ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era

In the debates surrounding the consequences of India's shift from a state-led to a market-oriented economic model, the issue of caste and caste practices, particularly for dalits, has been an empirical weak link. We draw on a unique survey designed and implemented by members of the dalit community to capture social practices and conditions important to them which are not featured in the usual household surveys. This survey asked all dalit households in two blocks of Uttar Pradesh (Azamgarh and Bulandshahar districts) both about conditions currently and in 1990. The survey results suggest that placing exclusive focus on measures of material well-being, such as consumption expenditure and its inequality, is misplaced as it misses important changes in socially structured inequalities and hence in individuals' functioning.

Six Dalit Paradoxes

During the past two centuries, religious, social, political and economic reforms sought to address the dalit problem so as to transform India from the caste-ridden system of discrimination into a modern and caste-neutral society. It is fair to say that these reforms have not sufficiently succeeded in improving either the social standing of dalits or their economic condition. It is no wonder, then, that the dalits are found, along with the tribals, in the bottom quintile on most parameters of human well-being. How does one explain the intractability of the dalit problem? A conference in the United States recently attempted to answer the question through its deliberations on six "great paradoxes". A report.

Atrocities on Dalits

A shortcoming of the country's approach towards the welfare of dalits is that action on atrocities are mostly seen as a law and order issue, divorcing them from the larger strategy for social justice. Atrocities do represent a significant hindrance to socio-economic mobility of the community. Policy-makers should take into account that ending violence on dalits is a basic requirement for success of redistributive policies, rather than assuming that these policies by themselves would result in an end to violence/discrimination.
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