Friday, October 22, 2010

Devesh Kapur on Indian diaspora

The book Diaspora, Development, and Democracy: The Domestic Impact of International Migration from India by Devesh Kapur, director of CASI is currently available online. Laura Freschi at Aid Watch comments in the post When the brain drain is healthy for democracy :
"The endurance of Indian democracy is one of the great Indian puzzles. How has a population so large, so ethnically and linguistically fragmented, and so economically unequal managed to sustain a participatory democracy since 1947? What forces have kept the country politically stable, enabling the rapid economic growth of the past two decades?

One intriguing answer comes from political scientist Devesh Kapur, who studies the political effects of skilled migration (the so-called brain drain) on migrants’ home countries (we’ve blogged before about the positive economic effects of the brain drain). In a new book presented yesterday at the Center for Global Development, Kapur finds:

"[T]he positive selection of Indian migrants through education has strengthened India’s democracy by creating a political space for previously excluded social groups. Because older Indian elites have an exit option, they are less likely to resist the loss of political power at home."
At the same time, though, Kapur says that members of the upper class that chose exit have still retained their voice: their continuing influence in Indian politics perpetuates social inequalities."
Laura Freschi a;so comments about a similar study from Mexico.

Devesh Kapur is one of the authors of the recent study "Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era" . The others are Chandra Bhan Prasad, Lant Pritchett, and D. Shyam Babu. Summary by Soutik Biswas ( I came across this via Rajib Khan's delicious feed in his blog) in Is the free market improving lives of India's Dalits?. Excerpts (almost fully quoted):
"A group of economists and Dalit scholars led by Devesh Kapur at Pennsylvania University's Centre for the Advanced Study of India, believes so. India's 160 million Dalits are some of its most wretched citizens, because of an unforgiving and harsh caste hierarchy that condemns them to the bottom of the heap.

The study quizzed all Dalit households - more than 19,000 - in two clusters of villages in Azamgarh and Bulandshahar, two poor, backward districts in Uttar Pradesh state. Dalits were asked about their material and social conditions now and in 1990 when economic reforms were kicking off in India. The answers, says the study, provide proof of "substantial changes in a wide variety of social practices affecting Dalit well-being."

If you feel that 19,000 Dalit households in Uttar Pradesh are not a good enough sample for studying their conditions, think again. To put things into perspective, 32 million of India's estimated 160 million Dalits live in Uttar Pradesh alone.

But the very fact changes have happened to the lives of the Dalits in Uttar Pradesh is enough to excite sceptics. Let's look at some of the more striking findings:

1. Ownership of bicycles, fans, TV sets and mobile phones have increased by typically a third to half of the Dalit households surveyed.

2. A substantial improvement in housing: 64.4% and 94.6% of Dalits in the households surveyed in two districts now live in "pukka" (concrete) houses compared to 18% and 38.4% respectively in 1990.

3. Some interesting changes in grooming and dress - again, an assertion of social aspirations. Take, for example, toothpaste. Under 3% of Dalits used toothpaste in the surveyed households in 1990. In 2007, more than half of them in Azamgarh and over 80% in Bulandshahar used toothpaste. Up to 80% of Dalits in one cluster of villages use shampoo today, an 82% jump compared with 1990.

4. Key changes in eating habits. Consumption of pulses has gone up. More than 80% of the children in households surveyed in both districts are not being served the previous night's leftovers. More than 70% of the households use packaged salt. Up to 87% of the households in Azamgarh and more than half the households in Bulandshahar buy tomatoes.

Whether calorie intake has gone up substantially remains unclear. But respondents say that their food situation is "much better."

5. "Massive" changes in social practices within the community. Today almost all the households rent a car or jeep to take the groom's marriage party to the bride's village and bring the bride back to the groom's village, up from as low as 2.5% in Bulandshahar in 1990. More than 90% of them offer tea to visiting relatives.
6. The relationship between the Dalits and other castes is undergoing subtle, but important changes. These days more than 80% of Dalits are not seated separately at non-Dalit weddings of grooms in the village, compared with a little over 20% in 1990. In Azamgarh households nearly 90% of Dalit babies are now attended equally by government and non-Dalit midwives.

The traditional practice that only Dalits would lift dead animals of non-Dalits is dying out. In Azamgarh fewer than 1% of Dalits lift dead animals, compared with 19% in 1990, while in Bulandshahar only 5.3% do. More than 60% of Dalit children in the surveyed households go to school, as do well over half of the girl children.

7. Migration is driving a lot of changes in economic wellbeing. By 2007 fourth-fifths of Dalit households in the two village clusters had at least one family member who was a migrant worker, a professional or was in business. Half of the households in one village cluster, and 78% of households in the other had members who worked locally or had a small business. "Migration," says the study, "has been a powerful engine of Dalit empowerment."

Whether the market is reducing inequality remains a highly contentious point. My hunch is that political empowerment must have played a powerful role in many of the changes: the rise of Dalit politics coincided with the liberalisation of the economy. But the last word comes from the group of scholars behind the study: "No one would argue Dalits have achieved anything like equality, but it is certainly the case that many practices that reflected subordination and routine humiliation of Dalits have declined considerably." That, by itself, is a considerable triumph for India's wretched of the earth."

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