While the high level of socioeconomic inequality between the forward and backward caste groups in India is well documented, there is little research on inequalities within the backward caste groups. This column finds that economic divide within Scheduled Castes and within Scheduled Tribes has been on the rise over the past three decades.
Socioeconomic inequalities in India have been a topic of debate in the development circles since India’s independence. Within socioeconomic inequalities, the focus has always been on inequality between the scheduled groups - Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), and the non-scheduled groups. That said there is hardly any evidence on economic or social inequalities within the SCs and STs. It is important to focus on disparities within the scheduled groups because of two reasons, first, it is well known that almost all social groups formed on the basis of certain identifiable social characteristic in India follow or practice some or other kind of exclusion (Santhakumar 2013); and second, there have been demands/provisions in recent times for special treatment for certain castes within the scheduled groups for their economic and social upliftment, as these castes have claimed to lag behind in the economic and social development process relative to other castes within scheduled groups. An example of such a phenomenon can be seen in the state of Bihar, where the state government has characterised 21 sub-castes within the SCs as “Mahadalits”. The “Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission” has been launched and separate provisions for the socioeconomic development of Mahadalits have been made, including special economic packages.
In recent research, I along with my co-authors, examine trends and patterns of economic disparities within the SCs and STs in the last three decades (1983-2012) (Singh et al. 2015). We perform the analysis at the all-India level as well as for 17 major states of India1. For the state-level analysis we merged the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttaranchal with Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively for comparison purposes2.
We used consumption expenditure data from consumer expenditure surveys from five rounds (1983-84, 1987-88, 1993-94, 2004-05 and 2011-12) conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) for the analysis. We look at two measures – the first is economic disparity ratio, which is the ratio of monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) of the richest decile (top 10%) to the MPCE of the poorest decile (bottom 10%); and the second is Gini coefficient3, which is a commonly used measure of economic inequality.
Economic divide within Scheduled Castes and within Scheduled Tribes
In rural areas, the economic disparity ratio has increased by 23% within SCs and 12.5% within STs. In urban areas the economic disparity ratio has increased by 22.1% for SCs and 10% for STs. Notably, the economic disparity ratio has increased more for SCs compared to STs and the increase is more in rural areas compared to urban India. Moreover, the increase in economic disparity ratio in SCs is similar to that of non-SC/STs in rural areas but higher than that of non-SC/STs in urban areas. On the other hand, the increase in economic disparity ratio in STs is lower than that of non-SC/STs in both rural and urban areas. If the post-economic reform period of the analysis (1993-2012) is considered, then the increase in economic disparity ratio is enormous for SCs in both rural (33.8%) as well as urban (20.3%) areas. However, the increase in economic disparity ratio among STs is nil in rural areas but is substantial (26.1%) in urban areas.
Based on the Gini coefficient, the inequality in urban areas has increased substantially for both SCs (0.292 to 0.336; 15.1%) and STs (0.316 to 0.370; 17.1%). Also, the increase in inequality is higher for both SCs and STs compared to that of non-SC/STs (14.2%). In rural areas, inequality has increased for SCs (0.280 to 0.287) but has reduced marginally for STs (0.276 to 0.273). Again, if the post-economic reforms period is considered, there is an unambiguous increase in inequality among both SCs and STs for both rural and urban areas. In fact, the increase in inequality in rural areas among both SCs and STs during the post-economic reforms period is much higher than during the whole period of 1983-2012. The same is true for STs in urban areas.
The economic disparity ratio has increased among SCs in rural areas for all but five states namely Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The states in which economic disparity ratio has particularly increased in rural areas include the poor states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. However, during the post-economic reforms period, the economic disparity ratio among rural SCs has increased for all states except Jammu and Kashmir. For STs, the economic disparity ratio has increased for nine states and has decreased or remained the same for eight states. Also, it is interesting to note that during the post-economic reforms period the economic disparity ratio among the urban SCs has increased for all states except for Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The economic disparity ratio has increased among SCs in urban areas for all but four states namely Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan. The states in which economic disparity ratio has particularly increased in urban areas include the poorest states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. Among STs, economic disparity ratio has increased for nine states and has decreased or is not available (for Assam) for the remaining eight states.
Inequality, based on the Gini coefficient, among rural SCs has increased in all states except Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Rajasthan. However, inequality within STs has decreased in 12 out of the 17 states considered in the analysis. If the post-economic reforms period is seen, then inequality among SCs has increased in all but the four states of Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Inequality among urban SCs has increased in all states except Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal. Similarly, inequality within the STs has increased in 13 out of the 17 states considered in the analysis. The four states where it has decreased are Assam, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. If the post-economic reforms period is seen, then inequality among SCs has increased in all but the four states of Haryana, Maharashtra, Orissa and West Bengal. Similarly, inequality within the urban STs has increased in all states but Assam, Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Trends in inter-state inequality within Scheduled Castes and within Scheduled Tribes
Inter-state inequality (Gini coefficient) has increased among both SCs (0.13 to 0.22) and STs (0.21 to 0.27) during the past three decades at the all-India level. Also, inter-state inequality is higher among SCs and STs compared to the non-SC/STs. The inter-state inequality is more among STs than SCs. Considering rural and urban areas separately - inter-state inequality shows a substantial increase among both SCs (0.14 to 0.23) and STs (0.12 to 0.20) in rural India. Between SCs and STs, the inter-state inequality is more among SCs in rural areas. In urban India too, the inter-state inequality has increased among SCs and STs (SCs: 0.10 to 0.19; STs: 0.16 to 0.20). The inter-state inequality was highest among the STs in 1983 and in 2011-12. Also, inter-state inequality is higher among both SCs and STs compared to non-SC/STs in urban India.
The final picture
To conclude, economic disparity has increased substantially for both SCs and STs in both rural and urban areas during the past 30-odd years. It has increased for a majority of the 17 major states of India. Also, the increase is much more in the case of SCs than STs.
Further, the economic inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, has increased for both SCs and STs in urban India. In rural areas, economic inequality has increased for SCs but has remained almost the same for STs during the past three decades. However, if we only look at the post-economic reforms period of the analysis, there is an unambiguous increase in inequality among both SCs and STs for both rural and urban areas. Moreover, inter-state inequality within SCs and STs has also gone up enormously in both rural and urban areas.
In a way, the above evidence supports the Bihar government’s “Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission”, special provisions for the socioeconomic development of “Mahadalits”, the socially and economically more backward sub-caste within the SC category. Lastly, this suggests that other states should also undertake such initiatives and make separate provisions for the upliftment of sub-castes within SCs and STs that are socially and economically behind other sub-castes within the scheduled groups.
- The 17 states covered in the study are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal
- In the year 2000, three new states – Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand – were carved out of the large states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh respectively.
- The Gini coefficient varies between 0 and 1 with a value of 0 indicating perfect equality (all households or individuals earning the same amount of income) and a value of 1 indicating perfect inequality (one household or individual earning all of society’s income).
- Santhakumar, V (2013), Economics in Action: An Easy Guide for Development Practitioners, Sage, New Delhi.
- Singh, Ashish, Kaushalendra Kumar and Abhishek Singh (2015), “Exclusion within the Excluded: The Economic Divide within Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 50 (42): 32-37.