Caste Discrimination in Contemporary India

a group of students in uniforms talking with one another on a bus

Ch. 8 in Inequality and Growth: Patterns and Policy

Abstract

To what extent do social identities rooted in antiquity, such as caste, shape present-day socioeconomic outcomes in a rapidly globalizing and modernizing economy, such as India? It has been argued that “rapid economic growth and the expansion of the middle class are accompanied by new opportunities for individual mobility which further loosens the association between caste and occupation” and that “there are other areas of life in which the consciousness of caste has been dying down” (Beteille, 2012). In addition to rapid changes in the economy, the critical 73rd and 74th amendments to India’s constitution in 1992 paved the way for greater political representation of the so-called lower castes. Their sustained increased presence in the political arena, both as elected representatives at various levels, as well as important leaders within several political parties, has been termed India’s “silent revolution”. This is one more reason to expect either a reversal, or at least a flattening of traditional caste hierarchies. Indeed, this has been viewed as a large enough flux, such that we now have “a plethora of assertive caste identities … [that] articulate alternative hierarchies” leading to a scenario where “there is hardly any unanimity on ranking between jatis” (Gupta, 2004).

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