Caste continues to play a significant role in the educational and professional choices available to an individual, and the resultant income and assets, reveals a two-year-long study jointly undertaken by the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. Only 22.3 per cent of the country’s higher caste Hindus own 41 per cent of the country’s total wealth and form the richest group, whereas 7.8 per cent of Hindu Scheduled Tribes own only 3.7 per cent, or the lowest wealth share of the country’s assets, finds the study.
The top 1 per cent (in terms of wealth) of the total households own 25 per cent of the country’s total assets, while the top 5 per cent owned 46 per cent of it. In stark contrast, the bottom 40 per cent households were found to own just 3.4 per cent of the country’s total assets, which was Rs 3,61,919 billion, as per the All India Debt and Investment Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office in 2013.
This in-depth look into the division of assets on the basis of socio-religious grounds, at a time when the Union government has announced 10 per cent reservation for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) in both education and jobs beyond caste lines, was stated in a study titled, Wealth Ownership and Inequality in India: A socio-religious analysis. It was conducted from 2015 to 2017, and the study’s findings were revealed recently.
“Caste still continues to determine the level of education, nature of profession and resultant income and assets that an individual will own in this country. Ownership of assets, be it in the form of land or building, was found to be higher among Hindu High Castes (HHCs) than any other caste in India,” Nitin Tagade, lead author and assistant professor at the Department of Economics, SPPU, told The Indian Express.
The study covered 1,10,800 households, 56 per cent of them in urban areas and the rest in rural areas, across 20 Indian states. The population was classified into multiple groups — Hindu Scheduled Class (HSC), Hindu Scheduled Tribes (HST), Hindu Scheduled Castes (HSCs), Hindu Scheduled Tribes (HSTs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Castes (NHSCs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Tribes (NHSTs), Hindu Other Backward Classes (HOBCs), Hindu High Castes (HHCs), Muslim Other Backward Classes (MOBCs), Muslim High Castes (MHCs) and Rest.
The researchers have also found a marked divide in wealth distribution depending on whether members of a particular caste lived in urban or rural areas. For example, 34.9 per cent wealth in urban areas was held by Hindu HCs, whereas people from the same caste living in rural areas owned only 16.7 per cent of the total wealth. Similarly, Hindu STs were richer in rural areas and owned 10.4 per cent wealth, in comparison to a mere 2.8 per cent per cent wealth share owned by their urban counterparts.
Explaining this disparity, co-researcher of the study and emeritus professor at JNU, Sukhadeo Thorat, said, “A very small number of Hindu STs migrate to urban areas either for an education or a job, both earned through some reservation. However, a majority of the ST migrant population land up working in unorganised sectors and have poor income. That is precisely why Hindu STs are a majority among slum-dwellers in cities.”
The study also notes that historically, the right to property and education was available only to the Hindu high caste population, and this trend has remained largely unchanged. “Even today, caste plays an important role and the caste hierarchy downward, within Hindus, was found to be poorer. Inequality and discrimination is still faced by populations belonging to the lower castes. This is true for purchase of property or undertaking any business, both of which continue to be ruled by the upper castes,” said Thorat.
The study also highlighted that five states — Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Haryana — owned about 50 per cent of the country’s total wealth. The wealthiest states, according to the study, included Maharashtra (with 17 per cent of the country’s wealth share), UP (11.6%) and Kerala (7.4%), whereas the poorest states were Odisha(1%), Jharkhand (1%), Himachal Pradesh (1%) and Uttarakhand (0.9%).
Similar to the national trends, the top 10 per cent population in Maharashtra was found to own 50 per cent of the state’s assets, while the bottom 1 per cent population didn’t even own 1 per cent of the asset share of the state. The highest valued assets was found concentrated between land and building.