Scaling Caste Walls With Capitalism’s Ladders in India

Lydia Polgreen in the New York Times:

ScreenHunter_13 Dec. 22 12.43Bollywood may love a rags-to-riches story, but historically India is not a nation of Horatio Alger stories. Social and economic mobility are limited, a product of India’s layers of cultural legacies: the Hindu caste system, the feudal hierarchies established by its many invaders and the imperial bureaucracy imposed by Britain. The idea that with hard work and determination, anyone could succeed found scant purchase here.

Independence changed that somewhat. India’s Constitution, which was largely drafted by a Dalit, Bhimrao Ambedkar, outlawed the practice of physical untouchability, which relegated Dalits to the bottom of the social ladder and condemned them to low-status jobs, like leather work and barbering.

It established affirmative action for Dalits and tribal people in politics and government jobs and education. The practice of physical untouchability, which prevented Dalits from walking on the same streets as upper-caste people, drinking from the same wells or even looking such people in the eye, has virtually disappeared, though it remains in practice in some remote areas.

Dalits still lag behind the rest of India, but they have experienced gains as the country’s economy has expanded. A recent analysis of government survey data by economists at the University of British Columbia found that the wage gap between other castes and Dalits has decreased to 21 percent, down from 36 percent in 1983, less than the gap between white male and black male workers in the United States. The education gap has been halved.

More here.