Caste and the Metropolis | Dalit History Month 2022

This Dalit History Month, we curate some insightful research papers published in the past decade that frame issues linked to systemic injustices that members of marginalized castes face in Indian cities and also inform the future research agenda.

These papers attempt to visiblise that systemic injustice and throw light on how in many ways those injustices are in fact embedded within the very design of the city. Read them to understand how caste-identities contribute to and interfere with one’s access to urban services in Indian cities.

1. Residential Segregation Patterns in Indian Metros

Bharathi, Naveen and Malghan, Deepak V. and Rahman, Andaleeb, Residential Segregation Patterns in Indian Metros (April 24, 2019). IIM Bangalore Research Paper No. 587 (2019), Available at SSRN: or

Residential Segregation Patterns in Indian Metros, published in 2019, is a first-of-its-kind research paper that takes a leap away from conventional methodologies of studying residential segregation in Indian cities. The paper strives to highlight the short-comings of research methodology that use the ward as the principal unit of empirical analysis. Bharati claim that considering the compact spatial spread of urban census enumeration block, the ward as a unit leads to an under-reporting of the intensity of residential segregation in Indian cities. Instead, they propose the street as the ideal unit of analysis, which in their opinion is a much smaller unit and represents a good proxy for neighborhoods. For their research they use 2011 enumeration block level census data from five metropolitan cities – Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai. Through their research Bharati et. al. demonstrate how urbanization and globalization has benefited very few marginalized communities in the metropolitan cities under scrutiny. In fact their results go on to challenge the normative promises of urbanization that supposedly guarantee dilution of caste boundaries in cities. Their research instead shows how the reality is far from it, where neighborhoods indicate robust perseverance of caste structures in contemporary Indian cities.

2. Residential Segregation in Urban India

Adukia, Anjali, Sam Asher, Paul Novosad and Brandon Joel Tan. “Residential Segregation in Urban India∗.” (2019).

Published in 2019, in Residential Segregation in Urban India, researchers Anjali Adukia et al. study the settlement patterns of two historically marginalized groups– Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes (SC’s/ST’s) and Muslims – in Indian cities. The research team takes interest more with the socio-economic outcomes those residential patterns produce. The research is ambitious in its undertaking where Adukia draw upon new administrative data to document outcomes for SC/ST’s and Muslims across 3000 towns and 100,000 urban neighborhoods, covering the entire country (Adukia et. al. 1). The article finds how both SC/ST’s and Muslim groups are overwhelmingly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods in Indian cities. The research suggests how in fact the concentration is more in case of Muslims where cities populated with Muslims are characterized by worse access to public services. They also observe how segregated cities are linked with worse economic outcomes for both SC/ST and non SC/ST’s (Adukia et. al. 16). Lastly they document how cities segregated along religious lines are also segregated along caste lines where younger cities are less segregated than older cities by caste but not religion. This, Adukia et. al. conclude is indicative of how caste is comparatively becoming less salient in new cities.

3. Residential Segregation in Urban India Recasting Inequality: Residential Segregation By Caste Over Time In Urban India

Singh, Gayatri; Vithayathil, Trina; Pradhan, Kanhu Charan (2019). Recasting inequality: residential segregation by caste over time in urban India. Environment and Urbanization, 31(2).

This article departs from other articles in this series where Gayatri Singh et. al. take interest in examining patterns of caste-based residential segregation longitudinally, that is how residential segregation has panned out in Indian cities over time. Recasting Inequality: Residential Segregation by Caste Over Time in Urban India is an exploration of how caste dynamics manifest differently across city size and region. By using successive rounds of decennial census data (from 2001 and 2011), the article finds residential segregation by caste/tribe in urban India persisting or worsening in 60 percent of the cities in the all-India sample the team considers (Gayatri Singh et. al. 12). This persistence of segregation, the article highlights shows variation by region and city size. The article successfully identifies gaps in data collection highlighting how the Government of India does not make data on religion below the city level available to social science researchers (Gayatri Singh et. al. 15) . With the result, researchers face difficulty systematically unpacking the interaction of caste and religion and its contribution to discrimination in cities.

4. Residential Segregation in Urban India Urban Rental Housing Market: Caste & Religion Matters In Access

Thorat, S. & Banerjee, A. & Mishra, V.K. & Rizvi, Firdaus Fatima. (2015). Urban rental housing market: Caste and religion matters in access. Economic and Political Weekly. 50. 47-53.

In this paper, Sukhadeo Thorat et. al. situate their research in the rental housing market in five metropolitan areas of the National Capital Region (NCR) of New Delhi to scrutinize the extent to which Dalits and Muslims face discrimination in gaining access to housing. Published in 2015, the study was one of the first on the theme of rental discrimination, and highlighted gaps in research, particularly on the question of why such forms of discrimination in housing markets persist to begin with. By utilizing a mix of three separate methods: telephonic audit, in-person or face-to-face audit and studies, the research team attempts to capture the phenomena of discrimination and unequal outcomes for potential Dalit and Muslim renters in urban rental housing market. In addition to other urgent findings, the report observes how in the Indian context, house-owner prejudices majorly prevents Dalits and Muslims from obtaining housing, with Muslims facing greater discrimination. The survey also discovered how Dalits and Muslims who are able to rent a home are made to consent to unjust terms and conditions in order to do so. The report concludes by recommending some potential corrective measures, suggesting how state intervention in the form of policies and legal safeguards could go a long way in preventing the occurrence of such discrimination in the urban rental housing market in the future. (Theorat 53).

5. Spatial Segregation In Indian Cities: Environment and Urbanization

Haque, Ismail; Das, Dipendra Nath; Patel, Priyank Pravin (2018). Spatial Segregation in Indian Cities. Environment and Urbanization ASIA, 9(1), 52–68. doi:10.1177/0975425317749657

This article investigates patterns of inequality across different scales of urban settlements in urban India and throws light specifically on the existing nature of spatial segregation observed in Indian urban locales that remain grounded in gender, caste, socio-economic status (SES) and access to essential urban services. Haque et. al. restrict their focus of research on the northern state of Uttar Pradesh for their study and examine ward-level data from the 2011 Indian Census to study the manner in which inequality patterns vary across different sizes of urban settlements. The key findings of the study are that caste-based identities still permeate and pervade social consciousness, even in twenty-first century urban India, with caste-based spatial segregation being higher in smaller and medium-sized cities, as compared to their million-plus counterparts. Haque et. al. identify similar trends that get reflected in the SES-based spatial segregation and on basis of households (HHs’) possessing an aspirational good (two-wheelers). Contrastingly, segregation by gender or by access to essential goods is higher in larger and medium cities.

6. Caste & Religion-Based Wage Discrimination In The Indian Private Sector: Evidence from the Indian Human Development Survey

Axmann, Nikolaus; Swanson, Kendal; Contreras, Victor Cuspinera (2016). Caste and Religion-Based Wage Discrimination in the Indian Private Sector: Evidence from the Indian Human Development Survey. The Review of Black Political Economy, 43(2), 165–175. doi:10.1007/s12114-016-9235-8

This article makes an urgent enquiry of caste and religion based wage disparities in the Indian private and public sector. Nikolauss Axmann et. al. use data from the Indian Human Development Survey, a nationally representative, multi-topic survey of 41,554 households in 1503 villages and 971 urban neighbourhoods in cities across India for this study (Axmann 2). The article suggests a positive relation on the interactive terms between public sector on one hand, and Dalit and Adivasi on the other, implying that being a member of the Dalit or Adivasi group yields higher returns in the public than in the private sector. The article also cites evidence that further suggests how affirmative action programs are effectively making the public sector a better place to work than the private sector for certain protected groups (Axmann et. al. 7). Wage discrimination in the private sector is still worse than in the public sector. The article then scrutinizes why other protected castes have not been benefitting from public sector reservation programs to the same extent as the Dalit and Adivasi groups have. It concludes with a policy recommendation suggesting that the Indian government should consider mandatory affirmative action programs in the private sector to address caste and religion-based discrimination.

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