Number Theory: Unpacking educational disparity among Dalits
To be sure, in this article we use the term caste to refer to broader constitutional categories such as SCs, non-SC/STs
Caste-based inequalities in education are well-documented and often regarded as one of the primary reasons for continued socioeconomic disadvantage of the Scheduled Castes (SC). In theory, all subcastes within the SCs hold the right to reservation, and thus, one may argue, the experience at the subcaste level should not deviate much from the average educational outcomes of SCs as a group. To be sure, in this article we use the term caste to refer to broader constitutional categories such as SCs, non-SC/STs etc., whereas we use subcastes to refer to castes that are listed under the broader constitutional category of Scheduled Castes, such as Mahars, Chamars etc., which in reality may not fit the definition of subcastes. However, there is some anecdotal evidence of disparities within SCs at the level of subcastes. In the State of Working India report (2023), we have utilised 1991 and 2011 census data on to check whether such anecdotal evidence is backed by hard data.
Our analysis is limited to subcastes with greater than 0.5% share within the SC population in 12 large states – Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. These states account for 87.27% of India’s overall and 89.45% of total SC population according to the 2011 census.
Further, we do not club the same subcastes across different states, because the same subcaste, say Mahars in Maharashtra, may experience very different trajectories as compared to the Mahars in Madhya Pradesh due to historical political and social developments.
Our analysis relies on a set of figures where we plot the change in educational status at a given level between 1991 and 2011 (on the Y axis) with 1991 educational levels (on the X axis) on a chart. If the states (and groups) with lowest levels in 1991 have had the highest improvement between 1991 and 2011 (showing convergence) we will get a downward sloping line of best fit. If the best performing states (and groups) have shown the highest improvements during this period (showing divergence) the line of best fit will be upward sloping.