Mus­lims left out of the In­dia growth story, study shows


One of the most im­por­tant ways to de­ter­mine lev­els of in­equal­ity in a coun­try is to look at dif­fer­ences in peo­ple’s ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties. In­dia seems to have per­formed poorly on that score, a new re­search pa­per by Sam Asher of the World Bank and oth­ers sug­gests.

In­dia may have failed to en­able its ci­ti­zens to break free from the so­cial and eco­nomic sta­tus of their par­ents, with the sons of well-ed­u­cated fa­thers gain­ing ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion much more than those of less- ed­u­cated par­ents, the study finds. An anal­y­sis for daugh­ters was not done be­cause of data lim­i­ta­tions.

The au­thors com­bine data from two rounds of the In­dia Hu­man Devel­op­ment Sur­veys (2004-05 and 2011-12) along with the So­cio-eco­nomic Caste Cen­sus of 2012 to show that up­ward mo­bil­ity in ed­u­ca­tion—an im­prove­ment in ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment com­pared to the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion—in In­dia has re­mained a con­stant since eco­nomic lib­er­al­iza­tion.

While mo­bil­ity among the Sched­uled Castes (SCS) and Sched­uled Tribes (STS) has im­proved in re­cent years, it has been off­set by se­verely de­clin­ing mo­bil­ity for Mus­lims. How­ever, in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity Jammu and Kash­mir, the Mus­lim com­mu­nity has con­sid­er­ably higher mo­bil­ity than in the rest of In­dia. By com­par­i­son, mo­bil­ity lev­els for African-amer­i­cans in the US are bet­ter than those for Mus­lims in In­dia but mo­bil­ity among SCS and STS is com­pa­ra­ble to that of AfricanAmer­i­cans.

Over the last few decades, nearly all up­ward mo­bil­ity gains have ac­crued to the con­sti­tu­tion­ally-pro­tected SC and ST groups, who have been pro­vided with reser­va­tion in pol­i­tics, jobs and ed­u­ca­tion, the au­thors say. How­ever, this mo­bil­ity has not been at the ex­pense of up­per caste groups, the study shows.

“Higher caste groups have ex­pe­ri­enced con­stant and high up­ward mo­bil­ity over time, a re­sult that con­tra­dicts a pop­u­lar no­tion that it is in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for higher caste Hin­dus to get ahead,” Asher and his co-au­thors point out. The ex­tent to which in­ter-group dif­fer­ences in mo­bil­ity are driven by lo­ca­tion varies sub­stan­tially by group. Among STS, the dis­trict of res­i­dence ex­plains 59% of the up­ward mo­bil­ity gap with up­per castes, the study shows. Place mat­ters con­sid­er­ably less for SCS (14% of the up­ward mo­bil­ity gap) and Mus­lims (9% of the up­ward mo­bil­ity gap).

These re­sults likely re­flect the fact that many ST fam­i­lies live in re­mote ar­eas and con­tinue to prac­tice tra­di­tional eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties, while Mus­lims and SCS are bet­ter in­te­grated with the mod­ern econ­omy.

The study finds that ur­ban ar­eas are sig­nif­i­cantly more mo­bile than ru­ral ar­eas. The mo­bil­ity gap be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral lo­ca­tions is al­most equiv­a­lent to the gap be­tween higher caste Hin­dus and SCS. Within ru­ral ar­eas, the au­thors find that vil­lage as­sets like roads and schools are as­so­ci­ated with more up­ward in­ter­val mo­bil­ity. At the same time, south­ern In­dia is much more in­clu­sive com­pared to the rest of the coun­try. More gen­er­ally, chil­dren born in places that have higher av­er­age ed­u­ca­tion lev­els are more likely to have a greater chance of im­prov­ing upon their par­ents.

Also read: In­ter­gen­er­a­tional Mo­bil­ity in In­dia: Es­ti­mates from New Meth­ods and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Data (

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