21-Dec-2011

Is Merit The Reason For Caste-based Poverty and Backwardness?


A little bit of time travel to 2009/10 triggered by this article: Congress ups the ante on quotas.  Two reviews of the book "Blocked By Caste".

The economics of caste inequity.  From the latter:
Reactions to the caste question are fairly predictable in India. The average (upper caste) response is that the policy of reservations has gone on far too long and that discrimination is very much a thing of the past. As to why certain social groups remain extremely poor and backward despite the legal safeguards, the usual explanation is that Dalits are either not well educated or do not have the merit to make it to good jobs.
Blocked by Caste should come as an eye-opener to those who subscribe to this view. It proves that the social and economic exclusion of Dalits (and Muslims) continues to be pervasive in a nation that speaks the global language of meritocracy and level playing fields but has been unable to shed historical caste prejudices. 
...What it does reveal is that the dominant Brahminical ideology, which categorises the Dalit and the Muslim minority as the ‘other’, has tinted the view of the private sector to a large degree. Economic discrimination is a subject that has received little attention and this book focuses on contemporary patterns of discrimination in various markets, labour in particular, along with discrimination in the delivery of public goods and services by the government.
...Thorat and Paul Attewell, professor of sociology at the University of New York, used a similar methodology in India to arrive at similar conclusions. They sent out three sets of applications for jobs advertised in major dailies over a 13-month period, using a stereotypical high caste Hindu name, a recognisable Muslim name and a distinctive Dalit name. The consistent result: applicants with Dalit and Muslim names had a significantly lower chance of a positive outcome than persons with a high caste Hindu name.
IT companies were included too.  How can such visceral attitudes be changed or at least be circumvented?  


A useful four-fold classification of the types of discrimination is proposed by Thorat and Newman: complete exclusion, selective inclusion, unfavourable inclusion, and selective exclusion. Complete exclusion would occur, for example, if Dalits were totally excluded from purchase of land in certain residential areas. Selective inclusion refers to differential treatment or inclusion in markets, such as disparity in payment of wages to Dalit workers and other workers. Unfavourable inclusion or forced inclusion refers to tasks in which Dalits are incorporated based on traditional caste practices, such as bonded labour. Lastly, selective exclusion refers to exclusion of those involved in “polluting occupations” (such as leather tanning or sanitary work) from certain jobs and services.
There is a body of research on discrimination in rural areas and on the continuation of caste barriers to economic and social mobility in village India. There is a myth, however, that caste does not matter in the urban milieu and that, with the anonymity of the big city and with education and associated job and occupational mobility (assisted by affirmative action), traditional caste-based discriminatory practices disappear. This book explodes that myth in a set of chapters that focus on the formal labour market.
All italics mine.  



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