Women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and persons with disabilities tend to be excluded, or discriminated, from access to public goods

EXCLUSIONThe “India Exclusion Report 2013-14”, released by Books for Change, provides a comprehensive, updated analysis on the exclusion of disadvantaged groups in India, especially Women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and persons with disabilities. These groups tend to be either excluded completely from access to public goods, or excluded on unequal and discriminatory terms compared to other sections of society.

The report says that consistent exclusion of these communities from just and equitable access to diverse public goods — school education, urban housing, decent work in labour markets and legal justice in relation to anti-terror legislations – suggests that both in their design and functioning state institutions, policies and laws tend to mirror, produce and reproduce discrimination and exploitation based on gender, caste, class, religion and disability. An excerpt from the report:

School Education

While it is officially reported that elementary school enrolment is nearing 100 per cent, there is cause to be sceptical about this finding, because it is ‘blind’ to sizeable numbers of children who are completely invisible to the state. This invisibility is particularly shocking with respect to one category of these children, namely urban street children, who are physically visible to policy makers every day but continue to be excluded from the education system. There are few reliable estimates of these children but a 2011 study found 50,000 street children in Delhi alone. About half of them were illiterate, and only about 20 per cent had received some formal education.

exclusion1As per United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimates, there were 11 million street children in India in 1994, a number that is likely to have gone up significantly since then. There are, in addition, according to the government, about 12 million working children in the five-to 14-years age group in 2001, but unofficial estimates put the number at as high as 60 million. Child Rights and You (CRY) in India estimates that there are about five million children in commercial sex work in the country, 71 per cent of whom are illiterate.

An estimated six million migrating children find their schooling interrupted and do not attend school,15 while at least 500,000 people were internally displaced due to conflict and violence in India by the end of 2011.16 About 145,000 of the estimated 2.1 million living with HIV/AIDS in India in 2011 were children below the age of 15. Children from such highly excluded groups face formidable and often insurmountable barriers in their access to schooling due to the specific nature of their vulnerabilities.

Despite high enrolment levels, the large majority of children, particularly from Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim communities, and children with disablities, drop out without completing elementary education or school education till class X. In 2012–13, the Net Enrolment Ratio for school children was estimated to be 90.78 per cent at the primary level, but fell to 62.24 per cent at the upper primary level. These groups continue to have significantly lower levels of educational achievement and access compared to the general population.

exclusion2Poverty plays a vital role in exacerbating such exclusion from education: statistics from the 64th NSS round (2007–08), estimate that only about half of the people in the bottom 10 per cent of the population (based on Monthly Per Capita Expenditure or MPCE) were literate, as compared to a literacy rate of 88.4 per cent for the top 10 per cent of the population. The same data also shows that poorer children have lower educational participation indicators like enrolment and attendance, and higher dropout rates.

Since the incidence of poverty is higher in marginalized households, including Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and female-headed households, and households with persons with disabilities, such groups are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of poverty on educational exclusion.

Urban Housing

Turning to urban housing, the picture is similar. The Kundu Committee report argues that the overall housing shortage in India is of the order of 18.78 million units. 95 per cent of the shortage in housing affects families classified as either Low Income Group (LIG, household income between Rs 5,000–10,000 a month) or Economically Weaker Sections (EWS, household income under Rs 5,000 a month).

exclusion3In addition to these households facing housing shortage, the Kundu Committee estimates that there are 530,000 homeless households. However, this figure is widely thought to be an underestimation, with a more realistic number being closer to 3 million households. The major housing shortage in India, according to the Kundu Committee, encompasses those living in housing conditions that are defined as ‘housing poverty’, households living in unacceptable dwelling units or in ‘unacceptable physical and social conditions’.

Housing quality indicators from the 2011 Census also indicate significant differences based on caste and tribal status. SCs and STs, and among them, female-headed Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) households, have lower quality housing on average. SC households are more likely to be built of grass, thatch, bamboo or mud than the average household, for example.

ST households are more likely to have walls of mud or unburnt brick—only 22 per cent of ST households have walls made of brick or concrete. While 53 per cent of all households nationally do not have a latrine within the premises, the figure rises to 66 and 77 per cent for SCs and STs, respectively, and within them, to 78 and 88 per cent for female-headed SC and ST households, respectively. About 82 per cent of all households in India have either open or no drains for waste water. Again, this figure rises to 88 per cent for female-headed households, and to 94 per cent for ST households.

exclusion4In low-income and slum settlements in India, it is common to find a preference for male tenants, or exclusion of tenants of certain regions of the country, and even a binary inclusion of a particular community. This experience is mirrored in access to housing finance, for example, which has clear exclusions along religious, caste and class lines, marked most notably by periodic outcry over banks declaring minority-dominated neighbourhoods as ‘no-lending zones’, officially and unofficially. Discrimination in access to housing is difficult to measure at scale.

Yet, individual studies repeatedly suggest patterns of systemic segregation. In Mumbai, for example, Sameera Khan found a common and complex pattern of exclusion and self-segregation. Muslims were receding from mixed housing as a result of denial of rental and ownership access, and making a strategic retreat to Muslim-dominated localities, where they felt safer. Additionally, studies have found pervasive discrimination in housing access to Dalits, people living with HIV, transgender and Hijra communities, and people with disabilities. What seems to emerge, underscoring the argument of this report, is the overlapping of familiar disadvantages in the housing space: gender, caste, religion and ability.

Decent Work in Labour Markets

Official data estimates that around 400 million workers in India are employed in the informal sector. Without the availability of formal employment, the solution for workers lies either in opting for self-employment or becoming a casual labourer. In fact, the vast majority of jobs created in recent years have been in the informal sector. Even within the formal sector, workers are increasingly being engaged in what is effectively ‘informal’ employment, with no secured tenure of employment, social security or other protections.  Such informal-sector and informally employed workers are extremely vulnerable to exclusion from decent work.

exlusiion5Certain sections of society are overrepresented among those who are consistently denied access to decent work. For these groups, the inaccessibility of decent work is not an arbitrary occurrence, but is buried in traditions of caste, class, religion and gender. For instance, there is a preponderance of Dalits in casual labour. In 2009–10, 59 per cent of SCs in rural areas were engaged as agricultural or non-agricultural labourers, compared to an overall average of 40.4 per cent; in urban areas too, 25.1 per cent of SCs worked as casual labour, as opposed to 13.4 per cent of the overall population.

Along with Dalits, Adivasis make up a substantial part of the workforce engaged in casual labour, in both rural and urban areas. The data for Muslims is stark, even when compared to other vulnerable groups. Data shows that in 2009–10, only 30.4 per cent of the Muslim workers in urban areas were engaged in regular wage paying or salaried work, compared to 39.7 per cent of the total population. Muslims with regular employment are mostly involved in inferior or lowend work, and as a result their job conditions are generally much worse than those of other regular workers, including Dalits and Adivasis.

Persons with disabilities are also particularly excluded from the labour market. Estimates from the 58th round of the ‘National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) surveys showed that only 26.3 per cent of disabled persons were employed in economic activities, saying nothing of the nature or conditions of employment. The proportion of employed people among the mentally disabled was the lowest, at 5.6 per cent. The proportion of employed persons among disabled women was just 10.4 per cent.

exclusion6Women also suffer from multiple disadvantages in the labour market. In a global survey on female labour market participation, India ranked 11th from the bottom out of 133 countries. Women face the double burden of unpaid care work at home, and paid work in the informal sector, usually in low-paying and precarious jobs, to balance their unpaid care work responsibilities. A considerable pay gap also exists between men and women, in both the formal and informal sectors.

These and other exclusionary practices largely coincide with general discriminatory attitudes and practices towards women, as well as their lower social status, leaving them highly vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence, including sexual harassment at the workplace.

Legal Justice in Relation to Anti-Terror Laws

One of the clearest indicators of the exclusionary nature of law and justice in India is the significant overrepresentation of marginalized groups like Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims in prison population, particularly of undertrial prisoners who are yet to be convicted for their alleged crime. With respect to the application of anti-terror legislations in India, and the socio-economic background of persons charged or detained under such laws, there is little official data available.

exclusion7However, a number of unofficial sources have documented the extensive misuse of anti-terror laws, particularly in terms of their selective targeting of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, activists, and political opponents. Between 1985, when the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) came into force, and 1994, approximately 67,000 persons were arrested, of which only 8,000 went to trial and just 725 were convicted. Examples of the misuse of TADA included the targeting of minorities, particularly Muslims (for example, in Rajasthan, where only Muslims and Sikhs were detained under the act), and its heavy use in states that were relatively unaffected by terrorism.37 By 1993, for instance, 19,263 persons had been arrested under TADA in Gujarat, the majority of them anti-dam protestors, trade unionists and persons belonging to religious minorities.

With the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), similar cases of misuse began to surface soon after its enactment in 2002. Jharkhand, for instance, had already arrested 202 persons (including at least one minor) under POTA by February 2003, much higher number than for other states. Most of those charged under the act were Adivasis, Dalits and members of other marginalized groups. In Gujarat, all but one of the cases registered under the Act by the end of 2003 were against Muslims, and the one exception was a Sikh.

exclusion8While both TADA and POTA stand repealed, several of their draconian provisions have found their way into the the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, UAPA (in its later amendments) and various state-specific anti-terror laws, which themselves remain extremely prone to abuse. The Coordination of Democratic Rights Organizations (CDRO) has documented numerous such instances of the improper application of the UAPA to silence activists and political dissenters, and selectively target members of certain communities, particularly Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.

Similarly, the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) has documented the widespread targeting of Muslims in Delhi, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh under anti-terror laws. The reports detail how Muslim youth in these states have been arrested and charged with serious offences under the UAPA, based on flimsy, tampered or fabricated evidence linking them to a terrorist attack or a terrorist organization.

The investigative journalism website, Gulail, has reported on the abuse of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), to falsely implicate 13 innocent Muslim men in the July 2006 train blasts in Mumbai. A similar investigation by Gulail in Odisha found that the UAPA and other laws were being widely misused to quell dissent and target numerous activists, journalists, lawyers, students and Adivasis. Based on its investigation, the website estimated that in 2013 there were 530 persons (about 400 of them Adivasis) in jail for what appeared to be fabricated cases.

In Chhattisgarh, a number of Adivasis and human rights activists, perhaps most prominently Binayak Sen, have been charged under the UAPA and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA) for being members or sympathizers of Maoist organizations.

 The Role of Poverty

The poor find themselves heavily overrepresented among informal-sector workers and those denied access to decent work. Poor economic status can also significantly harm an accused person’s access to fair and impartial justice, particularly by hampering their ability to secure suitable legal representation. Poverty can thus play an important role in facilitating exclusion from public goods and in the case of marginalized and discriminated communities, exacerbating such exclusions. There are, however, complex linkages between poverty and exclusion; poverty is both a cause and a consequence of exclusion from critical public goods, often pushing those at the margins into a vicious cycle of deprivation that is hard to escape.

Though India’s poverty has declined over time, this has not been a uniform process. There is evidence to suggest that ‘poverty is getting increasingly concentrated in a few geographical areas (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha), and among specific social groups, including Dalits and Adivasis (in both rural and urban areas), Muslims in urban areas and Christians in rural areas (mainly Odisha), assetless labour (landless rural labour and casual workers in urban areas) and women. There is also evidence to suggest that interpersonal, rural–urban and across-state inequalities in per capita consumption and in human development outcomes have increased in recent years, though not uniformly. These trends have a direct bearing on understanding and addressing the exclusions faced by the different groups discussed in this report.


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