Friday, April 03, 2015
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
IN HIS inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty.
Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%—a reduction of almost 1 billion people.
Now the world has a serious chance to redeem Truman’s pledge to lift the least fortunate. Of the 7 billion people alive on the planet, 1.1 billion subsist below the internationally accepted extreme-poverty line of $1.25 a day. Starting this week and continuing over the next year or so, the UN’s usual Who’s Who of politicians and officials from governments and international agencies will meet to draw up a new list of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were set in September 2000 and expire in 2015. Governments should adopt as their main new goal the aim of reducing by another billion the number of people in extreme poverty by 2030.
Take a bow, capitalism
Nobody in the developed world comes remotely close to the poverty level that $1.25 a day represents. America’s poverty line is $63 a day for a family of four. In the richer parts of the emerging world $4 a day is the poverty barrier. But poverty’s scourge is fiercest below $1.25 (the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines, measured in 2005 dollars and adjusted for differences in purchasing power): people below that level live lives that are poor, nasty, brutish and short. They lack not just education, health care, proper clothing and shelter—which most people in most of the world take for granted—but even enough food for physical and mental health. Raising people above that level of wretchedness is not a sufficient ambition for a prosperous planet, but it is a necessary one.
The world’s achievement in the field of poverty reduction is, by almost any measure, impressive. Although many of the original MDGs—such as cutting maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds—will not be met, the aim of halving global poverty between 1990 and 2015 was achieved five years early.
The MDGs may have helped marginally, by creating a yardstick for measuring progress, and by focusing minds on the evil of poverty. Most of the credit, however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow—and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution.
Poverty rates started to collapse towards the end of the 20th century largely because developing-country growth accelerated, from an average annual rate of 4.3% in 1960-2000 to 6% in 2000-10. Around two-thirds of poverty reduction within a country comes from growth. Greater equality also helps, contributing the other third. A 1% increase in incomes in the most unequal countries produces a mere 0.6% reduction in poverty; in the most equal countries, it yields a 4.3% cut.
China (which has never shown any interest in MDGs) is responsible for three-quarters of the achievement. Its economy has been growing so fast that, even though inequality is rising fast, extreme poverty is disappearing. China pulled 680m people out of misery in 1981-2010, and reduced its extreme-poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to 10% now.
That is one reason why (as the briefing explains) it will be harder to take a billion more people out of extreme poverty in the next 20 years than it was to take almost a billion out in the past 20. Poorer governance in India and Africa, the next two targets, means that China’s experience is unlikely to be swiftly replicated there. Another reason is that the bare achievement of pulling people over the $1.25-a-day line has been relatively easy in the past few years because so many people were just below it. When growth makes them even slightly better off, it hauls them over the line. With fewer people just below the official misery limit, it will be more difficult to push large numbers over it.
So caution is justified, but the goal can still be achieved. If developing countries maintain the impressive growth they have managed since 2000; if the poorest countries are not left behind by faster-growing middle-income ones; and if inequality does not widen so that the rich lap up all the cream of growth—then developing countries would cut extreme poverty from 16% of their populations now to 3% by 2030. That would reduce the absolute numbers by 1 billion. If growth is a little faster and income more equal, extreme poverty could fall to just 1.5%—as near to zero as is realistically possible. The number of the destitute would then be about 100m, most of them in intractable countries in Africa. Misery’s billions would be consigned to the annals of history.
Markets v misery
That is a lot of ifs. But making those things happen is not as difficult as cynics profess. The world now knows how to reduce poverty. A lot of targeted policies—basic social safety nets and cash-transfer schemes, such as Brazil’s Bolsa Família—help. So does binning policies like fuel subsidies to Indonesia’s middle class and China’s hukou household-registration system (see article) that boost inequality. But the biggest poverty-reduction measure of all is liberalising markets to let poor people get richer. That means freeing trade between countries (Africa is still cruelly punished by tariffs) and within them (China’s real great leap forward occurred because it allowed private business to grow). Both India and Africa are crowded with monopolies and restrictive practices.
Many Westerners have reacted to recession by seeking to constrain markets and roll globalisation back in their own countries, and they want to export these ideas to the developing world, too. It does not need such advice. It is doing quite nicely, largely thanks to the same economic principles that helped the developed world grow rich and could pull the poorest of the poor out of destitution.