Everybody knows about the income inequality in India, not only on the ground of rural-urban and gender but also on the ground of socio-religious status of an individual and community. A survey on wealth distribution on castes revealed huge disparities in income and wealth status.
Caste continues to play a significant role in the educational and professional choices available to an individual, and the resultant income and assets, reveals a two-year-long study jointly undertaken by the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.
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According to the study titled “Wealth Ownership and Inequality in India: A Socio-religious Analysis”, the population belonging to Hindu High Castes (HHCs) boasts four times more wealth than those classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs)”.
Only 22.3% of the upper caste Hindus own 41% of the country’s total wealth and form the richest group, whereas 7.8% of Hindu Scheduled Tribes own the lowest share of the country’s assets at 3.7%, finds the study.
As per the All India Debt and Investment Survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 2013 “the top 1% of the richest in India owns 25% of India’s assets while the top 5% (in terms of wealth) own 46% of country’s total assets. The bottom 40% households were found to own just 3.4% of the country’s total assets which was Rs 3, 61,919 billion.
This stark difference in assets on the basis of socio-religious grounds comes at a time when the Indian government has recently announced 10% reservation quotas in government jobs and higher education admissions for economically weaker sections. This move was expected to mostly benefit the privileged classes. Despite efforts to break down the caste barriers, it still plays an oversized role in determining an individual’s occupation, income and assets of an individual.
The study, ‘Wealth Ownership and Inequality in India: A socio-religious analysis,’ was conducted from 2015 to 2017 and the findings were revealed recently. The study covered 1, 10,800 households, 56% of them in urban areas and the rest in rural areas, across 20 Indian states. The population was classified into multiple groups — Hindu Scheduled Class (HSC), Hindu Scheduled Tribes (HST), Hindu Scheduled Castes (HSCs), Hindu Scheduled Tribes (HSTs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Castes (NHSCs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Tribes (NHSTs), Hindu Other Backward Classes (HOBCs), Hindu High Castes (HHCs), Muslim Other Backward Classes (MOBCs), Muslim High Castes (MHCs) and rest.
The two biggest asset classes in the country are land and building, covering more than 90% of the total assets of the country. The inequality in these two assets is responsible for more than 83% inequality in the country”, the study found.
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The study also highlighted that five states- Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Haryana owned about 50% of the country’s total wealth. The wealthiest states, according to the study, included Maharashtra (with 17% of the country’s wealth share), UP (11.6%) and Kerala (7.4%), whereas the poorest states were Odisha(1%), Jharkhand (1%), Himachal Pradesh (1%) and Uttarakhand (0.9%).
A marked divide in wealth distribution was also found in the study depending on whether members of a particular caste lived in urban or rural areas. 34.9% wealth in urban areas was held by Hindu HCs, whereas those living in rural areas they owned only 16.7% of the total wealth. Similarly, Hindu STs were richer in rural areas and owned 10.4% wealth, in comparison to a mere 2.8% wealth share owned by their urban Hindu STs.
Separately, a study by poverty eradicating organisation, Oxfam report 2018, also revealed that, 1% of the richest Indians collectively increased their wealth by around 39%. The study highlighted that over the past hundreds of years, Hindu high castes have enjoyed the right to property and education.