INDIA has for long confronted the legacy of caste discrimination and social exclusion. These practices go back to the nation’s distant history when the society was subdivided into varnas – the four exclusive endogamous groups with a fifth segment added later – those who were considered beyond “the pale of the caste system and were often called Untouchables.”
After Independence, the practice of untouchability was declared illegal by the founding fathers of the nation. The government tried to solve the problem through direct reservation of jobs and seats in schools and colleges for them and the other discriminated groups, but the crux of the problem has been economic disparity, which has received little attention, says the author. “Though the government and we have endured the rigidity of caste categories, the interface between caste and economy and economic development has received little attention in mainstream discourse in the social services in India,” says the author.
The book is a collection of essays presenting the findings of research undertaken by social scientists to inquire into some of the most pressing problems of our times – economic discrimination and inequality associated with the institutions of caste, untouchability, ethnicity and religion in India.
The essays in the section titled ‘Market Discrimination” focus on the empirical dimensions of economic and other forms of discrimination faced by the low-caste Untouchables or Dalits and Muslims in various markets, particularly the labour market. While the focus in urban areas is on the labour market, in rural areas the analysis deals with markets in agricultural land, inputs and consumer goods apart from the labour market.
The book also deals with the nature of discrimination faced by Dalits in non-market transactions, that is, in accessing social needs, such as education, health services and goods supplied by the government or government-approved public institutions. This includes government schools, primary health centres, mid-day meals in schools and food items supplied through the government-approved public distribution system.
A concerted effort backed by legal protection against discrimination in the form of law and specific measures to remove barriers that prejudice generates on a daily basis are some of the main suggestions made by the social scientists in their papers.
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