A new survey on social attitudes in the country indicates that close to two-thirds of the population in rural Rajasthan and rural Uttar Pradesh still practice untouchability and almost half the population in the same area is also opposed to Dalit and non-Dalit Hindu inter-marriages.
Despite decades-old-laws criminalising untouchability, it appears to be practised more by women as close to two-thirds of women respondents have confessed to “self or family member” practising untouchability in rural Rajasthan (66 per cent) and rural Uttar Pradesh (64 per cent).
According to the survey, 50 per cent of respondents in urban Rajasthan admitted to practising untouchability as did 48 per cent of respondents in urban UP and even 39 per cent of Delhi.
The survey, Social Attitude Research, India (SARI), which was conducted through representative phone surveys in 2016 in Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan and UP, focusses on discrimination against Dalits and women. A total of 8,065 people (men and women) were interviewed for the survey — a paper based on the survey has been published January 6 in the Economic and Political Weekly.
Conducted by the University of Texas, the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, the survey sheds light on “explicit prejudice” and reveals attitudes that have been hard to grapple with.
On Dalits and non-Dalit Hindus and inter-marriages, the range of responses, according to the survey, vary between 60 per cent in rural Rajasthan and 40 per cent in UP, being opposed to inter-caste marriages. The respondents also favoured a law which would prohibit inter-caste marriages.
Diane Coffey, at the University of Texas in Austin, finds this surprising and the range “narrow”, as on an average the Delhi respondents have had five years of more education and education is seen as a “liberalising force”.
The surveyors consist of Coffey, Payal Hathi and Nidhi Khurana affiliated to the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics, and Amit Thorat, with the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The team of surveyors have also made a comparative assessment with surveys on these deeply personal but important social attitudes, with those between blacks and whites in the US, forty five years ago and they find some parallels.
They point out that fewer White adults in the US supported laws against marriages between Blacks and Whites between 1972 and 2002 than Indians who supported laws against inter-caste marriages now.
India’s Special Marriage Act in 1954 made inter-caste and inter-faith marriages legal, and the idea that there would be a civil marriage recognised by the state allowing inter-caste unions, was meant to deal a death blow to the caste system (held up essentially by endogamy). But in the US, it was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court there declared inter-race weddings as legal across the country.
“These trends are indeed quite worrying. While they do not bode well for the long-term growth of the economy and development of society at large, they also in many ways indicate a worsening of the social mindset, calling for thinking of smarter ways of intervention via policy,” Thorat said.
The survey also has results on significant attitudes towards women. Nearly half the persons interviewed disapproved of women working outside homes, indicating that social stigma for working women is still high. (Female participation in the labour force at 27 per cent by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) placed India at a rank lower than 170 among 188 countries).
On eating last at home, 60 per cent of women in rural UP say they eat at the end, and about one-third in Delhi reported the same — this has implications on the health of women and low body weight.
Coffey told The Indian Express; “The most startling thing about the data is just how big the numbers are. Too often, people who look towards a modern future dismiss casteism or patriarchy as a thing of the past – and instances of discrimination as meaningless, isolated anecdotes. What these big numbers reveal is that prejudice remains very common – too common. And that means that life could be a lot better for a lot of people: for Dalits, for women, and for everyone touched by an unequal society.”
Coffey said that this establishes why social inequality must be a priority for policy-makers. “What stands out about these numbers is that they are representative. Representative surveys tell us what is true on average about a population. So, these numbers tell us about what is true on average for adults in these states. If we are honest with ourselves, we already know that discrimination persists. But it can be hard for policy-makers to take on the evidence from daily experience that is right under their noses. Representative numbers make it undeniable that social inequality is a policy priority.”