The social revolution in Uttar Pradesh

Last week, this column highlighted major economic improvements for dalits in Uttar Pradesh, based on a research paper by Devesh Kapur and others (Rethinking inequality : Dalits in UP in the market reform era). But the real dalit revolution has been in social status, far more than economic.

In material terms, inequality (technically measured by the Gini coefficient) in UP has always been low — less than in Kerala or the national average. UP’s problem has always been social inequality, not consumption inequality. The good news is that social inequality is being transformed. The practice of seating dalits separately in upper caste weddings is down from 77.3% to 8.9% in eastern UP, and from 73.1% to 17.9% in western UP. The proportion of non-dalits accepting food and water at dalit households is up from 1.7% to 72.5% in the east and from 3.6% to 47.8% in the west.

Many dalits in eastern UP were locked into thehalwaha (bonded labour) system, which Jagjivan Ram once called “a remnant of slavery” . This has virtually disappeared : the proportion is down from 32.1% to 1.1%. The proportion of dalit households doing any farm labour has plummeted from 76% to 45.6% in the east, and from 46.1% to just 20.5% in the west. Encouragingly , the proportion depending on their own land is up from 16.6% to 28.4% in the east, and from 50.5% to 67.6% in the west. Tubewell ownership is up substantially , but remains modest.

Dalits are leasing land from upper castes. Those who were once labourers on upper caste land now insist on a share of the crop. The proportion in sharecropping is up from 16.7% to 31.4% in the east and from 4.9% to 11.4% in the west. In western UP, cases of dalits alone lifting dead animals are down from 72.6% to 5.3%. Once dalits ploughed the land of upper castes with bullocks. Today, they are getting their own land ploughed by upper caste tractor drivers. Economic reforms have created major new opportunities in urban areas, facilitating dalit migration to towns and back. This has broken their dependence on rural landlords and moneylenders. The resulting labour shortage has raised the bargaining power of dalits.

The proportion of dalit families working locally as masons, tailors or drivers — all non-traditional occupations — is up from 14% to 37% in the east and from 9.3% to 42.1% in the west. Even more revolutionary is the rise of dalit business families, from 4.2% to 11% in the east and from 6% to 36.7% in the west.

Political parties shout themselves hoarse over job reservations. Yet, the dalit family proportion in government jobs has actually fallen from 7.2% to 6.8% in the east, and risen marginally from 5% to 7.3% in the west. Clearly, job reservation has not been a key factor in UP’s social revolution.

Once, dalit babies were not midwifed equally by dalits and non-dalits . The proportion equally delivered has shot up from 1.1% to 89.9% in the east. Earlier non-dalit and government midwives rarely came to dalit homes for deliveries, but the proportion is now up from 3.4% to 53.4% in the east, and from zero to 3.6% — still very low — in the west.

Dalit households where most or all kids go to school are up from 28.8% to 63.4% in the east and from 21.7% to 65.7% in the west. Girls’ schooling is up from 10% to 58.7% in the east and from 6.8% to 56.9% in the west. As a form of social assertion, dalits are adopting elite consumption patterns. Their use of toothpaste , shampoo and bottled hair oil has soared. Earlier, only one-third of dalits in the east and virtually none in the west used cars or jeeps for wedding baraats, but today virtually all do. The proportion serving laddoos to baraatis is up from 33.6% in the east and 2.7% in the west, to almost 100% in both cases.

The data shows that despite major improvements , dalits are still far from achieving equality in status or income. Caste oppression and inequalities remain. Nevertheless, the changes constitute a social revolution, sparked by both economic reform and the rise of the BSP.

In the survey, dalits themselves emphasized that their social well-being had advanced even faster than their material wellbeing . Self-respect and dignity are vital for the downtrodden. Mayawati’s statue-building spree is a form of status building.

Amartya Sen has talked of freedom as development . This means not just more consumption but more voice, access to accountability , access to influential networks and livelihood choice, access to good governance, and physical security. The traditional castebound village in UP denied all these to dalits. Those shackles are breaking apart.

4 thoughts on “The social revolution in Uttar Pradesh

  • 2011.Mar.02 at 14:46
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    i read ur articles regularly.love them.does this influence policy makers??

    i want to know why housing can not b a infra structure project for govt with private partnership??

    Reply
  • 2010.Oct.05 at 19:24
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    Amazing..

    Am an avid reader of all your columns since 1997.. really love the detailed analyses with numbers and 360 degs impact analyses. Loved reading the ones on shale gas reserves.. am sure shale will change the geo-political scenario too in future.

    Please keep on writing on contemporary issues.. reading your posts keeps me charged the whole week 🙂

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  • 2010.Oct.05 at 10:52
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    The improvement in Dalit economy and social status is a reality in U.P, but the enhanced economic status that came earlier helped in achieving the social status. In village society the concept of caste is no longer as rigid as earlier due to various factors(Deepankar Gupta also reported this finding in his publications).The most important factor is land reforms initiated in 50’s which makes the rural economy and society homogenous through the abolition of land lords, big farmers and distribution of surplus land among dalits. The other important factors were falling incomes in agriculture,the profession in which most of the dominant casts involed, in comparison to other economic activities in which dalit families were employed. The consequence was accumulation of more resources with dalits.The loan waiver for schedule castes by Indira Gandhi in 70’s, which abolished the bonded labour forever specially in western UP, competitive agriculture wage rates, development of urban centers near the villages with diversified employment opportunities that opened the new avenues for landless dalits who were dependent primarily on farm labour, representation of dalits in Government Jobs through reservation policies, increased enrolments in educational institutions were notable development that prepared the ground for social mobility. The political rising of Mayawati came as a last blow for the caste system in rural socity.Through the posting of Dalit officers at the key posts and signal politics of Mayawati instill a new confidence in dalits specially in youths. It is reality now that the higher castes are now dependent to some extent for their economies on Dalits as reported in the case of tractor drivers and share cropping. The reservation in local bodies also make a great difference and responsible for the removal of the impurity concept.The positive steps will end the archaic caste system in near future especially in the public life of villages.

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  • 2010.Oct.05 at 00:07
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    Education is very important for freedom and social upliftment. It would be nice if you can present some data about that.

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