Number Theory

Seven decades after independence,
most Dalit farmers still landless

While a majority of Indian farmers cultivate their own land, Dalit farmers in much of the country continue to work for wages, data released last week by the Census of India confirms.

The census separates farmers into two categories — cultivators, who have an ownership stake in the land, and agricultural labourers, who work for wages on land they do not own.

Dalit farmers are more likely than other farmers to work for wages. Yet the situation is hardly the same everywhere, accoring to census data from 2011.

Ag. labourers

In states with larger tribal populations, such as states in the north and northeast, and to a lesser extent in Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand, Dalit farmers are less likely to work for wages.

“In tribal societies, in general, land has been more equitable than in feudal societies,” said Himanshu, a professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning at Jawarharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

In states with histories of feudalism, Dalits are much more likely to work as agricultural labourers. In Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, nearly all Dalit farmers are agricultural labourers. In most districts, the figure is above 90%.

Economists say concessions to farmers, such as the new minimum support prices announced in the union budget, are more likely to benefit farmers who own their land than those who work for wages. RELATED STORY »

That means most Dalit farmers don’t stand to gain from agricultural sops.

Dalit farmers usually don’t own their land
Porportion of farmers who are agricultural labourers vs. cultivators, by social group, 2011
Agricultural labourers
Census of India; Hindustan Times

“We are thinking of the agricultural community as one group, and providing it with a number of sops,” said Nilanjan Ghosh, a senior fellow and head of economics at the non-partisan Observer Research Foundation in Kolkata. “But the benefit is essentially being obtained by landowners, and it hardly goes to the labourers. We don’t have anything for them.”

Other economists agreed.

“Any gains from these policies are unlikely to be passed down in terms of higher wages,” Ashwini Deshpande, a professor at the University of Delhi’s School of Economics, said in an email. “On the whole it would be safe to say that, by and large, these policies do not touch agricultural labour.”