Friday, April 03, 2015
The social revolution in Uttar Pradesh
The media remains full of stories of caste oppression, inequalities and lousy economic and social indicators. Without doubt, dalits remain close to the bottom of the income ladder. Nevertheless, the new study reveals huge improvements in economic and social terms, based on questions to capture realities that dalits themselves view as important . The survey covered all dalit households in two blocks in UP, one in the relatively prosperous west (Khurja) and one in the backward east (Bilariaganj), between 1990 and 2008.
The dalit proportion with pucca houses rose from 18.1% to 64.4% in the east and from 38.4% to 94.6% in the west. TV ownership improved from virtually zero to 22.2% and 45% respectively. Cellphone ownership increased from almost nothing to 36.3% and 32.5% respectively.
Fan ownership, curbed by electricity shortages, rose to 36.7% and 61.4% respectively . Bicycle ownership has become ubiquitous, up from 46.6% to 84.1% in the east and from 37.7 to 83.7% in the west.
A motorcycle symbolizes high rural status . Dalit ownership of two-wheelers improved from almost zero to 7.6% and 12.3% respectively. NSS consumption surveys consider purchases only in a short pre-survey period, and so miss durables acquired over the years.
In times of distress, dalits historically mortgaged jewellery to upper caste lenders. The proportion that does so has dropped from 75.8% to 29.3% in the east and from 64.6% to 21.2% in the west.
Dalits have switched from inferior foods (broken rice, jaggery ras) to superior foods (whole rice, pulses, tomatoes). The proportion eating roti-chutney for lunch, socially viewed as low-class food, has fallen from 82% to just 2% and 9% in the two zones. The proportion of kids eating the previous night’s leftovers plummeted from 95.9% to just 16.2% in the east. The proportion eating broken rice fell from 54% to 2.6% in the east, and from 22.7% to 1.1% in the west.
Per capita availability of dal in India has been falling. So it’s heartening that dalits consuming dal are up from 31% to 90% in the east, and from 60.1% to 96.9% in the west. This may be one cause for rising dal prices.
Consumption of jaggery ras, usually drunk by the poorest, has collapsed. Meanwhile dalit consumption of packaged salt, elaichi and tomatoes has shot up.
Critics say the poor have been bypassed by economic reforms. But in this dalit survey , 61% in the east and 38% in the west said their food and clothing situation was “much better.” Only 2% said their condition was stagnant or worse.
Traditionally, dalits were mainly agricultural labourers. In the reform era, they have diversified into non-traditional work. Migration and remittances have become engines of empowerment.
The dalit proportion benefiting from migrant relatives is up from 14% to 50.5% in the east, and from 6.1% to 28.6% in the west. More revolutionary, the proportion running their own business is up from 4.2% to 11% in the east and from 6% to 36.7% in the west. The proportion in agricultural labour has plummeted from 76% to 45.6% in the east and from 46.1 to just 20.5% in the west.
What has driven these changes? The dalits themselves say the changes began 10-15 years ago, in the reform era. UP has lagged well behind the fast-reforming states. Yet in the five years 2003-04 to 2008-09 , its average GDP growth has accelerated to 6.29%. This is well behind the national average, yet not far from the 7% generally viewed as the “miracle-economy” threshold. Per capita income is growing almost 10 times faster than in the Nehru-Indira era, and dalits are sharing the new prosperity.
The authors see the last two decades as an economic reform era. But this period has also seen the meteoric rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which could be an even stronger driver of dalit economic improvement.
Mayawati has been chief minister four times, and has obliged all bureaucrats and other lobbies to ensure that dalits get their fair share of benefits. This is reflected not just in higher dalit ownership of TVs or cellphones , but in transformed social relations. Dalits can now look upper castes in the eye, and nothing will be the same again. Spelling out the social changes in UP merits an entire column. That will be next week’s topic.
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.
-Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar