The latest Gujarat government-sponsored and CEPT University-prepared study, “Impact of Caste Discrimination and Distinctions on Equal Opportunities: A Study of Gujarat” — whose declared effort is to “review” the 2010 report prepared by the John F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Navsarjan Trust, “Understanding Untouchability” — may have undermined untouchability as some kind of a “perception” issue. However, its second effort, to “prove” how scheduled castes (SCs) have improved their economic status over the years falls flat the moment one scans through the main part of the report, which consists of a plethora of data collected by scholars on economic profile of SCs, other backward classes (OBCs) and other castes and communities (OCCs).
In fact, of the nearly 230 pages of the functional part of the study, the scholars, led by Prof R Parthasarathy, devote nearly 200 pages on economic profile, educational, health and other facilities, and how the three groups have been getting advantage of government subsidies. In an effort to prove that all’s well, the scholar conclude, “The present study found that over generations many SC household members have achieved higher education levels than not only the OBC but also other castes and communities. This has resulted in shifting occupational profiles for them, a major cause being the affirmative action.” Only a small part of the report, about 30 pages, deals peripherally with social discrimination, not even once referring to untouchability directly, as if it does not exist.
Yet, the huge data, dotted on almost every alternative page, collected by the scholars for just five villages (as against more than 1,500 villages in “Understanding Untouchability”) suggest that the economic gap between the SC and OBC households, on one hand, and the OCC households, on the other, remains as high as before. Even if considering that there was some occupational change overtime, which is what the scholars point towards, they have refused to quantify this to suggest if the occupational diversification of SC and OBC communities has acquired a higher proportion than that of OCC communities. Referring to those who were engaged in animal husbandry in the previous generation, the study admits, “Among OBC households, a majority of the siblings are engaged in animal husbandry and agricultural labour.” As for SC households, “a large majority next generation has been engaged in agricultural labour followed by other prevalent occupations as non-agricultural wage labour.”
In fact, the sample taken by scholars has revealed that 65.3 per cent of SC households in the five villages of study are dependent on agricultural labour as the main source of income, as against 30.6 per cent OBC households and just about 4 per cent OCC households. While just about 12 per cent of SC households are dependent on regular employment, where it is possible to earn a higher income over a longer period of time, compared to 22.4 per cent OBC households and 34.7 per cent OCC households. As for wage labour in non-agricultural sector as the main source, 22 per cent of the SC households, 68 per cent OBC households, and just about 10 per cent OCC households are dependent on it. As for animal husbandry, 27.8 per cent of SC households, 66.7 per cent OBC households, and just 5.6 per cent of OCC households are dependent on it. And as for dependence on cultivation, it is 30.6 per cent SC households, 28.6 per cent OBC households and 41.6 per cent OCC households.
The sample further reveals, among the cultivators, 63.2 per cent of the SC households own less than one hectare (ha) of land, as against 29.8 OBC households, and just seven per cent OCC households. There are a few SC households who own large holdings, of more than four ha — they are 13 per cent of the sample. The percentage of OBC households here is the same — 13. But is a whopping 73.9 per cent with regard to OCC households. The scholars think that it would be wrong to interpret the difference in ownership on its face value. To quote them, “Land ownership data must be examined along with the land productivity, access to irrigation and major sources of household income…” Yet, at another place they admit, “No relationship appears to exist between land size and productivity in case of SC and OBC cultivators since they are all marginal and small landholders.”
Data show that SC households pursuing animal husbandry as their main occupation fail to upkeep their breed as well as OBC and OCC households do. The scholars say, “Average daily yield of cow is highest amongst the OBCs at around 11.6 litres, followed by OCCs at 8.4 litres and the SCs at 4.9 litres.” As for buffaloes, “average daily yield amongst OCC households” was found to be “the highest at 11.2 litres, closely followed by the OBC households at 10.5 litres and 7.7 litres amongst the SCs.” Overall, the scholars add, “average income from cow and buffalo milk was highest for OCC followed by OBC and SC.”
The scholars indicate that larger number of SC households are forced to migrate to other places for agricultural work. They say, “Households were enquired if any members undertook migration for work in the last three years…” Among those who migrated, “whereas 55 per cent of the households are OBC, 42 per cent are SC, there are just one per cent OCC households.” They add, “It is mostly wage labour-based households that have reported migration and within that it is mostly agricultural one… Most of the migrants migrated alone or with some member of the household. In Kherva, average daily wage reported by SC households was Rs 110 as against reports of 120 by OBC and OCC… Even the average number of workdays is much less in the case of SC households…” As for the “economically better off household members, mainly Patels”, the scholars underline, their migration is mainly for education and also “work in foreign countries.”
Coming to assets, movable and immovable, the field data collected by the scholars suggest that 53.7 per cent of SC households and 51 per cent of OBC households live in pucca houses, as against 90 per cent OCC households. Further, only 26.7 per cent of the SC households and 20 per cent OBC households have toilets at home, as against 87.6 per cent of OCC households. Just about 8.6 per cent of SC households own scooters or motorbikes, as against 17.9 per cent OBC households and 61.1 per cent OCC households. And, 6.3 per cent SC households have fridge as against 9.7 per cent OBC households and 62.2 per cent OCC households. Not without reason, the scholars’ survey shows that 63.40 SC households are below poverty line (BPL), and are dependent on subsidized BPL ration, as against 37.2 per cent OBC households and just about 4.40 per cent OCC households.
— Rajiv Shah