Dispatch #6: India's 'precocious' development pathway-Part 3

In this series, we will be looking at the unusual development pathway that India took and its consequences on the overall socio-economic development

In one of the scenes from the movie Super 30, Hrithik Roshan who plays the character of Anand Kumar, while giving a pep talk to his students says, ‘Aaj raja ka beta raja nahi banega. Raja wahi banega jo haqdar hoga’. In the movie Gullyboy, Murad, played by Ranveer Singh, hangs his head down in despair when his uncle says, ‘naukar ka beta naukar banega, ye fitrat hai’.

We all know what the Super 30 students and Murad did next. These cinematic pieces are the creative expression of what is happening in our society. The upward social mobility process is no more an exclusive project reserved only for the privileged and well-heeled. Anyone with the right opportunity can climb up the mobility ladder. This is precisely the last theme of Lamba and Subramanian’s paper. The economic growth of three decades has also coincided with the growing cleavages between the groups that were socially and economically weak. The economic growth, affirmative action and the rise of regional caste-based parties have given heft to the issues of the SCs, STs and religious minorities, but there is a long way to go. The upward social mobility and the tools to climb up the mobility ladder are still missing and elusive for millions of Indians, even though some progress has been made in the past three decades.

Lamba and Subramanian have used the data from the 4 rounds of NFHS, to analyse the average years of schooling across social and religious groups in India. The data shows that while the average years of education for the upper-caste Hindus are converging with the OECD average, the SC, ST and Muslims have yet to catch up. The average years of education for SCs, STs and Muslims are below than the national average.

The disparities are not only found in the school education, but also in higher and professional education. According to a report by the HT that analysed the recent NSO data on education, it’s highly unlikely for an ST student to pursue a career in engineering, law or management.

Education is the first step towards upward mobility. Scholars Paul Novosad, Sam Asher and Charlie Rafkin, in their brilliant paper on intergenerational mobility argue that in India, the upward mobility for Muslims is way behind than that of forward castes, SCs and STs. Below are the few Tweets by Novosad that sum up the findings of the paper.


We often read in newspapers that a son or a daughter of working-class parents cracked the most difficult entrance exam for a professional course. We tend to think that finally the Indian society, by and large, is on its way to upward social mobility. But are these stories a reflection of the overall occupational mobility of Indians or are these just anecdotes?

Looks like those are more than anecdotes but less of a pan-India phenomenon. The overall occupational mobility or ‘ascents’ in India is very low. This essentially means that the status of an individual in Indian society heavily depends upon the occupation of her/his parents. Duke University professor Anirudh Krishna and others have analysed the IHDS data to conclude that the chance of a labourer son to remain labour than become a professional or a clerk is high in India. They have devised an ‘odds ratio’. An odds ratio is the chance of an individual originating in Occupation A being found in Occupation A rather than Occupation B relative to the chance of an individual originating in Occupation B being found in Occupation A rather than Occupation B. The higher the odds ratio is above one, the more unequal is the relative chances, and the stronger is the association between the occupation of origin and of destination.

For example, the odds ratio for labourers versus professionals in India is 55. This basically means that the odds of a labourer’s son (Occupation A) remaining a labourer (Occupation A) than becoming a professional (Occupation B) is 55 times than the professional’s son (Occupation B) becoming a labourer (Occupation A). The chance of a labourer’s son becoming a clerk is slightly better at an odds ratio of 38.

Krishna and others found that social mobility across social groups shows massive disparities.

We find that among forward castes, 7.1% of labourers’ sons become professionals, and 43.1% of labourers’ sons remain labourers. In contrast, among Other Backward Classes (OBCs), 5.1% of labourers’ sons become professionals, while 52.6% of labourers’ sons remained labourers. Among SCs, however, only 3.3% of labourers’ sons become professionals, while a staggering 68.4% of labourers’ sons remained labourers. Similarly, among STs, only 2.5% of labourers’ sons become professionals, while 67.5% of labourers’ sons remain labourers. Significant barriers to social and occupational mobility still persist in India’s most disadvantaged social groups in spite of long-standing affirmative action programmes and intense political mobilisation of these groups since independence.

-Anirudh Krishna and others, ‘Rags to Riches? Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in India’, EPW

These social cleavages are also reflected in the electoral politics and the voting pattern of different social groups. In their 2019 paper titled ‘Growing Cleavages in India? Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962-2014’, Abhijit Banerjee, Thomas Piketty and Amory Gethin have shown that the BJP and other right-winged parties have historically got support from the upper castes and the backward castes. While the Muslims have never given much support to the BJP, the drift of the SCs under a larger Hindutva umbrella where being a Hindu is a larger identity than an SC is a recent phenomenon.

Electoral politics in India have always been characterized by very strong caste cleavages. It has always been the case that the Muslims and the SC/STs are more likely to vote for the Congress and other centrist parties and that the Brahmins and other upper castes are most biased in favor of the BJP and other rightwing parties. Over time, the Congress’ popularity has declined among all the groups while that of the BJP has mainly been going up, except among SC/STs and the Muslims where there is no clear long-run trend. The 2014 election was an exception: for the first time, nearly one third of SCs and STs supported the BJP and other right-wing parties. However, support for the right among other caste groups increased in similar proportions, leaving the voting gaps between upper castes and lower castes essentially unchanged.

-Banerjee, Piketty and Gethin, ‘Growing Cleavages in India? Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962-2014’, WID

The voting pattern for the Congress and other centre-left parties is completely different than that of the BJP. Initially, in the 1960s, nearly 50% of upper caste, backward caste, SC, ST and Muslim voters were supporting the Congress, the support by the upper caste and backward caste started to decline in 1980s due to the emergence of regional parties and the upper caste voters drifting towards the BJP.

Another interesting aspect that Banerjee and others found out in their study was that the states that have BJP in power over a period of time have spent less in the social development when compared with the states where centre-left or left parties have ruled over a period of time.

The figure reveals a strong negative correlation between the average vote share received by right-wing parties in state elections and the average share of developmental expenditures dedicated to the social sector during the 2003-2017 period. In Gujarat, where the BJP has won every election since 1995 with large popular support, state budgets allocated less than 40% of developmental expenditures to the social sector on average. In Kerala and West Bengal, both states with strong left-wing parties and no significant right-wing contestant, the corresponding figure was higher than 55%.

-Banerjee, Piketty and Gethin, ‘Growing Cleavages in India? Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962-2014’, WID

The authors also found the states where the ruling party is supported by the upper castes have lower spending in the social development when compared with states where the ruling party is not supported predominantly by the upper castes.

In Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh, where governments were strongly supported by upper castes over the 2003- 2017 period, social expenditures were significantly lower than in states like Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra, whose ruling parties enjoyed greater popularity among SCs and STs.

-Banerjee, Piketty and Gethin, ‘Growing Cleavages in India? Evidence from the Changing Structure of Electorates, 1962-2014’, WID

Well, we need to wait for some time in order to come to a conclusion on this aspect as this is an under-researched area. In our future dispatches, we will be touching upon the issue of social mobility of the SCs, STs and Muslims again, in detail.

Good Reads:

1) Escaping and Falling into Poverty in India Today: The study examines the dynamic nature of movements into and out of poverty over a period when poverty has fallen substantially in India. The analysis identifies people who escaped poverty and those who fell into it over the period 2005–12. Using panel data from the India Human Development Survey for 2005 and 2012, we find that the risks of marginalized communities such as Dalits and Adivasis of falling into or remaining in poverty were higher than those for more privileged groups. Some, but not all of these higher risks are explained by educational, financial, and social disadvantages of these groups in 2005. 

2) Exclusion within the Excluded: An investigation into the trends in economic disparities within the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the past three decades (1983-2012) shows that the economic disparity ratio has increased substantially for both SCs and STs. The increase is much more in the case of the SCs. The economic inequality (Gini coefficient) has increased for both SCs and STs in urban India. In rural areas, it has increased for the SCs but has remained almost the same for the STs. In the post-economic reforms period (1993-2012), there is an unambiguous increase in inequality among both SCs and STs, and in the interstate inequality within the SCs and STs, for both rural and urban areas.

3) Residential segregation in urban India and persistence of caste: B.R. Ambedkar had exhorted lower-caste people to move towards cities to defy localism and benefit from the virtues of cosmopolitanism that urbanisation might provide. Using 2011 enumeration block-level Census data for five major cities in India - Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai - this article finds that not only are Indian cities highly segregated, but population size seems to have no association with the extent of segregation. In fact, the largest cities are some of the most segregated.