‘India’s cities largely replicate caste and religious inequalities of villages’

‘India’s cities largely replicate caste and religious inequalities of villages’


India’s growing cities are only marginally less segregated than rural areas belying the notion that urbanisation helps diminish discrimination and segregation. The report ‘Residential Segregation and Unequal Access to Local Public Services: Evidence from 1.5m Neighbourhoods in India’ states that “the levels of segregation in India are comparable to Black/White segregation in the United States.” 

Residential segregation, as it explains, can have a range of negative consequences: members of segregated groups may face worse discrimination in terms of provision of public services, they may have worse access to employment networks and labour market opportunities, and stereotypes in the wider population may be more difficult to break, among others.

The report studies residential segregation, access to public services, and economic outcomes for over a billion people, focusing on outcomes for India’s largest marginalised groups – Scheduled Castes and Muslim communities. It finds that India’s cities have largely replicated the caste and religious inequalities of its villages. 

This report is the first-of-its-kind national-scale analysis of the socio-economic outcomes and access to public services in India’s urban and rural neighbourhoods. The regressive allocation of housing and other services across neighbourhoods within cities is the most informal and least studied form of governance. The report highlights that “public facilities and public infrastructure are systematically allocated away from neighbourhoods where Muslims and members of Scheduled Castes live”. The paper also dwells on the impact of such segregation on children and young adults who were found to have less schooling, even after controlling for factors like parent education and household consumption. 

In Muslim neighbourhoods, the outcomes for young people are equally poor, but can be only partially explained by parent consumption and education. Children in these neighbourhoods grow up in families with fewer resources, and yet have even worse outcomes than similarly poor children in non-Muslim neighbourhoods.

The research does not identify the causes of disparities. However, it points to the discriminatory provision of public facilities to marginalised neighbourhoods that has a storied history in many countries, including India. It also recognises its limitation that it is based on cross-sectional data collected in 2012–13, which is nearly a decade old, but its findings continue to have relevance. 

A significant point that the report highlights, through its study of historical literature, is that the Scheduled Castes have been isolated at the neighbourhood level for generations but the isolation of Muslims has been exacerbated by Hindu-Muslim violence in the post-colonial era. The paper anticipates that data from historical Census studies could be used to show the changes in residential segregation over time.