Stripping of Dignity: Political Economy of Caste-based Humiliation in India

By analyzing historical process of social humiliation responsible for robbing human dignity, we argue how caste-based social stratification has been used to enforce mass-passivity in India, which has effectively suppressed any widespread social resentment or rebellion demanding structural change. The near absence of any mass-resentment in turn gave rise to a distinct political economy where old grossly uneven distribution of resources continued apace. It argues that mass-passivity induced through long-drawn process of social humiliation is part of larger conspiracy of a tiny but privileged social class that has been actively seeking hegemony over power.

The explanation to this marked rigidity in resource distribution lies in the careful embedding of social (caste) and economic (class) life into a unified socio-economic pole capable of hindering any political attempt aimed at restructuring uneven resource distribution patterns. These mutually reinforcing socio-economic forces made any attempt of change by Mughal rule, British Raj and even independent Indian state rather ineffective. Politics in India was always powerless when facing combined or merged socioeconomic power.

By utilizing arguments of marginalization theory, we explain how imbalance between continued socio-economic marginalization and recent lower-caste political empowerment caused derailment in India’s modernization drive. In order to remove this persistent imbalance, we argue that economics of caste has to be demolished. Empirical validation of our basic hypothesis has been done by the field data collected from northern part of India, Uttar Pradesh, which confirms continuation of wide ranging socio-economic convergence, i.e. higher social caste categories with higher income levels and lower caste categories with lower income strata.

India’s old tradition of caste-based social humiliation brought by wide-open socio-economic polarization can only be removed by affirmative policies as well as strict implementation of Land Ceiling Act provisions aimed at providing redistributive justice. A new egalitarian political economic order in India is need to create a mass-participatory economics capable of breaking age-old deep-seated links between social and economic spheres.