Millennium Post

Prejudiced populace

Not much has changed on India’s societal plane. We continue to be biased, particularly against Dalits and women, elaborates Aditya Aamir.

Something we never get to know from downloaded research papers is what do the researchers themselves think about the issues they research on or what are their own answers to the questions they pose to the sample surveyed. That is food for thought. Moving on, a newly published research paper titled 'Explicit Prejudice: Evidence from a New Survey' shows that not much has changed on the societal plane in India. The same prejudices still exist, and the people who they target haven't changed face either.
The new survey published in the latest issue of the Economic and Political Weekly and authored by Diane Coffey, Payal Hathi, Nidhi Khurana, and Amit Thorat showed that people were still clinging to set prejudices, particularly against the Dalit and women, even after 70 years of having a Constitution to fall back on.
The phone survey, basing itself on data from the Social Attitudes Research, India, (SARI), was conducted in Delhi, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It looked at explicit prejudice – "beliefs and behaviours to which people openly and readily admit that reinforce the lower social status of people in oppressed groups."
How women are looked upon tells a great deal of a society. And the Indian woman is a niche study in herself. Take, for example, her labour force participation rate, which is extremely low and declining, and which nobody cares about. The opinion that emerged from the survey was that the social stigma around working women, especially when the family does not desperately need money, had a lot to do with it.
Close to half of the adults interviewed across regions said they disapproved of a woman working if she had a provider at home to support her. In fact, the answers from both men and women varied very less, except that the differences between men's disapproval and women's disapproval were somewhat more pronounced in urban areas than in rural areas.
A second discrimination and prejudice against women are in when they get to eat. "When your family eats lunch or dinner, do the women usually eat with the men? Or do the women usually eat first? Or do the men usually eat first?" An India Human Development Survey (IHDS) done in 2011 had brought out that the number of people saying that men eat first ranged from 60 per cent in rural Uttar Pradesh to about one-third in Delhi.
The numbers haven't changed much in the five years since. The number of women whose nutritional intake was threatened by this practice remained the same. This was perhaps one of the reasons why 23 per cent of women in India were underweight, said the EPW article.
The third prejudicial attitude with respect to women was the practice of 'ghunghat' – a Hindu woman covering her head and face when in public or in the presence of men. Women who did not practise 'ghunghat' were 12 percentage points more likely to have a say in important intra-household decisions.
In Rajasthan, more than 98 per cent of Hindu women said they practised 'ghunghat'; although urban areas show some age gradient, rural areas showed little, and overall the age gradient was less steep than what was expected, the authors wrote.
And would you approve of Dalits marrying people from other castes? The answer: there were people who said there should be a law against such marriages, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 be damned. Perceptions haven't changed in decades.
The percentage of non-Dalit adults who said that a law of such nature was needed ranged from 60 per cent in rural Rajasthan to about 40 per cent in Delhi, debunking the theory that higher education diminished prejudices. The average Delhi respondent had five more years of education than the average respondent in rural Rajasthan, but that was not a liberating force.
This brought the survey to the question of whether non-Dalit Hindus were keeping alive the illegal and despicable practice of untouchability. More than half of those surveyed in Rajasthan and rural UP said someone in the household was still at it. The number was relatively lower in Delhi and Mumbai.
The conclusion that the authors drew from the survey was that prejudice and discrimination diminished the well-being and life chances of people who experienced them. They hurt everyone. Social disapproval for women's work translated into a slower-growing economy for everyone. When pregnant women ate last, the next generation of Indians grew up shorter and with fewer cognitive resources. Those practising untouchability were less likely to adopt latrines that kept everyone safe from disease. Governments and society do not care a whit. No wonder there is a raging Jignesh Mevani in our midst.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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