Shifts and stagnancy in the caste profile of our asset rich and poor

Synopsis: India’s debate on modifying affirmative action policies should be informed by an understanding of the trends observed so far.


There are increasing demands for a caste census and the removal of a 50% cap on reserved seats for central government jobs and admissions to the central educational institutions.

Read more: Caste based census in India – Explained

The 50% cap was breached in 2019 when an additional 10% quota came into place for India’s economically weaker sections (EWSs) on top of the already-existing 49.5% reservation. (27% Other Backward Classes (OBCs), 15% Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 7.5% Scheduled Tribes (STs)).

In addition to this, various state governments in India also implement their own reservation in the name of affirmative-action policies.

A new study to understand the caste dynamics

An asset index, using individual-level data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) for 2005-06 and 2015-16 has been constructed. It takes into account a wide array of assets like consumer durables and vehicles.

This helps us understand how different caste groups in the country are placed in terms of prosperity and poverty.

It defines the bottom 20% of the population as ‘asset poor’ and the top 20% of the population as ‘asset rich’ based on the asset index score.

Asset-poor: Those who hold less movable or immovable assets as compared to others.

Asset-rich: Those who hold more movable or immovable assets as compared to others.

The study compares changes in the share of each caste group in India’s population over time and their share among the asset-poor and asset-rich in India and its major states.

Findings at all India level

Asset Asymmetry
Source: Livemint

OBC: representation of OBCs in both asset-rich and poor categories is in line with their share in the population. Their share among the asset-rich has seen an increase between 2005-06 and 2015-16.

Among major states: OBCs are most over-represented among the asset-rich in Tamil Nadu. They are under-represented in Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

SC and ST: Represented more in the asset-poor category and under-represented in the asset-rich category.

SCs and STs are under-represented in the asset-rich category in all major Indian states, with the most under-representation relative to their population share in Odisha and the lowest in Punjab.

General Category:  They continue to form a higher share of the asset-rich than their share in India’s population. General-category Indians are over-represented in all states among the asset rich.

How states formation itself can be linked to such variance of the population?

Some states in India were linguistically formed, whereas others owe their formation to similar cultures and ethnicity. This suggests there may be one of the drivers of the sub-national differences in welfare outcomes in India.

Also, people in some states tend to be politically aware and act collectively on a range of issues, while people in other states have low levels of political awareness and have a deeply divided society.

What should be the future research?

More work is needed to understand how State policies have contributed to the advancement of different groups in different categories. Such studies would also help states in making evidence-based policies for affirmative action.

Source: This post is based on the article ”Shifts and stagnancy in the caste profile of our asset rich and poor“ published in Livemint on 13th September 2021.

Terms to know

Print Friendly and PDF