USA and India: Comparison of hardships faced by Blacks and Dalits

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U.S.A and India: Comparison of Blacks and Dalits.

The case for affirmative action for blacks of U.S and for untouchables, or Dalits, in India can be made both on account of historical deprivation as well as on grounds of persistent disparity and continuing discrimination. Thus, despite the differences between race and caste as institutions, the end result for Blacks and Dalits are very similar. Affirmative action can be, and is, viewed as a program of compensation for historical injustices and very few would argue with the contention that historically, Dalits and Blacks suffered deep injustices, disparity, deprivation and discrimination. However, the case for affirmative action on grounds of contemporary disparities and discrimination is highly contentious. In what follows, it will be argued that both in India and the USA, the current economic and social systems perpetuate patterns of caste-based or race-based disparities in all spheres of life: education, occupation/work, income/consumption, and health indicators. The continued presence of social and economic discrimination aggravates these disparities. The case for caste based affirmative action in India. The logic for continuing affirmative action for SC and STs is based on the following set of arguments.

Inter group economic disparity: there are various standard of living indicators that establish persistent inter group disparity between SC/STs on the one hand and the rest of the population on the other. In the absence of reliable income figures at the national level, monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) is routinely used as a proxy for standard of living. Using NSS data, Deshpande (2005) provides a detailed improvement in their status over 50 years after independence, it has not been sufficient to reverse the economic gap. Deshpande (2004) maps the same index for 1998-99 and finds that the pattern persists. The belief that liberalization of the economy would lower inter-caste disparities is not borne out by evidence. In fact, some of the more pro-reform states account of levels and patterns of consumption expenditure for SC/ST and Others and changes therein over the last twenty years at the national and state levels. The SC-ST versus Others disparity in MPCE is seen unambiguously for each of the four NSS rounds (1983; 1987-88; 1993-94; 1999-2000). This disparity is seen both at the national and state levels. Each of the social groups has seen a rise in MPCE over the last two decades, but the rise is greater for others than for SC-ST. Both in the rural and urban areas, the Others’ MPCE is greater than for ALL: for 1999-00, the Others’ MPCE at constant prices was Rs.236 for urban areas and Rs.143 for rural areas. The corresponding figures for ALL were Rs.223 and Rs.133 respectively. For SC, these were Rs.159 and Rs.114 and for ST, these were Rs.178 and Rs.108 respectively. Thus, rural STs not only have the lowest MPCE, but their MPCE has stagnated for most of the 1990s in real terms. In interpreting these figures, it needs to kept in mind that ‘Others’ is a very large and heterogeneous category and includes castes that are not very different from SCs in social and economic position. If, despite this, we see significant gaps between SCs-STs and ‘Others’, it follows that the gaps between SCSTs and those at the higher end of the others category must be much higher.

The disparities persist in rates of growth of MPCE for different social groups, details of which are discussed in Deshpande (2005). The only group that experienced a r.o.g. of real MPCE of more than 1 percent in the 1990s has been urban Others. For STs, the r.o.g. has either stagnated or declined and for SCs, the increase is marginal. For the gap in MPCE to close between social groups, the rog for SC-ST groups will have to be higher than that for the others. The reality is the reverse, thus, there is seems to be no basis to expect a convergence in consumption levels.

Deshpande (2001) constructs a “Caste Development Index” (CDI) based on five indicators of standard of living (land holding, occupation, education, ownership of consumer durables, and of livestock). The all India mapping of the CDI reveals that in the early 1990s, there was substantial regional variation in the status of SC/ST populations, but in no state of India was their CDI higher than that of the others. Whatever the improvement in their status over 50 years after independence, it has not been sufficient to reverse the economic gap. Deshpande (2004) maps the same index for 1998-99 and finds that the pattern persists. The belief that liberalization of the economy would lower inter -caste disparities is not borne out by evidence. Infact, some of the more pro-reform states in India have seen an increase in disparities.

Dalits continue to suffer from a “stigmatized ethnic identity” due to their untouchable past and there is corresponding social backwardness. Human Rights Watch (1999) amply demonstrates the various aspects of violence, exclusion and rejection that Dalits continue to face in contemporary India. There is evidence to suggest that this stigma can affect economic performance adversely, thus perpetuating caste based inequalities. Hoff and Pande (2004) provide experimental evidence that “a social identity – a product of history, culture and personal experience of discrimination – creates pronounced economic disadvantage for a group through its effect on individuals’ expectations”. They conducted controlled experiments in rural Uttar Pradesh where caste was publicly announced and groups were segregated by their caste affiliation. In controlled settings, in which any possible difference in treatment towards castes was removed, social identity affected behaviour largely because it affected expectations. Thus, their findings provide “evidence for an additional explanation, beyond differences in access to various resources (emphasis in the original), for the tendency for social inequalities to reproduce themselves over time”.

If equality of opportunity between castes is the objective, then affirmative action is needed to provide a level playing field to members of SC/ST communities.Finally (arguably) social policy ought to compensate for the historical wrongs of a system that generated systematic disparity between caste groups and actively discriminated against certain groups.Caste based discrimination in labour, land, capital and consumer goods markets (preventing SCs from entering, say, milk production and distribution) continue both in urban and rural areas. In labour markets this is manifested both as wage discrimination and job discrimination. Formal studies of wage and job discrimination are few (Banerjee and Knight, Bhattacharjea, 1985, Lakshmansamy and Madheswaran, 1995). These studies are localized and dated (there is no all India study as yet), but they point to discriminatory gaps in earnings both in the formal and informal sector.

Founders of modern India, who gave the policy of affirmative action decisive shape, had two approaches to social justice. One was the principle of “equality in law” whereby the State should not deny any person equality before the law. The second was the principle of “equality in fact” which gives the State an affirmative duty to remedy existing inequalities.

Opponents of affirmative action see a contradiction in the two whereas proponents of affirmative action argue that the two constitutional doctrines supplement rather than contradict each other. True equality can be achieved only if the state maintains an integrated society but adopts unequally beneficial measures to help those previously disadvantaged.

The history of shows that Women are facing huge violence in India from long period of time. In spite of legal protection provided to the Dalits by the Constitution, discrimination of Dalit has been a huge problem  in India and this problem is increasing day by day. This problem will not stop until government will not take strong steps to remove the prevalent discrimination and through proper education among the higher castes.  However, the affirmative action program needs to be strengthened since income disparities continue to be important. Affirmative action has kept the beneficiary groups and their problems visible to the educated public, but it has not motivated widespread concern for their inclusion beyond what is mandated by government policy. Unlike in the USA, in India there is no national enforcement mechanism for the reservation system, even though there is a Ministry for Social Justice in the Central Government. While civil action is not an available remedy for denial of due benefits, the alternative is in the form of a writ jurisdiction under Article 32 and 226 of the Indian constitution. However, given the dominance of upper castes in the judiciary, there is an upper caste/elite bias in the redressal mechanism. A formal writ application and subsequent appearances by lawyers in a court are too expensive for most potential petitioners. The central government does have a National SC/ST Commission, but so far it has not played a pro-active role in ensuring implementation of quotas.

While this was enshrined in the Indian constitution, adopted in 1950, via Article 15 (4) (reserve places for the under privileged in state run educational institutions) and Article 16 (4) (reservation of government jobs), this program has a history that precedes independence. In some areas, such as parts of present day Kerala and Karnataka, the British introduced quotas almost a hundred years ago. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, an outstanding theoretician and one of the most important leaders of the Dalit movement drafted the constitution of independent India. Making affirmative action for SCs and STs a part of the constitution, a move largely due to Ambedkar, ensured that it is mandatory and cannot be questioned in theory. However, in practice, due to the upper caste predominance in all these institutions, its implementation is indifferent and not free from legal battles and quotas often remain incompletely fulfilled.

Founders of modern India, who gave the policy of affirmative action decisive shape, had two approaches to social justice. One was the principle of “equality in law” whereby the State should not deny any person equality before the law. The second was the principle of “equality in fact” which gives the State an affirmative duty to remedy existing inequalities. Opponents of affirmative action see a contradiction in the two whereas proponents of affirmative action argue that the two constitutional doctrines supplement rather than contradict each other. True equality can be achieved only if the state maintains an integrated society but adopts unequally beneficial measures to help those previously disadvantaged.

This article is penned by Ashutosh Pandey.