Last month, the central government announced 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions for economically weaker sections (EWS) among communities hitherto not entitled to such benefits.
The move aims to address economic inequality because, the logic went, the older system of reservation addressed only social inequality. The assumption behind the older system was that there was a complete correspondence between social and economic inequality.
In the absence of detailed data on employment by class and caste, it is difficult to understand this correspondence. But an HT analysis of 2011 Census data on types of jobs held by various social groups throws up three interesting take-outs on the relationship between social and economic inequality. The analysis also took into account the incomes for various kinds of jobs (so as to understand which social groups had the jobs with better incomes and which didn’t). The Census gives data on workers in accordance with the National Classification of Occupations (NCO). This has 10 broad categories: professionals; clerks; technicians and associate professionals; legislators, senior officers and managers; service workers and shop and market sales workers; plant and machine operators and assemblers; craft and related trades workers; skilled agricultural and fishery workers; elementary occupations; and workers not classified by occupations. The categories listed above are arranged in descending order of their monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE, a proxy for income) taken from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO ) data for 2011-12 (for details see https://bit.ly/2Gemivk).
So, what are the take-outs?
ONE: Social groups display a fairly heterogenous division across incomes. Sure, Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) workers have a disproportionate share in low-paying occupations in India. But these headline numbers do not tell us the entire story. Certain sub-castes within the SC/ST population are better off than the rest. For example, Jatavs, a Dalit sub-caste in Uttar Pradesh, or Minas, an ST community in Rajasthan, are much better off than other SC/ST workers in terms of their share in better-paying jobs. The chances of SC/ST workers being in a better paying occupation also depend on the state they come from. Richer states have a greater share of well-paying jobs, so this increases the likelihood of an SC/ST worker finding one as well.
TWO: The data clearly shows that SC/ST workers have a lower relative share in better paying occupations, but there are variations across regions.
The reverse holds true for low paying occupations. The opposite trend can be seen for non-SC, non-ST workers. Since the census does not have the Other Backward Class (OBC) category, the non-SC non-ST group includes both upper caste and OBCs.
See Chart: Relative share of SC-ST-Others
Relative share of a social group is its share of workers in an occupational category divided by its share in the total number of workers. This analysis excludes cultivators and agricultural workers, so we are only looking at non-farm employment.
These results are on expected lines. However, what is often not realised by many is the fact that these headline numbers hide significant sub-caste and geographical differences.
For example, the combined relative share of SC/ST workers in elementary occupations, the lowest income category, was the highest in Delhi, which is also the state where SC/ST workers had the second lowest, only after Odisha, relative share among professionals – the highest income occupational category – in 2011. This should not be inferred as SC/ST workers being worse off in Delhi than a state like Bihar, as a greater share of SC/ST workers in Delhi (14.8%) were employed in the top four occupations by MPCE than in Bihar (10.6%). In other words, an SC/ST worker in Delhi is better off than an SC-ST worker in many other parts of the country.
The relative share of SC/ST workers in better paying occupations is much higher in northeastern states than other regions, a reflection of fact that the ST population there is much better off than the rest of the SC/ST population in the country.
See Chart: State-wise breakup
The occupational break-up of workers also varies drastically among states. For example, the share of top four occupational categories by MPCE among total workers in richer states such as Delhi and Maharashtra was almost double the value in backward states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha. The reverse holds when it comes to share of workers in four lowest paying occupations in such states.
THREE: Even among SCs and STs, there are significant variations when it comes to representation in better and low paying occupations. For example, among SCs, Jatavs in Uttar Pradesh had a relative share of 1.1 in the top four occupations by MPCE. This number was just 0.6 for Balmikis in the state. Similarly, Minas had a relative share of 1.6 among STs in top four occupations by MPCE, which is much higher than the corresponding values for other SC/ST communities in the state. It should be noted that these relative shares represent share of a particular caste group within the SC/ST population and not the entire population. The sub-caste analysis has also looked at only top six groups in each state within the SC/ST category to exclude communities which have a miniscule share in the total population within these groups.
See chart: Summary findings from sub-caste state-wise
Sub-castes and tribes such as Jatavs in Uttar Pradesh and Minas in Rajasthan account for almost half of the SC/ST worker population in these states. This might have given them significant political clout, generating tailwinds in pursuit of upward mobility in the job market. To be sure, there are also communities such as the Malai Arayan tribe in Kerala which accounts for less than 10% of the working ST population in the state, but has the highest relative share among STs in top four occupations by MPCE in the country.
The analysis given above underlines the hazards of mechanically prioritising one basis of deprivation against another while analysing the labour market in India. It also shows that India is in dire need of a database which can tell us about the exact socio-economic status of various social groups.
First Published: Feb 11, 2019 14:06 IST
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