Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Caste & the labour market

Edited by Sukhadeo Thorat, Katherine S. Newman;
Oxford University Press,
Rs. 750

This is an excellent volume — carefully-researched and eye-opening — on caste-based injustice in our society and economy. Now, while there is a literature that documents discrimination and the denial of civil liberties, there is very little understanding and research on the practice of caste discrimination in markets, notably in modern, urban and metropolitan settings, and in public institutions. This book takes up the challenge of understanding the latter by means of systematic research on the question.

A useful four-fold classification of the types of discrimination is proposed by Thorat and Newman: complete exclusion, selective inclusion, unfavourable inclusion, and selective exclusion. Complete exclusion would occur, for example, if Dalits were totally excluded from purchase of land in certain residential areas. Selective inclusion refers to differential treatment or inclusion in markets, such as disparity in payment of wages to Dalit workers and other workers. Unfavourable inclusion or forced inclusion refers to tasks in which Dalits are incorporated based on traditional caste practices, such as bonded labour. Lastly, selective exclusion refers to exclusion of those involved in “polluting occupations” (such as leather tanning or sanitary work) from certain jobs and services.

Study in rural areas
There is a body of research on discrimination in rural areas and on the continuation of caste barriers to economic and social mobility in village India. There is a myth, however, that caste does not matter in the urban milieu and that, with the anonymity of the big city and with education and associated job and occupational mobility (assisted by affirmative action), traditional caste-based discriminatory practices disappear. This book explodes that myth in a set of chapters that focus on the formal labour market. These chapters use methodologies developed in the United States to study racial discrimination, and are written in collaboration with scholars from the U.S.

Thorat and Attewell ran an experiment to test caste discrimination in the urban labour market. For one year, researchers collected advertisements from leading English language newspapers for jobs in the private sector that required a university degree but no specialised skills. The researchers then submitted three false applications for each job. The applicants, all male, had the same or similar education qualification and experience. One of them had a recognisable upper caste Hindu name, another a Muslim name and the third a distinctly Dalit name. The expected outcome was a call for interview or further screening.

An analysis of the outcomes, using regression methods, showed that, although there were an equal number of false applicants from three social groups, for every 10 upper caste Hindu applicants selected for interview, only six Dalits and three Muslims were chosen. Thus, in modern private enterprises (including IT), applicants with a typical Muslim or Dalit name had a lower chance of success than those with the same qualification and an upper caste Hindu name.

Full report here The Hindu

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