[Urbanstudy] India’s lower castes are discriminated against even when it comes to accessing electricity and gas

Vinay Baindur yanivbin at gmail.com
Tue Jul 4 13:36:08 CDT 2017


lower castes are discriminated against even when it comes to accessing
electricity and gasPeople from the lowest castes and scheduled tribes are
less likely to have electricity and clean gas, even compared to equally
poor people from other castes.
by  Vibhor Saxena, The Conversation <https://scroll.in/author/13469>
Published 2 hours ago
[image: India’s lower castes are discriminated against even when it comes
to accessing electricity and gas]Image credit: SHAMMI MEHRA / AFP

Among their many privileges, India’s wealthiest households can rely on a
consistent supply of electricity and access to cooking gas. The situation
is rather different for other social groups, however. My research has shown
lower caste and tribal households have 10%-30% less access to electricity
and clean cooking fuel
even when controlling for other factors like income or education.

This is just one outcome of India’s caste system, which divides the
country’s population into rigid and hereditary social strata. Caste
discrimination was declared illegal in the Indian constitution – and
positive discrimination was introduced to correct historical injustices.
Those assisted by the Constitution are the “scheduled castes”. They make up
about 16% of India’s population and, despite affirmative action, still face
many disadvantages.

The “scheduled tribes” are another disadvantaged group. They include tribal
or indigenous communities throughout India, and are outside the Hindu caste
system. They comprise about 8% of the population.

Despite substantial progress since Independence, India still contains the
largest number of energy-deprived people
the world, especially among these marginalised social groups. Access to
modern energy has obvious direct benefits (lighting, cooked food, and so
on), but it can also help micro-enterprises flourish and improve health and
environmental quality.
[image: Population without access to modern energy services (million
people). IEA Energy Access Projections, 2016; IEA + WHO data]Population
without access to modern energy services (million people). IEA Energy
Access Projections, 2016; IEA + WHO dataClean cooking fuel saves lives

Without access to electricity or clean gas, many Indians use solid fuels
such as coal or wood for cooking and lighting. These fuels emit CO₂ and
other hazardous substances, creating indoor air pollution that contributes
to more than 1m premature deaths in the country each year.

The only widely used clean cooking fuel is Liquefied Petroleum Gas, which
the government heavily subsidises for poorer households. However, the
informal and illegal use of LPG in motor vehicles, small industries, and
even in lavish weddings, hinders the supply to targeted groups. Motor
vehicles, industries and the gas distribution agencies are all usually
owned by rich and influential people who often prioritise the distribution
of LPG cylinders to suit their own economic interests once the product reaches
the black market
Dark night rises

Access to electricity is perhaps even more important than access to gas.
Officially, all urban areas and more than 90% of rural areas were
electrified back in the 2000s, but service can be very inconsistent. Many
villages and even some towns and cities may only get electricity for a few
hours per day

Major electrification schemes now focus on connecting individual households
rather than areas. Despite this, the influence of people with higher social
status means the areas where they tend to cluster are first in line for
improvements in supply, so energy inequality continues along socioeconomic
The role of caste and religion

My colleague and I wanted to investigate how much of this inequality was
down to caste or tribal discrimination, specifically. We also looked at
energy access among India’s Muslims, another generally deprived group who
make up about 14% of the population. To ensure we identified the role of
these three marginalised identities we controlled for other factors such as
income, education and rural residency.

Our initial results
that, in comparison to upper-caste households, scheduled caste and tribe
households had inferior access to LPG and lower consumption of electricity.

Partly, this is because these marginalised groups tend to reside within
their cluster. In rural India, scheduled caste households are often
segregated in hamlets outside the main village perimeter which makes it
easier for electrical or gas suppliers to discriminate against them.
Members of scheduled tribes often live in relatively remote places.

But inequality in energy access also seems to be generated by scheduled
caste and scheduled tribe households having lower returns on socioeconomic
capital including education or documentation. For example, on average, a
household with certain education level, rural residence, income, and
documentation from scheduled caste is likely to have less electricity and
clean gas than his exact equivalent from a higher caste. This can only be
down to discrimination.

Our results for Muslims were more mixed, however. This is possibly as they
tend to live in urban areas, albeit often in Muslim ghettos
households remain improperly accounted for.

None of this is particularly surprising: right across India, members of
scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities are often denied access to
common public goods. Various government policies have had some success in
tackling poverty and inequality in general, but very few have dealt with
access to clean energy sources for socially marginalised groups.

It is impossible to uproot the whole caste system within the short or
medium term. The recent direct LPG subsidy policy is a step in the right
direction with many pros, but lack of bank accounts, corruption, illiteracy
and other problems may cause delays
Electricity policy, meanwhile, cannot simply focus on connecting more
households or areas – it must target a more equitable overall consumption.

Access to energy is a crucial determinant of human capital. If India wishes
to be a great economic and cultural power, it must ensure everyone has safe
cooking fuel and electricity – regardless of social background.

*Vibhor Saxena <https://theconversation.com/profiles/vibhor-saxena-387278>,
Associate Lecturer in Economics, University of St Andrews.*

*This article first appeared on The Conversation
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