Sustainable Development Goals: Socially excluded vulnerable groups face multiple disadvantages

hotspotsExcerpts from ‘100 Hotspots: Snapshot of Socially Excluded and Vulnerable Population Groups and SDGs in India’, anchored by Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (HRF) and Life Education & Development Support (LEADS), coordinated by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA), and supported by Amnesty International, Bread for the World (BFdW), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and International Civil Society Centre (ICSC):

Currently there exists the complex challenge of tracking development disadvantages of hundreds of excluded population groups across the country and ensuring equitable entitlements are directed towards them. The present government’s method of implementing and reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are based on metadata and aggregations that gloss over significant disparities.

The study is participatory, and is co-created and implemented with the members of the said population groups. This report covers 1,000 households from 10 excluded population groups in 10 hotspots across 10 states on a set of SDG indicators.

The 10 Socially Excluded Vulnerable Population (SEVP) Groups tracked in this report faced multiple disadvantages at the inter-sections of caste, gender, religion, occupation, disability, life style and age:

1. Musahar (SC-Scheduled Caste community) Bihar

2. Munda (ST-Scheduled Tribe community) Jharkhand

3. Konda Reddy/ Koya Dhora (PVTG-Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) Andhra Pradesh

4. Gosava & Ramoshi (DNT-NT- De-notified Tribes/Nomadic Tribes) Maharashtra

5. Youth (Affected by Gender based Violence) West Bengal

6. Trans-gender (LGBTQI+) West Bengal, Bihar Kolkata

7. Bonded Labourers (Scheduled Caste)

8. Urban Poor (mix of poor communities) Maharashtra

9. People with Disabilities (PwD-Hearing, Loco-Motor and Visual disabilities) Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh

10. Single Women (Widowed/Abandoned) Himachal Pradesh


An important indicator to monitor SDG is the proportion of people living below the international poverty line at less than $1.25/person/day which translates currently to INR 86.5/person/day. The average household size in India is calculated as 4.99 person. Hence a household earning below INR 12,718/month, is poor under the SDGs.

The primary data from the 10 SEVP Groups tracked in the study reports them below the international poverty line of $1.25day/person. The household income of the urban poor is the highest among the 10 groups, which too falls below the international poverty line. India has moved to become a middle-income country, and at the World Bank’s revised poverty line for middle income country at $3.20/person/day, the household monthly income of the family calculates to INR 33,246.


The household income of the SEVP Groups is way too below the middle income country poverty line. It is also important to note that of the 10 SEVP Groups tracked, 9 groups fall below the average household income of the agricultural households in the country. The household income of the bonded labour family in the study is less than half (43.46%) that of the average agricultural household; followed by the PVTG household (56.88%), followed by NT-DNT households (64.0%).

These households earn about INR 5l,000+/ in a month, with the bonded labour household earning a mere INR3,882/-. The household income of the urban poor is the highest among the SEVP Groups tracked at INR11,765/- which is above the average agricultural household income. One also notes that urban households spend much more on basic needs like housing, water, toilets to name some. The absolute poverty of the SEVP Groups without the ability to meet basic needs puts all other SDGs in jeopardy.


India was ranked at the 103rd position among 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index 2018. According to the report, prepared by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, India is among the 45 countries that have “serious levels of hunger”. India has a set of welfare policies in place to address the issue of hunger and nutrition. The National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013 entitles up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System.

Households are given ration cards, categorised as households below poverty line (BPL households) and above poverty line (APL households) to get their entitlements under the NFSA. The primary data from the SEVP Groups reports that 80% of the households possessed any type of a ration card while 20% of the households did not have a ration card. Among four SEVP Groups LGBTQI households (49%), bonded labour households (75%), NT-DNT households (78%), Musahar (78%) possessed ration card of any type.

sdg2Ration card as an identity card is extremely important and these vulnerable groups are denied this basic document. Not having a ration card makes them ineligible for various government provisions and services. Ration card acts as an identity and residence proof for getting loans from banks, electricity connection, health care in public health facilities, etc. Given that state services are central to lifting these communities and households out of poverty and achieve the SDGs, the lack of a ration card is a fundamental loophole that creates barrier to achieving the SDGs.

All the SEVP households in the study fall below the international poverty line and hence require special equitable state support to get out of their poverty and disadvantages cycle. One would assume that having a BPL ration card that makes the household eligible for various government subsidies and special provisions would be a natural corollary. However, only 47.3% of the total households possessed a BPL card. Further only small numbers of households from single women (26%), families with PWD members (21%), NT-DNT households (24%), urban poor (23%) possessed BPL cards.

The FGDs with the SEVP Groups highlighted the fact that the process of issuing the BPL ration cards was not transparent or fair in many situations. Often the concerned authorities at the local level (Panchayati Raj Institutions-PRIs) favoured and granted BPL cards to their acquaintances and relatives. In many FGDs people demanded that the PDS also provide legumes and pulses should also be given on the ration card. Malnutrition is a major problem in the country, being 35.7 % of children malnourished. The FGDs with children from the SEVP Groups reported that families did not have access to and did not provide the basic necessary dietary diverse nutrition to children.


Access to universal quality health services including financial risk protection is a vital indicator to monitor progress under this goal. A comprehensive public health system is indispensable to promote wellbeing for all at all stages. At the country level the government of India monitors this goal by assessing out of pocket expenditure (OOPE) on health and access to quality health services (e.g. affordable medicines, pathological services, specialist doctors, etc.).

The primary data collected for this study suggests that SEVP Groups are furthest behind in terms of access to quality public health services and spends much more on health as compared to the national average. Out of pocket expenditure on health is higher than the national average in the households of 7 of the 10 SEVP Groups. Annually, the households from the De-notified tribes, Youth exposed to violence, Musahar, Urban poor and Single Women spends more than twice Out of Pocket Expenses (OOPE) on health as compared to the national average.

The fact that these households are all below the international poverty line makes it clear that they are in all probability diverting badly needed funds to meet health care needs. The high OOPE on health further forces them in to poverty trap. According to a study by Public Health Foundation of India, OOPE on health expenses drove 55 million Indians — more than the population of South Korea, Spain or Kenya — into poverty in 2011-12, and of these, 38 million (69%) were impoverished by expenditure on medicines alone.


The FGDs also reported the higher health expenditure owing to mix of factors – illnesses, money at hand, availability of health facilities, gender, violence and many more. During the FGDs SEVP Groups reported that they prefer private health facilities as the public health facilities even though free/less expensive was not tisfactory.

In the public health care facilities, as their experiences, doctors did not come regularly, pathology tests and medicines were not available. Women in Himachal Pradesh from the ‘Single Women Group’ reported they had to travel a distance of 60 kilometres to visit the nearest private health facility as there is no gynaecologist posted in the public health facility in their area.


Access to inclusive and equitable quality education is one of the most important constituents of human development. In India the Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009, guarantees free and compulsory education as a fundamental right to children between the age of 6 to 14 years under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. After enactment of the RTE Act, India witnessed a rise in the enrolment rate at various levels of school education.

However even after 10 years of enactment of the Act, the national data reports 60.64 lakh children in this age group are out of school, among them greater numbers are from the socially excluded communities (SC-32.4% and ST-16.6%). A dismal situation of schooling of children (aged 5-18 year) from the SEVP households, an unacceptable number of children from the SEVP households tracked in the study, are out of school and do not attend any school.

sdg4From the bottom only 1% children from the LGBTQI households, 22% children from the PVTG households, 30% children from the single women households and 33% children from bonded labour households, 34% children from NT-DNT households, 40% children in Musahar households, 47% children with disabilities attended any type of school.

Less than 50% of children from 7 out of 10 SEVP Groups tracked in this study attended any school. FGDs with the groups suggested children from these groups face distinct forms of discrimination and exclusion in accessing school education. Transpersons reported sexual and physical harassment in schools.

PVTGs and Tribal community reported geographical inaccessibility and language as the major hindrances in accessing school education. Bonded labourers and Musahars reported discrimination based on their caste status as the reason for their low enrolment in school education. The prognosis for these communities to achieve SDGs in the next 10-11 years is by far herculean. The urban poor reported the highest numbers of children in schools at 75%. 66% of children in the households where youth experienced sexual and physical violence and 50% of children in the tribal households were in a school.

Similar to the perception about public health care facilities being of poor quality, public education is also perceived to be of poor quality. Private schooling is also associated with English language which is sought after, as the means for career, social and economic mobility. Hence even poor households aspire to send their children to private schools. At the national level 40% of children are in the private schools and 60% of children in the public schools. There has also been steady increase of the proportion of children moving to the private education.

However, the large majority of children in the SEVP households in the study attended the government schools. All children who attended any school from the households of PVTG, NT-DNT,L GBTQI, Single Women, Children with Disabilities attended government schools. Negligible numbers of children attended any private school. FGDs reported that even though they were desirable to send their children to private schools, there were negligible private schools in/near their habitations.

This once again reflects the fact that even as private schooling is growing rapidly in the country, they do not reach out or cater to the poorest and most vulnerable population groups. Private providers may not be keen to set up schools in locations which cannot meet the cost of the schools or bring profits.

The role of the government to run quality, equitable and inclusive schools is paramount to the SEVP Groups achieving the SDGs. The government of India has institutionalised scholarships for children from disadvantaged communities and other categories of economically weaker sections, under affirmative action, to address the economic limitations these families may face. Similarly the mid day meals was institutionalised to address school hunger and also attract children to schools.

As large as 50% of children from the SEVP households tracked in the study did not attend schools. Figure 5 further shows that many of these children did not access the scholarships or midday meals. Happy to note that of the 33% children who attended schools from the bonded labour households, 88% accessed their scholarships. Access to these entitlements were reported to be highly challenging.

Families spend money out of their pockets on books, tuitions, transportation, extra curricular activities, etc. even when they study in government schools. Out of pocket school expenses is a complex picture. While the annual national average of out of pocket expenses for schools is INR 20,609, the SEVP PVTG households spent INR 1,158.

Households from other SEVP Groups (Musahar, PWD, Tribal, LGBTQI, bonded labour and NT-DNT) do not spend much higher too. Children from the youth group, urban poor and single women made out of pocket expenditure on the schooling of their children, with only the youth group going above the national average.

The FGDs with the SEVP Groups also reported their inability to take money out of their poor incomes for any expenses on schooling of their children. The huge inequalities reflected in the above data calls the bluff on national average data, particularly when it comes to the very vulnerable population groups. The national averages data cannot hold true about the situation of the vulnerable population groups. Disaggregated data of these population groups is extremely critical to identify their challenges and build policies and provisions to address them.


India ranked 130 out of 189 countries on the UNDP Gender Inequality Index 2017. Women and girls in India face gender disadvantages on multiple dimensions -education, employment and health to politics and freedom of movement. These are also reflected in the gender inequalities between girls/ women and boys/men on various development indicators.

sdg5Further, it needs to be noted that women from the SEVP Groups face further discrimination and disadvantages on account of their identity, poverty, inaccessible geographic locations, disability, migration and various other factors. Their gender discrimination and disadvantages are further multiplied owing to these additional identity factors in complex and exponential ways.

Majority of women participants from Musahar, PVTGs, Tribals, DnTs, Bonded labourers reported high rates of child marriages within their communities. Upon enquiry they reported the fear of safety and security for girls and sexual violence including rape by male members of dominant communities as prime reason for the incidence of child marriages. To save the girl child from such crimes and atrocities the families from these communities marry their girl child before they reach puberty. This also leads to poor enrolment of girl children in school education.

Almost all the women participants in the FGDs reported that they have to solely bear the burden of care work in the household which leaves negligible leisure time for them or time to rest or learn. Women from Musahar, Bonded Laborers, Tribals, PVTGs and Single Women groups reported that they don’t enjoy freedom of movement.

They have to take permission from in laws or husband to visit even a market, hospital or a relative. They also reported that they don’t have equal say in various household decision-making process related to major household purchase, children’s education and health and in some instances their own health decisions like family planning. Physical and sexual violence is a vital indicator to measure the progress towards SDG 5 and SDG 16.

The National Family Health Survey (4) shows that 5 per cent of women between the age of 15-49 years reported they were forced by their spouse to perform sexual intercourse or a sexual act even when they said no to it; 34 percent of the women in the age group reported that they have faced some form of physical violence by their family/ spouse in their life time. During FGDs women from the SEVP Groups reported physical violence committed by their husband.

Slapping, kicking and punching were common forms of physical violence. They also reported instances of sexual violence by spouses. As often found, they often discounted violence against them, least of all violence as an act of crime. Unfortunately, the FGDs also reported that they had little contact or support from women activist or advocacy groups or legal aid bodies to take up their cases of violence.


The access to modern energy sources is an important indicator to monitor goal 7 internationally. At the country level, the government of India monitors this goal by assessing the main source of lighting and cooking fuel used by the household. The census of India enumerates Electricity, Kerosene, Solar, Other Oil, Wood, Coal, Gas, Biogas as sources of lighting and fuel.

Of these, electricity and solar energy are considered reliable, sustainable, clean and modern source of energy. Many of the SEVP Groups in the study have access to electricity similar to the national average, the study reported gaps in the pockets of DnT & NT, Bonded Labourers and Tribals.


Even as they used electricity as main source of lighting, some households from Urban poor, Youth, DnT & NTs, PvTGs and Bonded labourers reported in the FGDs that they do not have electricity connection in their own name. They get a private electricity connection illegally from neighbouring families or the main line connection. Often they do not own a house of their own and hence cannot get electricity connection in their own name.

Further, not having these documents in their own names, is a barrier for them when they need other identity documents for admission to schools, access to state subsidies, opening bank accounts or loans, etc., which thus stand in the way of their achieving SDGs on many counts. The Census of India considers (LPG, Biogas and Solar energy) as clean sources of cooking fuel. LPG is the most widely available and used clean source of cooking fuel.

Government of India launched ‘Ujjwala’ scheme in 2015 to provide LPG cylinders to beneficiary households at subsidized rates. The government data suggests that approximately 89 percent of the households at all India level has been provided with and uses LPG as main cooking fuel. However, primary data from this study suggests that less than 10 per cent of the households from the SEVP Groups – Bonded Laborers, Musahars and Tribals have access to LPG cylinders.

Those who have access to LPG cylinders find it difficult to procure a refill cylinder. The cost of refilling the LPG cylinder is also deterrent. The SEVP Groups univocally demanded that the subsidy on the LPG cylinder should be increased by the government.


More than 90 per cent of Indian workforce is located in the unorganized sector and are deprived of various aspects of decent work. More than half of the rural households in India derive their earnings from manual casual labour and around 30 per cent of them derives their income from cultivation. The recently leaked government report on employment suggests that unemployment rate in India is on all-time high in the last 45 years,

As do the majority of the workforce in India, the SEVP households are primarily employed in agriculture and other casual work in the unorganised sector which do not provide employment or occupation related protection. The primary household data from the SEVP Groups suggest that they suffer from a high degree of unemployment.

sdg7The SEVP Groups do not get employment round the year. The availability of employment varied from 2 to 8 months a year in the preceding 12 months. The Tribal community in Jharkhand reported the lowest availability of employment, being a little more than two months in a year. Single women also reported poor availability of employment to about 4-5 months in the preceding year. A majority of the SEVP Groups get employment across five to six months a year (NT-DNT, Musahar, Bonded labour, Youth and People with Disabilities).

The urban poor and PVTGs reported more than six months in a year where they can access employment. The LGBTQI households reported availability of work throughout the year. Exploring further, the data suggests that even in those months where employment is available, they are not employed on all days of the month. The number of days where they earned wages in the previous month varied from eight to fifteen days.

Taking the two data together, the number of days where they are employed and earn wages may vary from as low as 40 days to 90 days a year. Only youth and members of LGBTQI groups reported more than 20 days of wage work in the previous month. The primary data suggests that employment situation among the SEVP Groups is also characterized by irregular earnings/wage payments for all the groups except the TransPersons.

During the FGDs, the SEVP Groups reported that the payment of their wages gets delayed by around 1-6 months and in some case by more than one year. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is one of the flagship programmes of government of India to address rural unemployment and distress. As per the norms employment must be provided by the authorities on demand, in practice funds are allocated to the local administration and the panchayats identify works to be taken up.

Innovative and need based works can be demanded and carried out to meet distress situations like drought or take up land development, reforestation, restoration of water bodies, build roads and the like. Even though the SEVP Groups have high degree of unemployment, the proportion of SEVP households who worked under MGNREGA is low. In the case of transpersons and urban poor, MGNREGA is not available in the urban areas. As can be anticipated, the persons with disabilities find it difficult to take up MGNREGA work which are not disabled friendly in their access or nature of work.


Access to safe and sustainable housing is vital to humane way of life. The SDG 11 mandates to ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums. The government of India has a set of very comprehensive housing welfare schemes to provide affordable housing to people living below the poverty line. Proportion of households living in Kutcha houses and Slum dwellings are an important indicator to monitor the success and progress of these policies.

At all India level, around 42 per cent of the households resides in a Kutcha house. The proportion of households residing in kutcha houses is considerably higher than the national average in all the SEVP Groups except Youth. Half of the urban poor community tracked in the study lives in a slum.

sdg8Even though India has a package of housing welfare policies in place like Indira Awas Yojna, Prime Minister Housing Scheme, Chief Minister Housing Scheme, more than 70 per cent of Tribals, Bonded Labourers, Single Women, DnT and NT, PwDs and PVTGs households tracked in the study were living in a Kutcha house. One of the major reasons behind this policy failure is that the communities are not aware of these schemes in general.

Those who were aware or have heard about the schemes were not adequately informed about the application procedure and documents required to get benefits under these schemes. The meagre proportion of the households which have benefitted from such schemes reported that they were forced to pay bribe to the concerned authorities to benefit under the scheme.

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