Vol. XLIII No. 14 April 07, 2019
Array

Inequality and the ‘Class Divide’ in ‘Dalit’ Politics

Archana Prasad

THE analysis below looks at the question of class formation in selected states which have historically been important for both dalit and Left politics. It analyses the trends in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (important centres of Ambedkarite politics), Tamilnadu (which has pioneering movements in radical dalit politics like Panthers) and West Bengal and Kerala (important centres of Left politics). Through such an analysis in an all India context an attempt is made to correlate the problem of disparities within the dalits with the trends in dalit and Left movements.

 

 SCHEDULED CASTES

AND ACCESS TO LAND

According to recently available data (NSSO, 2013) the disparities amongst the Scheduled Castes is highest amongst any other social group in India. The pattern of land holdings as it has emerged in 2013 shows that 54.9 percent of the Scheduled Castes only have homestead lands and out of this 4.4 percent do not even own homesteads. About 84.1 percent of the Scheduled Castes own less than 0.2 hectares of land other than the homestead lands. Of these 21.2 percent have no access to any land apart from their hutments. The rest of the 62.9 percent are virtually (or in effect) landless as they largely depend on labour for their livelihood. Thus the first disparity that exists within the ‘dalits’ is between those who possess land for purposes other than homesteads (which is about 7.2 percent with land over one hectare), and those who are landless and virtually landless.

This pattern is reflected at the state level also where the rising landlessness amongst the dalits has created a differentiation between land losers and those who possess some cultivable land. The data for selected states (chosen on the basis of states with important and significant history of dalit politics) show the following:

Decadal Change in Ownership of Cultivated Land in Selected States, 1999-2011 

 

Cultivated Land (Ha)

State

landless

0.001-0.40

0.41-1.0

1.01-2.0

2.01-4.0

above 4.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerala

4.3

-2.3

-0.7

-1.3

0

0

Maharashtra

9.4

-5.3

-4.4

1.5

-0.3

-0.9

Tamil Nadu

9.7

-6.7

-2.6

-0.8

0.3

0

Uttar Pradesh

7.9

-4.1

-2

-0.7

-1

-0.1

West Bengal

9.1

-2.9

-3.8

-2.2

-0.5

-0.1

India

5.7

-3.1

-1.6

-0.5

-0.2

-0.1

Source: Calculated from NSSO data from different years.

The table shows that land deprivation is one of the main problems faced by the dalits in almost all states. It is interesting to note that at the All India level there is a growing landlessness amongst the dalits with access to all other categories of land showing a decline. Though the percentage growth in landlessness is the lowest in Gujarat the rise in middle and large land holdings indicates that a consolidation of land holdings amongst the dalits is taking place in the state. In states with strong Ambedkarite politics like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra there is increasing landlessness in terms of ownership of land holdings and more than 80 percent of the dalits are landless in these two states. States with strong Left politics like Kerala and West Bengal also show a rise in landlessness in terms of ownership of land, but the land disparities are the lowest in these states. In Tamilnadu, another state with radical dalit politics, 91.1 percent dalits are landless. This proportion is much higher than Bengal and Kerala.

But disparities in land do not tell the entire story about land based inequalities. The landless dalits still depend on agriculture through lease agreements. Since evictions are not permissable under the land laws, recorded leased-in-rights in land reform states are instrumental in creating secure agricultural employment. The seasonal variation in size of landholdings and landlessness reveals the vulnerability and livelihood insecurity. The available NSSO data (2013) shows that in states like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh with strong Ambedkarite politics, but no land reforms the lease-in tenancy arrangements are varied over two cropping seasons. For example in Uttar Pradesh the average size of leased-in land varies from 0.277 hectares to 0.321 hectares over two seasons, and seasonal landlessness (ie, dalits with no access to cultivable land in one season) varies by about 4 percent, where as in Maharashtra, the average size of land leased-in varies from 0.13 to 0.5 hectares and seasonal landlessness varies by 3 percent. In a state like Tamilnadu with radical dalit Panther politics, the size of lands leased-in remains relatively small, however seasonal landlessness varies by 6 percent. In West Bengal and Kerala, the states with strong Left politics, the size of land holdings leased-in by dalits remains stable and so does the tenure of land holdings. This is largely because these are land reform states and here leased-in rights are recorded, permanent and inheritable. Hence states with strong class based mobilisations give greater land based livelihood security to dalits than states whose dalit politics is largely based on question of representation.

 

INEQUALITIES ARISING

FROM INCOME

Income inequality, measured through data on expenditure is another aspect of inequality which reveals how the character of the proletarianisation of dalits has impacted the disparities within this social group. It is particularly interesting to note the disparity index within social groups across time. Using the available NSSO data, a recent study shows the following results:

Economic Disparity Ratio by Social Group

State

1983-84

1993-94

2011-12

 

ST

SC

OTHERS

ST

SC

OTHERS

ST

SC

OTHERS

Economic Disparity Ratio

Kerala

7,7

7.7

7.4

7.2

5.7

7.2

7.2

9.2

7.2

Maharashtra

7.0

8.7

6.6

7.6

6.8

7.5

7.3

8.8

7.0

Tamil Nadu

6.3

7.2

9.8

7.2

6.8

8.1

6.1

9.7

12.1

Uttar Pradesh

6.3

7.1

6.9

6.8

6.8

6.4

6.1

9.6

12.1

West Bengal

7.0

7.8

7.7

7.9

6.2

7.5

10.9

7.3

8.6

All India

7.2

7.4

7.3

8.1

6.8

6.9

8.1

9.1

9.0

Note: Economic Disparity Ratio= Rate of average MPCE of richest decile to the average MPCE of poorest decile. It reflects the disparity within the social group.

Inequality (Gini Coefficient)

State

1983-84

1993-94

2011-12

 

ST

SC

OTHERS

ST

SC

OTHERS

ST

SC

OTHERS

Kerala

.045

.280

.298

.143

.254

.311

.187

.306

.242

Maharashtra

.277

.261

.305

.205

.240

.289

.256

.269

.293

Tamil Nadu

.304

.233

.377

.264

.156

.291

.249

.264

.297

Uttar Pradesh

.265

.178

.320

.266

.271

.305

.168

.347

.447

West Bengal

.267

.278

.304

.207

.207

.323

.296

.278

.316

All India

.276

.280

.304

.267

.254

.288

.273

.287

.315

Note: Gini Ratio is calculated on an index between 0-1. An index number closer to 1 reflects greater inequality.

Source: Extracted from Ashish Singh, Kaushalendra Kumar and Abhishek Singh, ‘Exclusion within Excluded: The Economic Divide within Scheduled Castes and Tribes Economic and Political Weekly Volume 50 Number 42, October 17, 2015, Tables 4and 5.

The table above shows that the disparities amongst all social groups are increasing in the post reform period. It is also evident that the period of the late 1980s is also the time when the inequalities amongst the dalits reduced. This reduction in inequities could be attributed to some of the measures undertaken by the State under pressure from the emergence of a new wave of dalit, adivasi and Left politics that emerged from the late 1970s onwards. As the figures from Kerala and West Bengal show the disparities amongst dalits seem to have reduced as a result of the land reforms project. This is in stark contrast to the disparities within ‘others’ which seem to have increased in the same period. But this process seems to have reversed in the post-reforms period when the inequities within ‘others’ decreased and those within vulnerable social groups especially the SCs increased. In the states dominated by Ambedkarite dalit politics like Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, the increasing disparities within the dalits have grown at a very high rate. This is also true of Tamilnadu where the Panthers attempted to raise the class question within dalit politics. Coincidentally the rate of growth of dalit disparity is lower in those areas where class based mobilisations are stronger than dalit identity movements.

These trends raise the fundamental question of whether the strengthening of class based mobilisation is important to address the basic problems of dalits and what type of democratised dalit political identities should be shaped to combat non-transformative ruling class ‘dalit politics’. One of the assumptions of ‘dalit activists’ is that dalit representation in all forms is inherently transformative. Thus the very presence of ‘dalits’ will lead to the transformations of the lives of people belonging to the most vulnerable and historically discriminated group.

As far as the potential of non-class dalit politics is concerned, it may be noted that our discussion of the concrete material conditions has shown that Ambedkarite politics has a limited counter hegemonic potential. While it is true that representation of dalits in the political sphere broadens the social basis of the democratic structure, it does not necessarily alter or improve the material conditions of the dalits. A glance at the political sphere in fact shows that the beneficiaries of representation in the political sphere possess a ruling class consciousness and therefore fail to have a vision for social transformation which will form the basis of the annihilation of caste. However, at present, non-class based dalit political movements are crucial political allies in stopping the rightwing Sangh Parivar from spreading its tentacles within historically vulnerable social groups and the working classes.