Counting Caste

Connected Castes

India Human Development Survey - I found that there was a substantial difference between the social networks to which different caste groups are linked. The networks about which IHDS-I asked includes any contacts in government, schools and health system. 

These differences remain statistically significant after controlling for education and urban residence.

     Caste and religious inequalities are of great interest to IHDS. Someone recently asked me whether it is politically sensitive to collect these data, particularly in a state like Uttar Pradesh, the first state where IHDS training has begun. My response was, we have had more difficulties convincing our academic colleagues that caste data should be collected than actually collecting these data. 

     Two aspects of Indian socio-political life have become apparent in our fieldwork. First, every village in U.P. seems to be acutely aware of its caste and religious composition, primarily through the compilation of voter lists. The IHDS asks about village level caste and religious composition of the population in a village schedule, administered to a focus group of village leaders and elders. When we ask them about proportion of households that belong to any particular caste or religious community they are a bit confused, but their eyes sparkle the moment we ask them about voters. They are quick to reel out that our village has 1780 votes; of that 315 belong to Muslims, 57 Chamars, 205 Jaiswals and so on.  They don’t find it at all odd that the voter list has been tallied by caste and religion, and such detailed caste background at that. For them, this is part and parcel of normal politics.

     At the household level, the IHDS-I asked caste and religious identification with no hesitation on respondents’ part at identifying their background.  This time we are going one step further and quietly asking the household head if some members of his or her household believe in untouchability (“chhooa chhoot”). If they say no, we further ask, so there would be no problem if a member of scheduled caste were to enter your kitchen or share utensils.  While this is a pretty experimental question with great probability of falling flat, in our pretests we have found it fairly simple to administer with many householders responding simply that yes of course, they believe in untouchability and a scheduled caste person can’t enter the kitchen. How prevalent this phenomenon is, I have no idea! I guess we will find out once the IHDS-II is completed. But judging by the ease with which our respondents respond to this question and seem to think nothing about practicing untouchability, at least in North India, untouchability is alive and well.

23-September 2011

© Sonalde Desai 2012