Who is Excluded in Agriculture?
July 8, 2017
This is the third in the annual series of India Exclusion Reports, in which the Centre for Equity Studies has tried to bring together a wide range of policy thinkers and actors, scholars and social advocates. This is an initiative towards more just and inclusive laws and policies to examine carefully the record of the Indian State to ensure greater inclusion and access to the large mass of deprived and oppressed peoples. This is a modest effort, yet we are gratified to find that there are a growing number of readers of these reports. They agree with the value of an enterprise like this, that tries to create an informed report card about whether governments in India are ensuring equitable access of a range of public goods to vulnerable communities. It is also an effort to look closely at the most vulnerable communities. Considering that this year also marked the end of 25 years of neo-liberal growth, which promised to erase poverty faster than was possible in the past, this report assumes for a larger significance.
— From Introduction by Harsh Mander, India Exclusion Report 2016
Indian economy continues to be largely agriculture-based. Table 1 shows that almost 50 per cent of the rural households in India are dependent on the income from the agriculture sector for their sustenance. Out of these, 35.3 per cent households are earning their livelihood from working in theagricultural fields as self-employed workers and only 15.47 per cent are employed as casual labourers in agriculture. The percentage of households dependent on agriculture varies on account of the degrees of access to resources related to agriculture, i.e., land ownership, landholding size, source of irrigation, credit, extension services, infrastructure, technology, risk coverage, etc. Households belonging to socially excluded and disadvantaged groups have several challenges in accessing these resources because of the discrimination and exclusion they face on the basis of caste, religion and gender (Thorat, 2009).
Table 1 presents the outcomes of this status hiatus in terms of the eventual outcomes of income and wellbeing. Scheduled Caste households, Muslim households and female-headed households have a larger dependency on underpaid and casualized agriculture and non-agriculture wage employment. Households that are reported as self-employed in agriculture are very few among Dalits (SCs) (19.13%), Muslims (21.7%) and Women (24.1%). On the contrary, Others, Hindus and male-headed households are reported with better earnings from self-employment.
It is often said that, with resources like equitable access to productive means, self-employment is way better than casual employment in certain situations and as has been explained previously, employment in agriculture depends on access to different resources related to agriculture. Land is an important agricultural resource and ownership over agricultural land is an important indicator of economic wellbeing and social condition in rural areas (Rawal, 2008). Hence, access to it is crucial for socially disadvantaged households (Rawal, 2008).
Land ownership patterns in India are very lopsided and biased against socially deprived groups (Rawal, 2014) and even after 60 years of land reforms, this continues to be the reality of the hierarchical socio-economic conditions in our country. ‘…The pattern of land distribution in India, therefore, reflects the existing socio-economic hierarchy. While large landowners invariably belong to the upper castes, the cultivators belong to the middle castes, and the agricultural workers are largely Dalits and Tribals.’ (Ministry of Rural Development, 2013). ‘It is also seen from the field that even after all these interventions the landlessness or near-landlessness among the poor, especially the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, is considerable and the demand for land is still being unmet. ‘(Department of Land Resources, 2013, p.4). So, the moot question here is how this discrimination and exclusion towards socially deprived groups’ works. Here follows an analysis of how exclusion and discrimination in agriculture operate on the lines of caste, gender and religion. However, while the available literature provides a picture of the caste-based segregated data, the data and literature with respect to the gender and religious dimensions are insufficient. We sourced and analysed the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) data to understand the exclusion on the basis of caste, religion and gender.
Exclusion on the basis of social group is most commonly practised in India, specifically in rural India, as caste or social group is a social reality here (Hazari & Kumar, 2003). The average size of land holding, livestock and even occupation of a particular family vary according to the caste of the family (Hazari & Kumar, 2003). On this basis, the most excluded social group is the Scheduled Caste (SC). Scheduled Caste people are on the lowest ladder of caste hierarchy (Thorat, 2009) and they face exclusion most in land and asset holdings (Thorat, 2009: Rawal, 2014). [See table concerning percentage distribution of households and land ownership by caste groups and by states in Appendix 1].
The second most commonly exercised exclusion is on the basis of gender. Indian society is a deeply patriarchal society where it is assumed that men are the breadwinners and women are the dependents (Agrawal, 1994). On the basis of this assumption, women do not have any right over their family land or any hereditary land owned by family. The family lands are typically transferred in the name of the male member of the family like, son or grandson (Agrawal, 2003). The exclusion of women can be seen to be perpetuated through the institution of marriage and the laws that govern ownership of property (Patel, 2006). As a result of occupational mobility, male members of households are migrating away from agriculture which eventually burdens the women in the family with all/most of the agricultural labour; yet neither do they have a socially sanctioned role in the decision making related to agricultural work nor have any right on the land. They are expected to be just working on and only as labourers in their own family fields (Kodoth, 2004). [See table concerning percentage distribution of households and land ownership by sex of head of household and states in Appendix 2].
Just as how social identities are crucial in determining the land holdings of the household (Hazari & Kumar, 2003), the religious identity of a household also plays an important role in defining access to different agriculture-related resources like land. As a result of exclusions on the basis of discrimination against certain religious beliefs, the Muslim community in India has lagged behind other religious communities. There are not many studies on the land rights of the Muslim community in India. In the following paragraphs we have tried to analyse the nature and extent of exclusion faced by Muslim communities in agriculture with the help of available data sources.
There is one more group of people who face exclusion in agriculture and land holdings and that group is people with disabilities. The subject of the rights of persons with disability over land resources has not been studied. However, we have tried to understand their exclusion with the help of the data accessed from the Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC) of India, 2011.
Amandeep Kaur is currently pursuing her PhD from Centre for the Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has an MPhil from the same Centre at JNU.
P Raghu is leader, Land and Livelihood Knowledge and Activist Hub at Actionaid in New Delhi. He has a PhD from Andhra University, Visakhapatnam.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.