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Inequality in India: Caste and Hindu Social Order


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This paper discusses the fact that inequality in India is the product of the caste structure prevailing in the society. It tries to underline the fact that the caste structure is responsible for the distribution of rights and privileges among 82 percent of the Indian population known as Hindus. It is because of this arrangement few castes have acquired unprecedented social, cultural, and symbolic capital in Indian society. In turn, certain castes like Dalits have been completely debarred from any type of capital-Cultural, Social, or financial. The social and symbolic capital of the so-called upper caste transcends the secular sphere and helps them to gain access to modern secular institutions which were supposed to be established on universalistic principles. Hence, with the congruence of ritual and secular status, the so-called upper castes enjoy overpowering dominance in society in general and in the institutions of governance, production, education, etc. in particular. This leads to the marginalization and exclusion of castes located lower in the caste hierarchy, especially the Dalits. We have seen in the paper how Dalits face a cumulative and long history of social exclusion. Various types of atrocities, particularly atrocities on Dalit women, substantiate the point that their inequality emanates from their structural location in the Hindu social order. The case of Dalit women also reveals the internal differentiation between Indian women on the one hand and Indian patriarchy on the other. If the so-called upper caste woman is exploited on the basis of gender and class, the Dalit woman is triply exploited on the basis of caste, class, and gender. This is, actually because of her location in the caste structure.
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Inequality in India:
Caste and Hindu Social Order
Vivek Kumar
1 Understanding the Structure of Hindu Social Order
The structure of Hindu social order is hierarchical in nature and 82 per cent of the Indian pop-
ulation is Hindu according to 2011 Census. The origin of Hindu Social Order is traced from the
sacred text of Hindus the Rigveda. The tenth chapter (91st Hymn) of this text reveals that
there are four groups better known as Varna. These groups are arranged in hierarchical manner
one above the other. The first group, Brahmin, occupies the top position in this hierarchy. The
second group is Rajanya (later known as Kshatriyas), third is Vaishya. The Shudras come last
in the hierarchy according to the Rigveda. In this way the book-view of the Hindu Social order
depicts only four Varnas (classes) in it. Yet, anthropologists and sociologists have included a
fifth group the Ashprishyas (literary translated as untouchables) better known as Dalits in the
Hindu Social Order (Kumar 2014). Therefore, the full scheme of the Hindu social order has five
major social groups arranged in a hierarchical manner with Brahmins at the top and Dalits at
the lowest level (see fig.1). Further, the book-view of Hindu Social Order does not only mention
the hierarchical position of the four Varnas, they have also prescribed various socio-economic,
political, educational and religious functions of each Varna (Kakar 1992). These functions were
necessary for the members if they were to achieve renunciation, that is, if they want to escape
from the death and birth cycle. Apart from functions there are special duties (Dharma) for the
males of each Varna to be followed (Mathur 1991: 68; Ghurey 1979: 48-51). However, in this
scheme untouchables (Dalits) have been completely excluded from every sphere of life. In this
manner the aforesaid Hindu Social Order allocates multiple rights and privileged status to Varnas
located higher up in the hierarchy and denies the same to those who are out lower in the hierar-
chy or to those who are out of the pale of Varna scheme. It is this unequal distribution of rights
and privileges in a social structure, which also bears religious legitimacy which produces extreme
forms of inequality in Indian society.
2 Defining the Structural Location and Social Exclusion of
It follows from the above that Dalits are the fifth class of five-fold social structure of the Hindu
social order. Here we have used structure as defined by Nadel. Nadel (1969:5) argues that, ”‘we
arrive at the structure of a society through abstracting from the concrete population and its
behavior the pattern or network (or ’system’) of relationships existing between actors and in their
capacity of playing roles to one another”’. The definition of structure when applied to Hindu social
structure tells us that Dalits were accorded stigmatized status in the society. They were denied
all the human rights and were forced to perform the filthiest occupations. They were supposed
to serve the other classes of Hindu Social Order. In this sense Dalits were excluded in every walk
Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 37
Figure 1: Hindu Social Order
of life. In this context the term ’social exclusion’ can be defined as ”‘a multi-dimensional process,
in which various forms of exclusion are combined: participation in decision making and political
processes, access to employment and material resources, and integration into common cultural
process. When combined, they create acute form of exclusion that finds a spatial manifestation
in particular neighborhoods” (Madanipour et. al 1998: 22). However in the Indian context as far
as social exclusion of Dalits is concerned we have to add to the elements of religious justification
of such exclusion based on Dharma and Karma. Moreover, social exclusion for Dalits is ascriptive
in nature. Accordingly, exclusion of Dalits can be depicted in the following manner (see table 1
in the appendix). It is this nature of social exclusion which has produced the extreme form of
inequality for Dalits in Hindu social order who came to be constitutionally known as Scheduled
Castes and politically as Dalits. According to the 2001 census they number approximately 170
million (see table 2).
The structural location of the Dalits and the process of their social exclusion, as discussed
above, results in the construction of a unique consciousness of Dalits, which is depicted through
their worldview, their orientation towards life and nature etc. This consciousness cuts across the
boundaries of different castes found among the Dalits and unites Dalits cutting across the caste,
regional and linguistic identity. Therefore sociologically speaking, the Dalits can be defined as
social group who have following characteristics:
1. Unique structural location in the Hindu Social Order
2. Cumulative and collective social exclusion because of their structural location
3. Long history of cumulative and collective social exclusion because of their structural location
4. Unalterable social identity and status even when they attain educational, economic and
spatial mobility
5. Construction of consciousness anchored in the historicity of cumulative and collective social
exclusion because of structural location.
This definition of Dalits also highlights the fact that Dalits are different from Scheduled Tribes
(STs), women and poor persons belonging to caste Hindus.
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3 Understanding the Difference of Dalits vis-`a-vis Other
Marginalized Groups
The logical question then would be how are Dalits different from other groups? At the outset,
an economically poor person is different from a Dalit because he (or the group of economically
poor persons) may be deprived in economic spheres especially in terms of income necessary to
participate in the economy. But he may not be necessarily deprived in social and cultural spheres,
i.e. he may not face the same type of exclusion in the social and cultural life either in his
neighbourhood or in the society at large as Dalits face. We can argue that a poor may be
economically or politically deprived or may be in both but he is generally not excluded from the
social and cultural spheres. But an ex-untouchable is deprived in all spheres, the social, economic,
political, educational and religious spheres. That is why Oommen has rightly pointed out: ”If
proletarian consciousness is essentially rooted in material deprivations [...] Dalit consciousness is
a complex and compound consciousness which encapsulates deprivations stemming from inhuman
conditions of material existence, powerlessness and ideological hegemony’ (Oommen 1990:256).
Furthermore, the social exclusion of an ex-untouchable is so overpowering that even though
he attains economic and political mobility or even beyond the national boundaries through his
hard labour, he is not accepted by the castes located higher up in the caste hierarchy as an equal.
His social identity remains stigmatized and his achievements are basically associated with that
social identity. Some examples in this regard can make the fact clearer. Firstly, it is a fact that
as soon K.R. Narayanan became the president of India in spite his high educational achievements
and political experience, every one tried to evaluate his ascendance to the presidential post only
on the basis of his caste identity. Most of them argued the Narayanan was elevated to the post of
president because he belonged to Dalit community (Kumar 2007). Secondly, if we take the Dalit
Diaspora as another example, the issue of social exclusion of Dalits becomes even clearer. It is
true that amongst Indian Diaspora, ”caste was increasingly an aspect of culture rather than social
stratification [...] [however] the stigma of caste did not die out completely” (Jain 2003, Kumar
2004). Jain (2003: 74) makes amply clear how the caste stigma exists with the Dalits even though
they have transcended the national boundaries. In his own words, ”Women of high caste married
to low caste men [...] looked down upon their husbands [...] and even told their children how
their fathers were of a lower caste than them”. The caste stigma and consciousness haunts the
Dalits in Diaspora in spite of their economic mobility, whenever they visit their ancestral village.
The villagers still look down upon them. Another impact of social exclusion of Dalits is the loss
of ’social capital’ that could give them the potential to develop consciousness and motivation
for their amelioration. Moreover, because of lack of this consciousness, they could not revolt
against the existing unequal Hindu Social Order for long. Their cultural co-option in the Hindu
Social Order, even though they were formally not the part of Varna hierarchy, was affected by the
artificial consensus. The artificial consensus was of course part of Hindu hegemony legitimized by
the Karma theory, which makes people believe in the deeds of previous births determining one’s
status in the present.
The exclusion of tribals comes more from their geographical location and independence of their
social system. As far as women are concerned their primary exclusion comes from patriarchy and
the role which they have been assigned. Hence we will not include economically poor, tribals
and women in the definition of Dalits. Having defined the term Dalit on the basis of their
structural location, exclusion, history of exclusion and construction of unique consciousness and
understanding the difference between Dalits and other marginalized sections of Indian society let
us not analyze nature of their exclusion.
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4 Atrocities as an indicator of Social Exclusion
In continuation with the type of exclusion Dalits face, let us just elaborate on the nature and
numbers of atrocities perpetrated on them by the so-called upper castes. Atrocities on Dalits
have historical mooring. However the worrisome part is that even after 64 years of constitutional
safeguards and anti-atrocities acts the atrocities on Dalits continue unabated. The number of
atrocities perpetrated by the so called upper castes on Dalits can be seen in the table 3 which
is self-explanatory. That is why Dalits have to run to United Nation Human Right Commission
to find a solution of Human Right violation in India. Apart from different types of atrocities,
experienced by Dalits as a community, atrocities of Dalit women need special mention. It further
substantiates the point of structural location and inequality experienced by Dalits vis-`a-vis the
so-called upper castes.
5 Atrocities on Dalit women
A number of social scientists have accepted that Dalit women are triply exploited on the basis of
gender, class and caste (Priyadarshini 2004, Rege 2006, Kumar 2009 a). In this context, one has
to understand the nature and significance of rape of Dalit women. Data released by the National
Crime Record Bureau and National Commission for Scheduled Castes shows that during 1991-
2001 approximately three Dalit women were raped daily (see table 2). However what is important
for us to note here is that the rape of a Dalit woman is not only a sexual assault on Dalit women,
rather it assumes a much higher level of caste atrocity. We can easily infer that the rape of the
Dalit women results because of her location in the caste structure of Hindu Social Order. We
can cite five reasons for the same. One, although all the Dalits are treated as untouchables but a
Dalit woman becomes touchable for so-called upper castes for this heinous act of rape because the
victimizer knows the victim cannot do anything against him. Neither the local people will protect
her nor will the police and administrative machinery come to her rescue as they are dominated by
so-called upper castes. Second, Dalit women’s rape is, on a number of occasions, a group activity
in which so-called upper castes invade the Dalit localities and rape Dalit women, in a group,
without caring whether she is very aged or just a child. Third, had the rape of Dalit women been
only a sexual act, then the victim (Dalit Woman) would have been left alone after the assault.
However, it has been observed often that her private parts are desecrated, murdered or burned
alive after the rape. Fourth, the rape of Dalit women is a caste act because Dalit women are raped
when Dalit males or the Dalit community try and assert for their fundamental and human rights
that are enshrined in the Constitution of India. Last but not least, the Dalit women are raped
to shatter the morale of the members of the caste by bringing shame to the whole community. It
has lifelong psychological impact.
6 Internal Differentiation between Indian Women and Pa-
Rape of a Dalit woman raises two further issues, related to the category of Indian women and
patriarchy in India. It becomes clear from the nature and scope of rape of Dalit women that there
exists an internal differentiation within the category of Indian women. It is so, because we have
yet to observe such type of heinous crimes against the so-called upper caste women. Moreover,
in such cases of atrocities the so-called upper caste women have seldom protested against their
own men and have never come forward to hand over their male counter parts to the police. The
second issue is that there is a qualitative difference between so-called upper caste patriarchy and
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the Dalit patriarchy at least on three accounts. One, Dalit patriarchy has never attacked the
savarna localities and raped so-called upper caste women in groups. Second, they have never
committed such crimes of desecrating or murdering the victim after the sexual assault of so-called
upper caste women. Finally, they have yet to use such heinous act to break the collective morale
of so-called upper castes. One can argue that the Dalits do not have courage to do these acts. If
we accept this argument then there emerges another that why do Dalits do not have such courage;
and the answer is because of their structural location in the Hindu Social Order which debars
them from any social or cultural capital which can save them after doing such crimes. However,
these are available for the so-called upper caste patriarchy.
7 Caste and Social Capital: Polity, Civil Society and Com-
Indian social structure is based on the Caste system as discussed earlier. What is important to
note in this regard is that this system is endowed with social and cultural capital. This system
brings in charisma, respect, networks and symbolic traits - like values of hierarchy in food habits,
in ways of greetings, in residential exclusion etc., of the society for individuals who are born in
the so-called upper castes. While for other castes located at the fourth and fifth rung in the social
structure it results in stigma, disrespect, exclusion from resources and cuts them off with any
types of networks. For the fifth class/Varna there exists an extreme form of exclusion. This social
and cultural capital emanating from caste has produced domination of so-called upper castes in
most of the spheres of Indian society but it is rampant in the functioning of Indian democratic
politics and Bureaucracy, Judiciary, Industries, Universities, Media and is now getting extended to
civil society organizations (Non-Governmental Organizations). Further, this social and symbolic
capital of caste also influences the relationship between Hindus and Muslims in many towns of
India. However, social scientists have yet to analyze the impact of caste in conceptualization of
communalism in India.
8 Caste and Personality Cult in Indian Polity
Caste with its social and cultural capital has influenced Indian politics the most since its inception
(Rudolph & Rudolph 1987). However, caste has benefited the so-called upper castes the most
at the highest echelons of Indian polity. Since independence in 1947 till the last election for the
16th Parliament, with minor exceptions, it is they who dominate. Whether in government or
in opposition it is they who have dominated the democratic politics. Whether it was Pandit
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, or his daughter Indira Gandhi, or Rajeev
Gandhi son Indira Gandhi, and then after the demise of Rajiv Gandhi his wife and son dominated
the Indian politics. Their domination has been so complete that there is general saying that
Congress (I) can only survive till some-one from Nehru-Gandhi family is at the helms of Party’s
affair. Apart from this when the opposition came to power it was Brahmins - Morarji Desai
and Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the Prime Minster of the country. In contemporary times a
right-winger supported by Rashtriya Swaymsewak Sangh (RSS) - an organization committed to
Brahmanical values, has become the Prime Minster whose cabinet is dominated by so-called upper
It is not that that only the Individuals of the so-called upper castes dominate but their social
and symbolic capital start getting reflected in their day to day functioning. For instance, the
symbolic capital of Brahmins was observed when India’s first Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru on
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14th August 1947 sat on a yajna performed by the Brahmins to celebrate the event of a Brahmin
becoming first Prime Minster of India and wore the Raja Dand (Aristocratic Scroll) given to him
by the Brahmins (Ambedkar 1979: 149). In the same vein Anderson described the ceremony in
his own words, ”To hallow the solemn occasion, Nehru and his colleagues sat cross-legged around
sacred fire in Delhi while [...] priests [...] chanted hymns and sprinkled holy water over them [...]
Three hours later, on a date and time stipulated by Hindu astrologers, the stroke of mid-night
on 14th August 1947, Nehru [...] assured his broadcast listeners [...] their ’tryst with destiny’
(Anderson 2012: 103). It was not surprising that once Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime
Minster of India most of the offices of Government of India were dominated by Brahmins.
By mere observation one can argue that the domination of Brahmins grew more as soon as the
second generation leaders took the reign after the demise of first generation leaders like Nehru,
Patel, Ambedkar etc., and Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minster. Within no time Indira
Gandhi acquired such domination in Indian politics that she was hailed as, ’India is Indira and
Indira is India’, especially after her crucial role in helping Bangladesh. After her sad demise in
1984 Rajeev Gandhi, along with his so-called cabinet started dominating the Indian polity, After
the demise of Rajeev Gandhi another Brahmin P.V. Narsimha Rao, with the blessing of Sonia
Gandhi (widow of Rajeev Gandhi) dominated the Indian polity. After Narsimha Rao another
Brahmin Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with his cabinet again dominated by the so-called upper
castes ruled till 2004. After Vajpayee from 2004 till 2014 although Prime Minster in India was
a Sikh but as President and Vice president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi belonging
to Nehru-Gandhi family had full control over the government. Rahul Gandhi created his young
brigade with a dozen of young minsters who belonged to so-called upper castes. In 2014, just
newly formed government headed by Narendra Modi, whose caste identity is still not clear, has
a cabinet which is dominated by so-called upper castes. So after independence the 67 years of
Indian politics reveal the domination of so-called upper castes.
How, in a democracy, is it possible that members of castes with numerical minority dominate
the national politics in such a big numbers while members of castes with numerical majority are
side-lined or subjugated? Even if handful leaders of the numerical majority castes acquire some
positions, with their hard work and dedication, and try to assert they are unceremoniously thrown
out of their parties. This phenomenon can only be answered through the structural design of caste
and the social, cultural and symbolic capital enjoyed by the so-called upper castes who are nu-
merically in minority. At the outset because of their structural location these castes have enjoyed
ritual privileges since millennia, which exist in fragments even today. It is much more rampant in
rural areas. Apart from ritual domination the so-called upper castes, because of their structural
location, also enjoyed privileged position in different institutions like education, economy, polity,
etc. Further, some two hundred years back when the British introduced modern institutions of
governance, production, education, communication etc., these castes benefitted the most. Within
a short period they virtually monopolized the modern institutions - judiciary, bureaucracy, in-
dustry, university, media etc. For structural and historical reasons they also developed networks
in the aforesaid institutions. This network exists at local, regional, national and international
(Indian Diaspora) level. Hence we can observe that so-called upper castes enjoyed high ritual
status because of their location in the social structure but because of their caste networks in the
secular institutions they start enjoying high status in the secular realm also. This merging of
high ritual status and secular status because of their structural location helps the so-called upper
castes to garner charisma in the local area. The so-called upper caste individuals use their pedi-
gree, historicity, life chances and networks to get access to different administrative functionaries
and the political organizations. This further enhances their status. The local people throng to
them to get their petty and day to day works done, further giving them clout. The local popu-
lation starts revolving around their personality because they become conscious of their access to
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different institutions. On the other hand there is no Social capital for the castes located at the
lower echelons of the caste hierarchy. For them it is caste stigma and exclusion in both ritual and
secular realm. Therefore nobody wants to associate themselves with them. People are afraid to
annoy the local so-called upper caste politicians. Sometime it is because of fear and sometime it
is uncertainty of lower strata candidates’ chances to win an election.
The ritual status of minority so-called upper castes mixed with secular status gets further
enhanced when their members exploit their social net-works with cultural and symbolic capital
by relating it to print and visual media. The media persons oblige because they find caste (Varna)
affinity with the politicians belonging to so-called upper castes. It is common man’s knowledge
that Indian media (print, TV, radio) is almost exclusive domain of so-called upper castes1. This
domination of so-called upper castes in media helps them in magnifying the impact of political
acts of so-called upper caste leaders. The modus operandi remains simple. Small little deeds of
the so-called upper caste political leaders, are, more often than not, blown out of proportion. The
example of Bharatiya Janata Party’s ’Shining India Campaign’ in 2004 General election and Aam
Aadmi Party’s campaign in 2013 elections amply prove the point. Further, media also hides the
shortcomings of these politicians saving them from embarrassments.
Contrary to this, the numerically dominant castes, like Dalits, suffering from stigma because
of their structural location do not have a high ritual status, any pedigree, neither any network nor
secular power; most of them are first time politicians. They, individually neither can influence
local administration, functionaries of the party nor the media. Their most significant political
achievements are blacked out or given a negative spin (Kumar 2009, 2014b). The sum total of
these processes is that the members of numerically dominant castes cannot cultivate ’personality
cult’ which cuts across their own caste and is accepted even by members of other castes including
the so-called upper castes.
9 Relationship between Caste and Corruption in Democ-
Is there any relationship between caste and corruption in India? It is important to ask this question
because most of the rules, informal or formal, have been formulated by the so-called upper castes.
Moreover, they dominate the major formal and informal institutions. Yet, in analysing the nature
and causes of corruption we never take cognizance of caste of the lawbreakers. However, when it
comes to the jatis placed lower in the jati hierarchy there is labelling and stereotyping that they
are corrupt. That is what one social scientist, without any empirical data dubbed the 90 per
cent of the Indian population the SCs, STs, and OBCs as the most corrupt2. An astonishing
part of the debate was instead analysing the statement on a methodological and epistemological
basis most of the so-called upper caste Social Scientists and few Dalits as well defended the social
scientists in the name of freedom of speech and expression. But the fact remains that nobody
could remove the existing stigma and stereotyping of the jatis placed lower in the jati hierarchy.
It is in this biased state of affairs the analysis of the structural location of corruption in Indian
society is necessary. Can we sociologically define corruption? No doubt there exists a narrow
definition of corruption propounded by the law of the land, that is, misuse of public office for
1Anil Chamadia, chairman, Media Studies Group (MSG), which along with political scientist Yogendra Yadav
conducted in 2006 a survey of 37 media organizations boasting a national presence. Not a single Dalit held the
top 10 positions in any of the organizations. The MSG also surveyed 116 IIMC-trained correspondents and found
that, till June 2011, only six of them were Dalit.
2Ashis Nandy in a discussion on ’The Republic of Ideas’ at the Jaipur literary festival, 24- 28 January 2013
(India) made this remark: ”It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs (Other Backward Classes)
and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes”.
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personal gain. But this definition does not reveal much and does not give a deeper understanding
of the mechanism of corruption prevailing in Indian society. That is why we have to ask, is
corruption an inbuilt mechanism of the informal and formal structures of the society or does it
emerge with the time because of different institutions of governance? Secondly, we have to also ask
whether the level of corruption increases with the increase in the level of development. Thirdly,
we have to also analyse whether there are certain institutions in the society which socialize the
members of the society in corrupt practices?
10 Defining Corruption: Broader definition in Indian Con-
In a generic sense, corruption can be defined as a mechanism by which, a numerically small
section of society collectively or individually denies majority of its people a plethora of rights
and privileges whether it is ’Human Rights for dignified existence’, ’equality: economic, political
and social’, ’liberty of occupation, residence and religious practices, fraternity etc. By doing
this numerically smaller group monopolizes religious, political, economic, educational and judicial
institutions etc. Historically this mechanism is created, at the inception of the society, through
religious texts and sanctions. Later they are legitimatized socially by theories of Dharma and
Karma. The traditional structures created, in this fashion; do not die in modern times. But they
remain alive changing their form and style of functioning and influence keeping the monopoly of
the numerically small section of the society intact. The existing dominance in and composition
of modern institutions of governance, production, and education in India amply prove the point.
11 Corruption: The Narrow Definition
However in contemporary times in India the so-called leaders against corruption have promulgated
a very narrow definition of ’Corruption’. According to this definition ’corruption can be defined
as misuse of a government or public office for personal gains’. In other words how a government
servant or a politically elected member or a judge misuse their office is called corruption. This
is very reductionist and sweeping definition because of different reasons. One, this definition has
taken cognizance of corruption in government offices only. That means this assume that by nature
people are honest but they become corrupt when they join the government institutions. But the
fact is that individuals are not born in parliament, bureaucracy, or judiciary. They are born
in society which socializes them before they join institutions of governance or public life. That
means we can argue that the institutions by nature are not corrupt rather there is something
wrong with the people who man them or run them.
In this context, it is important to note that this definition does not take note of corruption
induced by social sector. This is the second lacuna of the narrow definition of corruption. For
instance, every year numbers of women are burnt alive because of dowry. After burning their
bride the groom’s parents bribe the police so they are not caught. One can call it a crime. But I
will call it social corruption because out of greed certain people commit this act and then indulge
in corrupt practice. Similarly, corrupt practice comes to fore when huge offerings of gold and
silver are made to temples without any transparency? Nobody gives a receipt of donation neither
one knows whether a person has paid income tax on that gold. Further, temple income is also not
taxed even though temples have gold worth trillions of rupees. Thirdly, the narrow definition does
not take into account of corruption that exists in and because of private sector and civil society
organizations. Again the fact is that corporate sector and big industrial houses have lobbyists to
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get them government contracts and bribe the government employees to grant them concessions
in the tax, excise and import duty by making laws for legitimizing their act. Industrial houses
do not pay their labourers even their minimum wages. They now have higher and fire policies
as well. Is this not corruption? But this narrow definition of corruption does not take all this
into account. However the narrow definition of corruption reveals certain important facts. Most
importantly this definition reveals that corruption is a caste phenomenon.
12 Is Corruption a Caste Phenomenon?
Generally it is propagated that corruption is a faceless enemy. However, according to the analysis
of both the broader and narrow definition of corruption we can argue that corruption is not
a faceless enemy but has an identity of caste. According to broader definition of corruption,
corruption can be defined as ”a mechanism by which, a numerically small section of society
denies majority of its people a plethora of rights and privileges whether it is ’Human rights for
dignified existence’, ’equality: economic, political and social’, ’liberty of occupation , residence and
religious practices, fraternity etc. By doing this numerically smaller group monopolizes religious,
political, economic, educational and judicial institutions etc.” Going by the aforesaid definition
of corruption, who are the people who have made such structures in ancient period which denied
majority of people from plethora of rights for thousands of years? Who were the people who
monopolized the institutions of governance, education, and production? Of course the so-called
’upper-castes’ ! They could do this because they misused their ritual and social position in the
society. And hence they were responsible for a corrupt social order from its inception which was
in-equal and devoid of equality, liberty and fraternity (Ambedkar 1994).
If that was the case in ancient period when there were no modern institutions of governance
what was the condition in colonial period during the British. In this context Phooley had written
long ago in 1873 that, ”The Brahmin despoiled the lower classes not only in his capacity as
a priest, but also in the capacity of a Government officer, as the Brahmins had monopolized all
higher places of emoluments, the village police Patil being a tool in his hands. He was the temporal
and spiritual adviser of the ryots, the money-lender in their difficulties [...] In the capacity of a
Mamlatdar, a supervisor exploit him, in the Engineering Department, an officer in the Revenue
and Public Works Departments he was there to exploit him, league with the Kulkarni, or the
lawyer or the money -lender who were Brahmins. So there was nepotism, bribery and jobbery
because of the domination of one caste in the administration” (Keer 1974: 116).
In the same vein Ambedkar has also highlighted the relationship between caste and corruption.
According to him, ”The Police and the Magistrate are sometimes corrupt. If they were only
corrupt, things would not perhaps be so bad because an officer who is corrupt is open to purchase
by either party. But the misfortune is that the police and Magistrate are often more partial than
corrupt. It is this partiality to the Hindus and his antipathy to the untouchables, which results
in the denial of protection and justice to the untouchables” (Ambedkar 1982: 105).
In contemporary times, even if we consider the narrow definition of corruption, then what
picture emerges? According to narrow definition of corruption, corruption can be defined as,
’misuse of public office for personal gains’. In this context let us analyse who are the people who
dominate and monopolize the modern and secular institutions viz. Polity, Judiciary, Bureaucracy,
Industry, University and Media? Again the answer is the so-called Upper-castes! This can be
proved on the basis of composition of the three institutions namely- Judiciary, bureaucracy, and
Media. The available data clearly shows that these institutions are totally monopolised by the so
called upper-castes (for Judiciary and bureaucracy see 4th National Commission for Scheduled
Caste and Scheduled Tribe report 1996-7 & 1998-9, Pages20-22). According to this report there
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 45
are only 3% of SC and ST in High Courts as judges and Additional Judges. Now there is no SC and
ST Judge in Supreme Court of India. Further this report says that Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas,
and Baniyas constitute approximately 83% of Class - I government and Non-government services.
SCs, STs, OBCs and Minorities roughly constituted only 13% and rest were other castes. That
means in these institutions again so-called upper-castes are directly responsible for corruption.
13 Corruption and Socialization
True individuals do not become corrupt in a day or two. Rather there is a long drawn direct and
indirect process of socialization for the same in the society and culture where they live. If we take
the Hindu society in particular then we can find institutions, ways and means in which people
are socialized from the childhood which facilitates the practice of corruption in the society. The
individual and groups are not only socialized into the institutions which gives them legitimacy
to exploit the others but the individuals socialized in such a way that they willingly pay without
making any fuss. For instance the young ones are socialized by observing their parents willingly
making an offer in cash or kind to priests at the time of multiple rituals performed in the home or
in the temples. Children are also told to offer to gods and goddesses whenever there is an exam or
some result of competitive exam is about to come. For instance Phooley in his book, Cultivator’s
Whipcord (1883) has described, ”[...] how a Brahmin priest persecuted a Shudra farmer all the
year round from cradle to cremation, from pregnancy to pilgrimage, and how all this exploitation
was done under the cloak of religion and its unending rites and rituals” (Keer 1974 :183).
In their youth they are socialized to demand dowry in marriage and keep demanding from the
bride’s family for all their lives. And parents of girls are socialized to pay dowry helplessly. It
is not only the individuals are trained to offer and demand but they are trained for not giving
what is due to someone. For instance in the villages the so-called upper castes have a habit of
not paying for the labour of the Dalits and other artisan classes. Landlords do not pay minimum
wages to landless labourers. The Priests are not supposed to work and produce instead socialized
to survive on the hard labour of others and accumulate capital in the temple as their private
property without using it for public good. That is why Indian temples have been found to possess
gold and silver worth trillions of dollars beside ready cash. The moneylenders specifically the
Vaishyas are trained to lend loans to villagers at an exorbitant rate of interest. They exploit the
masses by manipulating their records as the masses were illiterate and powerless. Even dacoits
make offerings to Goddess Kali for big haul. Above all the Hindus are also socialized the way out
of sin or these corrupt practices. The way is simple. Keep your gods-goddess happy by offerings
or keeping fast, chanting Mantras and by taking dips in holy -river like Ganges. In medieval ages
Nazrana (Tribute), Shukrana (Thanks Giving), and Zurmana (Fine) continued to socialize people
in illegal practices. In modern times the huge gifts the elite’ exchange on the eve of the different
Hindu festivals especially on Diwali is akin to socialization and initiation in the corruption. In
this way we can argue that Indians have many structures and processes which train individuals
to indulge in corrupt practices later in the life. And they do not hesitate to give or take bribes.
Therefore, it is my observation that once we understand the structure of Indian society we can
understand the structures of the corruption easily.
14 Caste Conceptualization of Communalism
Communalism, in India, has been analysed through perspective of religion only. However, the
more effective way to analyse it would be through perspective of caste and its structure. Social
scientists have argued that Communalism does not emerge as a natural process it is artificially
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 46
created because of competitive politics (Brass 2003). In general parlance ’communalism’ can
be defined as a process through which invention of an ’Other’ takes place in a society. This
’othering’ is done at the religious pretext. Another related question in this regard is that who
are the forces who have the capacity to construct this ’Other’ and on what basis? Specifically,
in India this other-ing has been done on the basis of the fact that a particular religion-Islam has
come from outside India. In this context if one tries to identify the exact forces who construct
the ’other’ in Indian society. It is obvious the deprived and excluded castes located at the lowest
ebb of the caste hierarchy without and cultural and symbolic capital cannot construct the ’idea’
of the ’other’. Then who constructs the other? It is in this context we are aware that Rashtriya
Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSSS) categorically constructed the ’other’ on the bases of holy land and
father land. We very well know who constitutes the highest echelons of the RSSS- of course
the so-called upper castes specifically Brahmins, because it is they who can only be head of the
institution (Golwalkar 1966). According to this thought the Hindus have both their father and
holy land in India. Muslims and Christians both have father land in India but holy land outside
India. According to this thought, ”The new-comers should bring about a total metamorphosis
in their life-attitudes and take a rebirth [...] Mere common residence or birth and growth in our
land cannot imply that the loyalties, qualities, and pattern of life exist amongst all its residents”
(Golwalkar 1966: 127). Later on the basis of same divisive ideology the so-called upper caste
dominated political mobilization further communalized Indian society (Jaffrelot 1996). In this
background it becomes clear the the ideologues of RSSS belong to the so-called upper caste.
Therefore, it becomes obvious that the so-called upper castes are only capable of constructing
the ’other’ against whom battle can be pitched. This possible again because it is only they enjoy
higher ritual and secular status because of their structural location.
Having identified the caste as the factor constructing the ’other’ let us analyse the other fact
about communalism that is its operationalization. It is a fact that the so-called upper castes
can formulate the ideology to produce an ’Other’ but, they do not have numerical strength to
wage a battle against the constructed ’Other’. Therefore, they need the castes located lower in
the caste hierarchy to operationalize this ideology. But why should these castes join hands with
the so-called upper castes to operationalize their agenda? The answer is, because of want of
acceptance within the Hindu social order. As the so-called lower castes have been excluded from
every sphere of life, by implementing this ideology, they think that they can get an opportunity
to prove the point that they are part and parcel of the Hindu Social Order. A second reason for
operationalization of this ideology by the so-called lower castes is that, these castes live in the close
vicinity of the minorities and more often than not they have similar occupational and economic
status. That means they have same type of business- like selling vegetables, chicken, fish, goat
meat or offering services like cycle mechanic, as carpenter, black smith, etc. to name just a few.
That is why, we see, that the epicentre of communal violence is always geographical spaces where
these communities live. For instance, if we take example of Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, and
Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh the communal riots have taken place between the so-called lower castes
Khatiks and Muslims who are involved more or less in the same types of profession and live side
by side in the same localities. However, as the communal violence is spreading from urban to rural
areas in India relationship between caste and communalism is becoming stronger. It is so because
only the members of so-called upper caste have weapons and strong network to lead the attack
against minorities. This is not one way process. The so-called Upper-Castes among minorities do
the same. Hence, on the above analysis of Communalism we may put this preposition that the
explanation of Communalism through caste perspective is must.
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 47
15 Conclusions
To conclude it is amply clear from the above discussion that inequality is the product of caste
structure in India. The caste structure is responsible for the distribution of rights and privileges
among the 82 per cent of Indian population known as Hindus. It is because of this arrangement
few castes have acquired unprecedented social, cultural and symbolic capital in Indian society. In
turn certain castes like Dalits have been completely debarred from any type of capital. The social
and symbolic capital of so-called upper caste transcends the secular sphere and helps them to
gain access to modern secular institutions which were supposed to be established on universalistic
principles. Hence, with the congruence of ritual and secular status the so-called upper castes enjoy
overpowering dominance in the society in general and in the institutions of governance, production,
education etc. in particular. This leads to marginalization and exclusion of castes located lower in
the caste hierarchy, especially the Dalits. We have seen in the paper how Dalits face a cumulative
and long history of social exclusion. Various types of atrocities, particularly atrocities on Dalit
women, substantiate the point that their inequality emanates from their structural location in
the Hindu social order. The case of Dalit women also reveals the internal differentiation of Indian
women and Indian patriarchy. If the so-called upper caste woman is exploited on the basis of
gender and class, the Dalit woman is triply exploited on the basis of caste, class and gender. This
is precisely because of her location in the caste structure.
Apart from this by a specific case of politics in India we have also shown how the so-called
upper castes dominate the political institution which is of course the product of their structural
location and social capital. This results in personality cult and has furthered the clout of the so-
called upper castes. Along with this the paper has related the rampant corruption to the structure
and socialization process in the hierarchical caste structure. Explicitly the paper focuses on the
division of labor produced by the structure of the Caste and the contempt which it generates for
menial labor. The abnegation of menial labor by the so-called upper castes produces exploitative
institutions and appropriation of fruits of other’s labor, which results in corruption in the society.
The so-called upper castes who dominate the modern institutions of governance often misuse the
public office for their personal ends however they are seldom caught and stigmatized. Last but
not the least, we have also analyzed in the paper how structure of caste produces communalism.
The paper has highlighted that there are two components of communal ideology one formulation
and second implementation of the same. We have proved the preposition by highlighting the
fact how the communal ideology is constructed by the so-called upper castes and implemented by
the so-called lower castes. The ideology and communal conflict leads to violence in the society
and mistrust on the communities giving rise to their exclusion form the formal and informal
institutions on society and thereby inequality in the society.
Ambedkar, B.R., 1979, Annihilation of Caste, in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writ-
ings and Speeches Vol. I, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra,
Ambedkar, B.R., 1982, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 2,
Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai.
Anderson, Perry, 2012, The Indian Ideology, Three Essays Collective, New Delhi.
Brass. Paul, R. 2003, The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary
India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Ghruey, G.S. 1963, Caste and Race in India, Popular Prakashan, Bombay.
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 48
Golwalkar, M.S., 1966, Bunch of Thoughts, Vikram Prakashan, Bangalore.
Jaffrelot, Christoph, 1996, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics (1925-
1990s), Penguin Books, New Delhi.
Kakkar, S. (ed.). 1992, Identity and Adulthood, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Keer, Dhananjay, 1964, Mahatma Jotirao Phooley: Father of Indian Social Revolution,
Popular Prakshan, Bombay.
Kumar, Vivek, 2005, Locating Dalits Indian Sociology, Sociological Bulletin, Volume
54, Number 3, September-December, pp. 514-532, New Delhi.
Kumar, Vivek, 2007, Social Exclusion and Different shades of Dalit movement, Pune
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Kumar, Vivek, 2010, Different Shades of Dalit Mobilization, in T.K.Oommen (ed.)
Social Movement I: Issues of Identity, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Kumar, Vivek, 2014, Dalits Studies: Continuities and Change, in Yogendra Singh
(ed.), Indian Sociology (Volume 3): Identity Communication and Culture (ICSSR
Research Surveys and Explorations), Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Madanipour, A., 1998, Social Exclusion and Space in A. Madanipour et al. (eds.)
Social Exclusion in European Cities, pp, 177-88, Jessica Kingsley, London.
Mathur, K.S. 1991, ’Hindu Values of Life: Karma and Dharma’ in T.N. Madan (ed.),
Religion in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
Nadel, S.F., 1969, The Theory of Social Structure, Cohen and West, London.
Oommen, T. K., 1990, Protest and Change: Studies in Social Movements, Sage Pub-
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in Colonial South India, Kanishka Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi.
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 49
Table 1: Representation of social exlclusion of Dalits
Types of exclusion Nature of Exclusion
Social Exclusion
1 Denial of existence in the Rigveda
2 No reference in the varna scheme
3 No right to sacred thread
4 Exclusion from ashramas
5 No prescription of dharma
6 Exclusion form Purushartha
7 Exclusion from predestination
Practice of Untouchability
8 Residential exclusion (in the South of the village)
9 Denial of acceptance and access to water
10 Denial of accepting of food
11 Restriction on sitting together
12 Restriction on celebrating festivals together
13 Denial of entry into house
14 Denial of entry into kitchen
15 Denial of entry into temples
16 Restriction on taking meals with other castes dur-
ing ceremonies
17 Rape of Dalit Women (a caste atrocity)
18 Murder of a Dalit
19 Grievous Hurt
20 Arson/loot
21 Ridicules in society and sacred tests
22 Denial of wearing of clothes/shoes/turbans etc.
similar to upper castes
Hazardous/Stigmatized Occupation
23 Cleaning Human excreta
24 Scavenging /cleaning manholes
25 Midwifery role by Dalit Woman
26 Removing Carcasses
27 Grave digging/Burning dead/Drum beating at the
time of death
28 Piggery/Butchery/toddy tapping
29 Cleaning of soiled clothes
30 Denial of taking out marriage and funeral proces-
Political Exclusion
31 Denial of participation in electioneering process
32 Denial of participation in the decision making pro-
cesses in Panchayt
33 Exclusion from institutions of governance
Economic Exclusion
34 Denial of freedom of occupation
35 Denial of access to property in history
36 Denial of financial loans from banks and other fi-
nancial institutions
Continued on next page
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 50
Table 1 Continued form previous page
Educational Exclusion
37 Denial of right to education in history
38 No tradition of Education
39 Exclusion from becoming knowledge givers
40 Exclusion from curriculum (from lower level to
higher education)
41 Absence of owners of Educational institutions
Religious Exclusion
42 Exclusion from the different structures of religion
(priesthood, Matha)
43 Religious legitimacy for hierarchy of the social
44 Religious legitimacy for social exclusion
Enemy Within 45 Oppressor of the same religion
46 Oppressor of the same region
Source: Kumar, Vivek, 2007, 2014.
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 51
Table 2: All India Scheduled Caste Data 2001
% of SC
% of liter-
ate SC 2001
SC Population below
Poverty Line 2004-05
Drop out of
SC’s Classes
Rural Urban
India 16.3 54.7 36.8 39.9 70.5
1 J & K 7.6 59.0 5.2 13.7 55.7
2 Himachal Pradesh 24.7 70.3 19.6 5.6 50.2
3 Punjab 28.9 56.2 14.6 16.1 65.7
4 Chandigarh 17.5 67.7 * * 73.5
5 Uttarakhand 17.9 63.4 54.2 65.7
6 Haryana 19.3 55.4 26.8 33.4 64.8
7 Delhi 16.9 70.8 0.0 35.8 23.9
8 Rajasthan 17.2 52.2 28.7 52.1 82.7
9 Uttar Pradesh 21.1 46.3 44.8 44.9 72.5
10 Bihar 15.7 28.5 64.0 67.2 90.5
11 Sikkim 5.0 63.0 * * 84.9
12 Arunachal Pradesh 0.6 67.6 * * 40.6
13 Nagaland NSC NSC * *
14 Manipur 2.8 72.3 * * 2.4
15 Mizoram Neg. 89.2 * *
16 Tripura 17.4 74.7 * * 74.9
17 Meghalaya 0.5 56.3 * * 74.2
18 Assam 6.9 66.8 27.7 8.6 72.1
19 West Bengal 23.0 59.0 29.5 28.5 54.6
20 Jharkhand 11.8 37.6 57.9 47.2
21 Orissa 16.5 55.5 50.2 72.6 71.8
22 Chhattisgarh 11.6 64.0 32.7 52.0
23 Madhya Pradesh 15.2 58.6 42.8 67.3 65.9
24 Gujarat 7.1 70.5 21.8 16.0 63.2
25 Daman & Diu 3.1 85.1 * * 6.9
26 Dadra & Nagar
1.9 78.2 * * 26.1
27 Maharashtra 10.2 71.9 44.8 43.2 54.2
28 Andhra Pradesh 16.2 53.5 15.4 39.9 70.2
29 Karnataka 16.2 52.9 31.8 50.6 65.8
30 Goa 1.8 71.9 * * 76.8
31 Lakshdweep NSC NSC * *
32 Kerala 9.8 82.7 21.6 32.5 16.3
33 Tamil Nadu 19.0 63.2 31.2 40.2 46.5
34 Puducherry 16.2 69.1 * * 19.0
35 A&N Islands NSC NSC * *
Sources: Census of India 2001, Primary Census Abstract, Scheduled Castes: Table A-8, Registrar
General and Census Commissioner, India, p. no. xIvi (% of SC), Iiv (% of literacy in SC), SC
Population Below Poverty Line 2004-05 (source: State-Wise Percentage of Population Below Poverty
Line by Social Groups, 2004-05, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, accessed from on 24.05.2014), Dropout Rate of SCs (accessed from STs.doc accessed on 24.05.2014).
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Kumar: Inequality in India. Caste and Hindu Social Order 52
Table 3: Atrocities on Dalits Committed by Upper Castes
Years Murder Grievous hurts Rape Arson Others Total
1991 610 1706 784 604 13944 17646
1992 732 1677 896 596 30174 34075
1993 632 1783 1006 685 28356 32462
1994 587 1968 1157 745 33186 37643
1995 688 2156 1142 1729 30589 35305
1996 543 4585 949 464 23482 30023
1997 513 3860 1037 389 22145 27944
1998 516 3809 923 346 20044 25638
1999 506 3241 1000 337 20009 25093
2000 486 3098 1034 260 18664 23742
2001 763 4491 1331 332 14383 33501
Source: Annual Reports of Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Government of
India, New Delhi.
Transcience (2014) Vol. 5, Issue 1 ISSN 2191-1150
... From the discussion presented in this paper, it seems fair to state that sociocultural and spatial inequalities are a product of the caste system in India. This structure enables one section to acquire unparalleled social, cultural and symbolic capital and bans another section from all of it (Kumar 2014). These capital structures help upper castes transcend the secular democratic institutions and enable domination across local, regional and national governance, education, health, economy, etc., furthering the exclusion of lower castes. ...
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Social exclusion is usually defined as a dynamic process of progressive, multidimensional rupturing of the "social bond" at the individual and collective levels. Social exclusion precludes full participation in the normatively prescribed activities of a given society and denies access to information, resources, sociability, and recognition, eroding self-respect and reducing capabilities to achieve personal goals. Social exclusion is a form of discrimination which is a threat to any society. Social exclusion is a process as well as a result. With reference to India, concept of exclusion can be understood best from the perspective of caste, because caste is the most prominent feature of Indian society. In country like India, where the society is highly stratified and hierarchical, it is very important to understand the discrimination faced by scheduled caste people who have been excluded in all the aspects of life historically due to their caste identity. Even after 70 years of independence, we have not been able to achieve Ambedkar"s dream of fair India. Schedule castes have always denied full rights and one of them is right to knowledge. The tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, a (dalit) PhD student in Hyderabad Central University who hanged himself after being defeated by discriminatory behavior of the authorities of the institution depicts the role of caste identity in higher educational institutes. Through this paper the author will make an attempt to understand the concept of social exclusion from the perspective of caste in India and how students in higher education faces discrimination in higher educational institutes due to their caste identity and "stigma". The author will also try to understand the concept of stigma from Erving Goffman"s perspective and how stigma is operationalised in daily life.
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Musahar youth have been struggling for basic needs and face indignity at multiple facets in the society due to caste. In contemporary times, historicity of caste, stigmatized identity, indignity, poor social values and low participation status make it difficult to avail any kind of social, educational and employment support. Sustainability is a form of survivability, and lack of dignity diminishes wage work, forcing them to migrate. This paper is based on PhD research data and applied qualitative research methods following in-depth interview, oral history, seasonal calendar and so on. Historical marginality of caste persists and frames aspiration, dignity and sustainability.
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The article tries to locate Dalits in Indian Sociology by locating them in Indian Social System and how have they evolved their identities in different point in time.
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Annihilation of Caste
  • B R Ambedkar
Ambedkar, B.R., 1979, Annihilation of Caste, in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. I, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai.
The Indian Ideology, Three Essays Collective
  • Perry Anderson
Anderson, Perry, 2012, The Indian Ideology, Three Essays Collective, New Delhi.
Caste and Race in India
  • G S Ghruey
Ghruey, G.S. 1963, Caste and Race in India, Popular Prakashan, Bombay. Golwalkar, M.S., 1966, Bunch of Thoughts, Vikram Prakashan, Bangalore.