Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Caste discrimination in Indian industry

Indian industry claims it has no caste bias and that its hiring policies are entirely meritocratic. It uses this claim to oppose caste-based job quotas. The Economist had a feature on the subject largely supporting industry's contention and arguing that quotas would hurt industry while doing little for the underprivileged. Much of the discrimination, the feature suggests, may have to do with class rather than caste:

There is no strong evidence that companies discriminate against low-caste job applicants. Upper-class Indians, who tend also to be high-caste Hindus, can be disparaging about their low-caste compatriots. “Once a thicky, always a thicky,” is how a rich businessman describes Ms Mayawati. Yet this at least partly reflects the fact that low-caste Hindus tend also to be low class; and in India, as in many countries, class prejudice is profound.
Two academics, Paul Atwell, Professor of sociology at City University of New York and Katherine Newman, Professor of sociology at Princeton, contest these claims in a letter to the editor. Their empirical study bears out what those who favour quotas have been saying: caste discrimination may not be overt but it exists and improving the educational credentials of lower castes alone will not be enough.

Our two-year study, which we will soon present, found widespread discrimination against highly qualified low-caste individuals. We sent out 4,800 applications in response to advertisements for graduate jobs in Indian and multinational companies. These applicants bore distinctively upper-caste names, Muslim names and dalit surnames, but were otherwise identical in educational qualifications and work experience.

The odds of a dalit being invited for an interview were about two-thirds of the odds of a high-caste applicant with the same qualifications. The odds of a Muslim applicant being invited to an interview were even worse: only one-third as often as the high-caste Hindu counterpart.

The evidence is solid. Serious policies, coupled with an overhaul of India's education system, a required to overcome this pernicious form of social exclusion. Maybe then the widespread relegation to the bottom of the barrel of India's poorest castes will begin to diminish.

The difficulty I see with quotas in industry is that they will be hard to implement- bureaucrats and politicians alike will be bought off by businessmen and anybody who leans too hard on industry will find it hard to survive in politics- he or she will not be able to access the kind of funds that political surivival requires these days.


Krishnan said...

Here is a blurb from a paragraph on Economic Discrimination from

"Discrimination is defined as a situation where an economic agent is prepared to incur a cost in order to refrain from an economic transaction, or from entering into an economic contract, with someone who is characterized by traits other than his/her own with respect to race or sex. Becker demonstrates that such behavior, in purely analytical terms, acts as a "tax wedge" between social and private economic rates of return. The explanation is that the discriminating agent behaves as if the price of the good or service purchased from the discriminated agent were higher than the price actually paid, and the selling price to the discriminated agent is lower than the price actually obtained. Discrimination thus tends to be economically detrimental not only to those who are discriminated against, but also to those who practice discrimination.

I wonder what if information about the discrimination is widely publicised so that some smart groups can take advantage of the smart yet discriminated individuals and win in the market place of ideas and economics. For example, people with Muslim names or Lower caste names with similar credentials can apply for jobs, get turned down, go to the competitors, beat the pants out of the ones that do discriminate.

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