Double Exclusion

Dalits, who persistently faced social exclusion on account of untouchability, are now confronted with another form of social distancing and isolation in the wake of Covid-19, making them victims of double exclusion. The first wave of Covid-19 saw further exclusionary behaviour practised with the already excluded, discriminated and marginalised safai karamcharis (who were subsequently recognised as frontline health workers), blaming them for spreading the infection, rather than thanking them for risking their lives to clean public spaces, collect and dispose contaminated and non-segregated garbage and waste. In addition, among all those who suffered from negative economic outcomes of Covid-19, there is every reason to believe that Dalits and similar groups suffered the most.

A fact check of the pattern of (un)employment, job and social security, wage earnings, financial savings and the experience of caste discrimination, would show how disadvantaged they were economically and with respect to social capabilities, on the eve of the closure of the country and economy on the evening of March 24, 2020. An exceptionally high proportion of them were (and still are) engaged as informal workers. This meant the near absence of access to existing jobs and social security, low or no incomes, and not much savings to fall back upon, instead having to eat into them. This also meant they faced an immediate danger of hunger and health risks.

The non-farm workers were affected the most. Of the total workers, about half are employed in non-farm wage work (regular salaried/casual wage labour). Of these, about 70 percent are inf-ormal wage workers, without any job and social security. However, the magnitude of informal workers was highest among SCs at about 84 percent, higher than the 70 percent for STs and OBCs, and 54 percent for high castes. The share of regular salaried non-farm workers, who were most affected, was 63 percent for the SC, which is also higher than 50 percent for high castes, 60 percent for OBCs, putting the national average at 59 percent. These most insecure workers were concentrated in the lower income quintile, mostly engaged in non-farm agricultural sector, construction and in elementary occupations.

Dalits faced discrimination during lock down period as they were denied money, food, medicines, groceries and other essentials by shopkeepers and moneylenders, in the face of dwindling stocks and interrupted supplies—a case of double exclusion.


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Vol 54, No. 38, March 20 - 26, 2022