Marginalisation of Muslims may have been the biggest political issue in the past decade, but the community is not at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. According to a government report, Hindu Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are the most downtrodden lot in India. Worse, rural Dalits are facing more hardships, says the report.
Over 44.8% of ST and 33.8% of SC populations in rural India were below poverty line in 2011-12 as against 30.8% of Muslims. In urban areas, 27.3% of ST and 21.8% of SC were poor, whereas economically backward Muslims stood at 26.5%. Even decline in poverty among rural ST population was the slowest.
These statistics are the findings of the Prof Amitabh Kundu report which was submitted to the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs last month. The Kundu committee had been formed under the UPA regime last year to study the implementation of the Sachar recommendations which were aimed at betterment of the Muslim community.
Dalits comprise 24.4 percent (16.6 % SC, 8.6% ST) of India’s population, while Muslims constitute 14%, as per the 2011 census.
The difference in monthly average per capita expenditure (MPCE at the constant price), another indicator of social well-being, also shows that STs are no better than the Muslims.
“The ST Hindus are at the bottom of the ladder in rural areas, followed by SC and then by the Muslims, their ranking remaining unchanged over the past two decades. In urban areas, Muslims figure in the bottom, and then comes the SC and ST population”, states the Kundu report.
Dalit scholars blame the situation on flawed policies, reservation, and failed Dalitleadership. PL Punia, an ex-IAS and former MP and chairman of National Commission of Schedule Caste and Tribes, said, “The poor Dalits have no other option but to study in government schools which doesn’t take them anywhere. The government must scale up its efforts to improve education.”
According to Prof PG Jogdand, social scientist and dean faculty of arts, Mumbai University, it’s the creamy layer that has been enjoying all the benefits of reservation since generations. “Hence, despite significant improvements in the past few decades, the disparity in the community is rising, which is alarming.”
He also underlined the need of more income-generating efforts, especially in rural areas. “Government must start awarding projects in the rural areas to only those who have never got the benefit of reservation,” says Prof Jogdand who backs a revision in reservation policy that sieves out people on the basis of number of family members already availed the benefits.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dalit icon Babasaheb Ambedkar, too is opposed to the continuation of the reservation policy. Punia however rejects the idea, “Even creamy layer has to compete to get into quota and jobs. Reservation policy must be continued.”
While Ambedkerites like Dr Tushar Jagtap and Jogdand feel that the so-called Dalits leaders in India don’t actually represent the community and they hardly did anything for their people, Dalit leaders deny the charge. Punia claims, “Dalit leaders are doing their best. But definitely, best is not enough.”
Box: Increasing disparity fanning Naxalism
The increasing disparity between different social groups is believed to be behind surge in naxal activities in the country. Prof Jogdand points out, “The poor who are left behind are the most vulnerable ones to take to naxalism. The anger among non-creamy Dalits is growing. In helplessness, they are taking extreme steps.”
Percentage of poor in India
(Source; Kundu Report)
Difference in average monthly expenditure per person (In Rs)
2004-05 to 2011-12
(Source: Kundu Report Absolute Difference in average Monthly per capita expenditure at Constant Price )