friends, relatives and local moneylenders. For example, according to the survey results, more than two-thirds of Ansari Muslims took a loan from their friends/relatives, followed by other Hindu Dalits (57.1%), Paasi (48.2%), Kurmis (48%) and other Muslim OBCs (44.5%). Lodhs, O