Why do India’s Inequalities Persist?

Poverty is rampant in India, and it is in large part caused by inequality. One example is the major income gap between the rich and poor. The top 10% earn 12 times as much as the bottom 10%. Approximately 42% of India’s 1.21 billion people live below the poverty line, living on less than $1.25 a day (“India Income Inequality Doubles in 20 years, says OECD). In fact, data collected from India’s most recent Socioeconomic Caste Census shows that 75%, of the 300 million households surveyed, earn less than $75 a month (Katyal). India’s persistent inequality, and as a result significant poverty, can be attributed to social and legal factors.

A major social factor contributing to India’s inequality and subsequent poverty is caused by the remnants of the Caste System. People of lowers castes are often discriminated against, especially in schools. Resources are typically focused on the children of higher castes. To make matters worse, teachers usually pay more attention to the children of higher castes. Children of lower castes, as a result, have a harder time in school. In fact, the children of lower castes tend to score better on tests, in which their caste is not revealed (Zagha). The discrimination in schools towards children of lower castes gives children in higher castes an unfair educational advantage. This discrimination has its consequences, as children of lower castes have severe issues in cognitive development, stemming from the fact that they are not receiving sufficient resources and attention in school (Zagha).

Another factor explaining inequality in India is the Constitution, adopted in 1949. The Constitution created a legal obligation for the state to eradicate and reduce India’s inequalities. However, this may not have been the best approach in reducing poverty and inequality. The economy must grow in order for India to best cut down on inequality and poverty. A legal obligation is no substitute for economic growth (Zagha). India, rather than focusing on curtailing inequality through legal means, should focus their attention on growing their economy, as that will better reduce poverty and inequality. Overall, India’s vast inequality is caused by social factors, especially the discrimination amongst castes, and legal factors, including the Constitutional obligation of reducing poverty and inequality.

Works Cited:

Zagha, Roberto. 2013. “India’s Inequality: An Uneasy Reconciliation with Economic Growth.” Current History 112 (753).





4 thoughts on “Why do India’s Inequalities Persist?

  1. I completely agree with the caste system and constitution causing India’s systemic inequality. Despite the constitution’s idealistic goals of increasing social equality through government oversight, India’s social problems may be too ingrained to shift. Zagha’s article coined the phrase “official obligation” to describe the government’s weak role.

    India’s disparity in wealth can also be viewed along side the recent tech and nuclear industry push. Western perceptions see these avenues for rapid economic growth as indicative of India’s near modernization. However these recent economic developments only benefit a minute population. India’s liberalizing movement in the 1980’s has not helped the majority of the population. Instead, large corporations are in control of the state’s infrastructure, limiting private development and public use.

    • I agree that India’s vast inequality is a result of a lingering caste system as well as legal factors, which are expressly written in India’s constitution. I am unsure that the caste system, which is so ingrained in Indian society can be changed or removed altogether. Without a thriving economy, the constitution, or “social document” can do little by means of raising the elasticity of poverty reduction. The graph titled “India’s Missing Middle” paints a clear picture that medium sized companies, “which in other developing nations account for the bulk of employment, are ‘missing.'”

      I would like to add that Zagha emphasizes shortages in infrastructure services as one of the most important reasons for India’s low growth elasticity of poverty reduction. He explains that while the rich can offset failures in public services by purchasing electricity generators and water tanks, the poor can not and this leaves them at a considerable disadvantage.

  2. I agree with your analysis and like how you addressed the root of the problem rather than just addressing the superficial level of inequalities in India. What was most surprising to me in the Zagha article is that “many villages for years refused [NGO] investments because high-caste households would have had to share the ‘same’ sewer system with and drink the ’same’ water as low-caste ‘untouchable’ households” (p. 138). This statement stood out to me in particular because last semester, when we were talking about water inequality in India in one of my classes, this reason never came up. However, after reading the Zagha article, it is a very thought provoking reason. It shows that until the stigma of caste systems in India changes, the inequalities will continue to persist.

    Zagha, Roberto. 2013. “India’s Inequality: An Uneasy Reconciliation with Economic Growth.” Current History 112 (753).

  3. I like your analysis of the root cause of economic inequality, especially stemming from the education system and discrimination of people from lower castes. However I do think that there is a more accurate way to identify why there is existing inequality in Indian education. One of the divides that Zagha points to is disparities in urbanisation between affluent urban areas and megaslums (pg. 144). I would argue that instead of caste influencing test scores for people, there is a prior issue at hand. That issue is that schools that people in megaslums can afford are often shuttered by the government because they do not meet national standards such as class sizes, teachers’ salaries, and building requirements (Zagha pg. 140). This means that many students living in megaslums do not have the access to the education that would allow them to be discriminated against, and that is trapping them into a cycle of poverty. A more effective front line way to address this issue, instead of a cultural reevaluation of the caste system, is to instead to have the government attempt to provide better education to students living in megaslums.

    Zagha, Roberto. 2013. “India’s Inequality: An Uneasy Reconciliation with Economic Growth.” Current History 112 (753).

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