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Viewing Caste Inequality Upside Down: The Perversity of Special Schemes for Brahmins in South India

  • Economics Discussion Papers
  • October 7, 2021
  • Ashwini Deshpande,
  • Ashwini Deshpande, Rajesh Ramachandran

This paper empirically examines the justification for a slew of preferential policies aimed at Brahmins, the group unambiguously regarded at the top of the caste hierarchy, in three southern states of India. Using data from India Human Development Survey, 2011-12, for united Andhra Pradesh at the time of survey (which later split into Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) and Karnataka, we compare Brahmins with non-Brahmin upper caste Hindus, OBCs, SC-STs and upper caste Muslims in their respective states. Our results reveal that Brahmins in these three states are at the top of (a) various human capital measures; (b) various standard of living indicators; and (c) have better political and social networks, compared to all other social groups. Since these schemes focus on economically weaker sections within the Brahmin communities, we also compare the poor within each of these communities. Even within the poor, the caste hierarchy is clear and present, with the human capital and material outcomes of poor Brahmins being substantially better than those of poor from other social groups. Finally, we show that this pattern, where Brahmins are at the top of virtually every indicator, is not confined to these specific states, but is a pan-Indian phenomenon. Thus, we argue that these preferential policies are perverse and retrench existing caste inequalities instead of eliminating them, and are in violation of the spirit of the Indian Constitution

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