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Free Market, Meritocracy, and Employment: The Debilitating Effect of Caste

Rohit Dalai


I. Introduction

Thirty-one years ago, India embarked on the project of Liberalisation, Privatisation, and Globalisation (‘LPG reforms’) that were aimed at unleashing the “energies of the private sector to accelerate economic growth”[1]. Economic growth was to result from adopting the free-market model, which is “predicated on the idealised competitive model where the market exchange is based on the fundamental principles of free flow of information and self-regulating mechanisms”[2]. It was assumed that the free-market model would lead to the benefits of economic growth trickling down to the lowest rungs of society[3]. However, the assumption of a trickle-down effect in a free-market economy misses out on the existence of market imperfections. The term ‘market imperfections’ connotes the conditions of deviance from the assumptions of perfect competition[4]. Market imperfections in the Indian market are pronounced in the context of caste-based networks and market discrimination[5]. Despite this, caste-based economic discrimination has not received much attention in the mainstream discourse in India[6]. This lack of attention towards caste necessitates a caste-based understanding of economic discrimination — specifically market discrimination — as it has immense consequences for income distribution, poverty, and economic growth[7].

The question that this piece seeks to answer is: how does caste affect an individual’s employability in a ‘free-market economy’? The piece is divided into four parts. The first part analyses the interplay between caste and the ‘free-market economy’. To this end, the piece looks at the instrumentality of caste networks in opening up employment opportunities for certain castes. In addition, the piece analyses how existing caste networks and the notion of ritual purity hinder market access for marginalised caste groups. Building on the functioning of caste networks, the second part demonstrates that the emergence of newer forms of employment opportunities in the private sector has not translated into greater opportunities for marginalised castes. Drawing on this non-translation, the third part shows that the entry of the marginalised into the market economy is regulated by the laws of the market. In the fourth part, the piece concludes by arguing that caste logic is a primary guiding factor for the ‘free-market economy’.

II. Caste Networks and Ritual Purity: The Operating Logic

The caste system is one of the most distinctive features of Indian society[8]. The caste system divides the Indian population into four hierarchical classes or varnas, with the large sub-population of ‘untouchables’ entirely excluded from the system[9]. The caste system has been a determinant of socio-political and economic power in India[10]. The economic organisation of the caste system is factored on a hierarchical order that determines the economic rights of members, which are “hereditary in the strictest sense of the term”[11]. This hierarchical order is an exclusionary social structure that acts as an obstacle “in access to key opportunities”[12]. Essentially, the caste system is an exclusionary social structure that fosters socio-economic discrimination and inequality[13]. At this point, it would be instructive to analyse the modes of socio-economic deprivations in the market owing to caste.

A. Community-Based Networks and Ease of Employment

Community-based networks are a feature in developing countries where markets are imperfectly functioning[14]. However, these networks are exceptional in their scope and size in India, owing to the caste-based structure of the society[15]. These caste networks play a crucial role in “shaping economic mobility” in the Indian economy[16]. When these caste networks are small and weak as in the case of Dalits, the access to various forms of contract and capital becomes difficult[17]. This access becomes even more difficult when well-entrenched caste networks of the upper castes are in place[18]. Empirical studies carried out in the context of ex-millworkers in Mumbai reveal the extent of disparity in employment opportunities owing to caste networks. The context of employment patterns in textile mills is relevant given the multitude of caste groups constituting the workforce. Notwithstanding the caste diversity in the workforce, Dalit men and women constituted a significant percentage of the workforce[19].

For instance, Dalit men and women comprised 40% and 78% of the workforce in ring-spinning departments respectively[20]. However, this percentage composition of Dalits came down to 2.2% of the workforce in the weaving department owing to the exclusionary practices by Marathas[21]. Notwithstanding the variable compositions, Dalits constituted nearly 10% of the entire workforce in absolute numbers[22]. Post the closure of the textile mills, the Dalit workforce had to seek out employment opportunities[23]. It is this trend of looking out for employment opportunities and self-employment patterns that establish the linkage between caste and the lack of employability thereof.

For example, ex-millworkers belonging to the Nhavi caste, traditionally engaged in the hairdressing profession, relied on their caste networks to engage in their caste-based occupation[24]. Similarly, the caste-based networks were also relied on by ex-millworkers belonging to the Charmakar caste to engage in leather-related work[25]. However, it is pertinent to note that unlike Nhavis, the employment of Charmakar ex-millworkers was dependent primarily on caste-based networks. This is because Charmakars by the virtue of being Dalits had to bear the brunt of social stigma owing to their caste identities. This stigma translated into non-caste businesses, such as repair, industry and processing, excluding Dalits from any form of involvement[26]. As is evident, caste was a factor leading to the exclusion of Dalits, thereby forcing them to ultimately partake in traditional occupational activities.

Before proceeding, it is to be noted that understanding the self-employment patterns post-1991 is important. This is because the state’s policy in the “era of liberalisation has been to encourage the retrenched workforce to become self-employed”[27]. As mentioned above, it is this realm of self-employment where the role of caste networks became pronounced[28]. It was observed that while some employment opportunities opened up for Dalits, most small businesses continued to exclude them[29]. This phenomenon has been attributed to the domination of small businesses by upper castes and the Other Backward Castes (‘OBCs’)[30].

The domination is a result of ‘political patronage’[31]. The presence of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, has been linked to the ‘political patronage’ of UCs and OBCs[32]. The term ‘political patronage’ is a euphemism for the underlying caste networks and caste sympathy. Pertinently, in Maharashtra with the Shiv Sena as a dominant political force, ‘political patronage’ has been largely exploited to a similar degree by UCs and OBCs. As a consequence, small businesses with UCs and OBCs owners are less likely to face municipal regulations compared to their Dalit counterparts[33].

Interestingly, in spite of the lack of similar social privileges enjoyed by the UCs, the OBCs have been able to harness the benefits of ‘political patronage’ in Maharashtra and elsewhere. Empirical data points to the fact that pan-India OBC share of enterprise ownership rose from 37.5% to 43.5% from 1998-2005[34]. In contrast, the UC share of enterprise ownership was 42.9% in 2005[35]. This significant gain in enterprise ownership is directly linked to the significant progress in political representation by the OBCs[36]. Put simply, the domination of caste-based politics by the ‘OBC phenomenon’ in the 1990s laid the foundation for entrepreneurial opportunities opening up for OBCs[37]. The ‘OBC phenomenon’ refers to the coalescence of a large range of castes under the ‘OBC label,’ upon the announcement of affirmative action policies for the OBCs in public sector units and central government services[38]. This newfound unity resulted in the OBCs organizing themselves as an interest group[39]. As an interest group, the OBCs could influence electoral behaviour thereby leading to greater accrual of economic benefits on their part [40].

However, this ability to influence elections has not necessarily remedied the underrepresentation of Dalits in the ‘entrepreneurial sphere’[41]. While the 1990s witnessed Dalit assertion through electoral politics, which led to the strengthening of the Bahujan Samaj Party (‘BSP’) and certain left-of-the-centre parties, the political gains did not translate into ‘greater entrepreneurial prowess’[42]. The reason for this lack of enterprise ownership in spite of the political gains can be narrowed down to two factors. First, the inability to find the workers to engage in entrepreneurship[43]. Second, the inability to make links with customers and supplies[44]. Notably, both of the factors relate to interaction with distinct actors in a market economy. But the social stigma owing to caste results in Dalits not being able to form any ‘resourceful connections’ with their counterparts in a market economy[45]. As a consequence, any attempt at establishing ‘entrepreneurial prowess’ becomes an uphill task for Dalits.

It is this lack of ‘entrepreneurial prowess’ that “leaves Dalits with little option to engage in small businesses”[46]. Consequently, Dalits take up occupations pertaining to leather-related works and scrap metal collection[47]. In instances where UCs such as Brahmins enter into the leather business, they take up roles in the distribution and not the production of goods[48]. In contrast to their predominant role in leather works, Dalits and Muslims are virtually non-present in fast food occupations[49]. A reason behind this typical division of labour appears to be the notion of ritual purity.

B. Ritual Purity and Powerlessness

The notion of ritual purity is based on the categorisation of castes on the lines of pureness[50]. The relative “purity of each caste coincides with their occupation”[51]. The opposition of impure and pure is “manifested in the contrast” between the caste hierarchies’ two extremes[52]. For instance, the Brahmins “occupying the supreme rank” are ritually pure and are to work with their brains which would go on to make them societally ‘powerful’ [53]. On the contrary, the Dalits being ritually impure are relegated to the “most degrading activities” such as tanning and shoe making[54].

Historically, the ‘ritual impurity’ of Dalits has been used to systematically deny them access to common resources. The systematic exclusion manifested in the form of segregation outside the proper village and “multiple disabilities like access to wells used by the upper castes for water, to enter temples and many more disabilities”[55]. At this point, it is relevant to note that the historical exclusion based on ritual purity is only one facet of the inaccessibility to common resources.

Notably, a sociological analysis uncovers the nuances behind the exclusion. To begin with, the obsession with ritual purity has been the concern of the castes “whose subsistence, indeed much more, was assured without them even labouring for it”[56]. In fact, the caste hierarchy that confers ritually pure status on the UCs gives the UCs a “ritual and secular entitlement” to extract more than their share[57]. This extraction has historically been at the cost of the labour of Dalits and other oppressed classes. Moreover, the extraction of the benefits of labour leads to the aforementioned populace not having enough subsistence[58].

In effect, this extraction is evinced in the context of the forms of manual labour of the ‘impure castes’ in order to “reproduce the ritual purity of the few”[59]. For instance, “the grains consumed by the pure were produced by the impure, the wells from which they drank water and washed their bodies to keep themselves pure were dug by the impure, the cloth they used to cover their pure bodies was spun by the impure”[60]. Despite this, the ‘impure castes’ were barred from even casting their ‘polluting shadow’ on the things they produced[61].

In spite of the apparent injustice, Dalits could not and cannot afford to think about ‘impurity’[62]. This is because ‘impurity’ for Dalits was and is the “very condition of their existence”[63]. However, this is not to say that Dalits are not aware of or do not deny the notions of purity and impurity with respect to their social status and vocation. Rather, they can, and they do, deny the notions of ritual purity[64]. But this does not give Dalits the power to alter their socially constructed inferior status, which is based on the notions of ritual purity[65]. In simple terms, the ‘impure castes’ are reliant on the ‘pure’ for the source of their subsistence, even though they are compelled to engage in “unclean jobs”[66].

Lacking the power to alter their status owing to their dependence, the ‘impure castes’ are relegated to a vicious cycle, wherein the fruits of their labour are appropriated with little being left for their subsistence. Pertinently, appropriation remains a social reality in contemporary times. It is only the forms of appropriation that have changed against the backdrop of a free-market economy. The change in forms of appropriation can be seen in the context of the food service industry. The fact that Dalits are ritually impure and thus are seen to have a polluting presence is the reason why fast-food businesses witness almost negligible participation of Dalits[67]. While Dalits do have the option to move to newer localities where their caste identities are unknown, it is impractical from a business point of view[68]. Given the constraints, Dalits turn towards newer forms of jobs in search of employment opportunities.

III. Exclusionary Hiring in the Private Sector

With time, newer modes of recruitment in the form of newspaper advertisements and recruitment agencies in the private sector have opened up employment opportunities for Dalits[69]. It is believed that the newer recruitment opportunities are not ‘caste specific’[70]. The fact that the private sector economy necessitates the continuous supply of workforce is used to rationalise the assertion that recruitment agencies have a lesser propensity to discriminate[71]. On the other hand, Dalit advocates assert that employer discrimination continues to obstruct lower-caste individuals from availing of job opportunities in the ‘modern private sector’[72]. The previously mentioned assertion can be better explained in the context of the Weberian perspective of social stratification[73].

The Weberian perspective emphasises the “enduring importance of status groups within capitalist societies”[74]. A status group connotes a community that shares a peculiar lifestyle and maintains its solidarity through social activities and social closure by reducing their intermingling with ‘social inferiors’[75]. In the Weberian conception, the status groups seek to “monopolise valued economic opportunities”[76]. This monopolisation is better understood in the context of ‘homosocial reproduction’[77]. The term ‘homosocial reproduction’ pertains to the selection of the employee by the employer based on social similarities[78]. Essentially, employers hold stereotypes as to certain social groups being unsuitable for jobs[79]. In the Indian scenario, homosocial reproduction in the private sector is caste-based. This caste-based homosocial reproduction operates in two ways.

A. Ascribing Value to CVs

Firstly, the preference for similarly qualified UC job applicants over their Dalit counterparts. A study carried out by the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (‘IIDS’) reveals that “job applications by a Dalit or Muslim name were less likely to have a positive application outcome than equivalently qualified persons with a UC Hindu name”[80]. The results yielded by the study revealed that Dalit names were significantly less likely to have a positive application outcome than an equivalently qualified individual with a UC Hindu name[81].

B. Rewarding Traits

Secondly, the job market implicitly demands and promotes certain traits[82]. These traits are “skills, linguistic, and cultural competence” that come from “families transmitting a dominant class-caste culture bundled as individual merit”[83]. Notably, a qualitative pilot research involving a convenience sample of twenty-five Human Resources managers (‘HRs’) from big enterprises headquartered in New Delhi with branches across the country affirms the ‘market demand for trait’ proposition[84]. Questions were posed relating to the high levels of unemployment in Dalits and the role of reservation[85]. The answers by the HRs emphasised merit-based recruitment[86]. However, the answers hid the in-built caste-based discriminatory practices in the recruitment process.

The companies whose HRs were interviewed used family background as a hiring criterion[87]. As the HRs saw it, the family background was the source of ‘soft skills’ that prove to be an asset for the company[88]. The bottom line is that the HRs intend to present a ‘cosmopolitan image’ of their companies[89]. A part of image promotion is the hiring of individuals who are well-educated and sophisticated. “In principle, individuals with this kind of cultural capital could come from any background. In practice, the institutions and experiences that produce cosmopolitanism are rarely accessible to SCs”[90].

The aforementioned “language of merit” used by the HRs to justify their recruitment practices seeks to subtract from the discourse the multitude of “institutional discrimination and disinvestment” that prevent the marginalised from competing on a level playing field[91]. This subtraction through the “language of merit” operates in two specific ways. First, it assumes that everyone begins from the same starting point, thereby disregarding the relative degrees of deprivations, both material and socio-economic[92]. Second, it assumes that everyone enters “equally efficacious credentialing institutions” in spite of the evidence of clear inequalities in educational opportunities that consequences in taking a heavy toll on the ‘lower castes’[93].

Notably, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (‘GER’) as a marker clearly establishes the inequalities in educational opportunities. Empirical studies reveal a steep decline in GER for SCs and STs when moving from primary to higher education[94]. The lower GER for SCs and STs essentially means that the institutions and experiences that contribute to creating a ‘cosmopolitan image’ are still out of reach for the majority of those belonging to marginalized classes. This lack of institutional access eliminates even the possibility of gaining employment for Dalits and low-caste individuals. As a consequence, Dalits are driven to take up jobs with lower opportunities and lower wages[95].

IV. Market Sovereigns

The employment and wage disparities affecting the marginalized are observable in both the private and public sectors of the market economy[96]. These disparities indicate that affirmative action policies in the form of reservations in the public sector do not necessarily prevent traditional caste patterns from being replicated[97]. Rather what appear to be determinative in the market economy are laws rooted in privilege. These laws are not typical legal enactments, but market laws. In simple terms, market laws refer to the phenomenon of persistent exclusion of SC/STs from meaningful participation and its relationship with a greater pre-employment endowment of UCs vis-à-vis the SC/STs. Owing to greater resource endowments UCs operate as the sovereigns of the market economy. This peculiar form of sovereignty is exercised by the UCs in two distinct ways.

First, by regulating the entry of the marginalized into the market economy. Second, by regulating the opportunities available to the marginalized once they become participants in a market economy. This aspect of regulating behaviour and access is a quintessential marker of sovereignty in the conventional sense[98]. Using the law as an instrumentality, the sovereign dictates who belongs to the nation and who is entitled to utilise the resources within the bounds of the nation[99]. Akin to the sovereign, the UCs decide who belongs to the market and the extent to which the market resources can be utilized. However, the UCs use their predominant position instead of a formal law to regulate prospective participants in a market economy. This regulation by UCs has a similar effect to that of law, though it lacks its formal features.

Closely connected to this notion of market laws is the concept of ‘owner sovereignty’[100]. The term ‘owner sovereignty’ refers to the control and power held by private property owners, “which they are able to exercise over other individuals”[101]. Accordingly, a property right is not only a relationship between “an owner and a thing but between the owner and other individuals in reference to things”[102]. In instances where an individual wants to use a property, they have to get the consent of the owner[103]. This consent requirement gives the owner the power to regulate the conduct of the individual[104]. In doing so the owner acts as a “sovereign power compelling service and obedience”[105].

In the Indian context, ‘owner sovereignty’ is instructive to understand in the caste context. Property rights in India are skewed in favour of UCs owing to the caste system. The curtailment of property rights by the caste system acts to the detriment of Dalits[106]. The detriment has two facets to it. Firstly, UCs, by virtue of having inherited landed property, mediate entry into higher education[107]. Pertinently, in a market-economy framework, “inter-caste occupational mobility” operates through greater access to landed property in addition to capital and labour[108]. Greater access to the previously mentioned resources often leads to greater wealth generation and concentration[109]. It is this wealth concentration that is constitutive of economic freedom[110]. The economic freedoms owing to wealth concentration are directly determinative of the education levels of households[111]. In fact, empirical evidence points to the fact that the “higher the size of the holdings,” the higher the level of educational attainment[112]. By virtue of having better levels of educational attainments, owing to more landholdings, avenues concerning employment and businesses open up for UCs[113].

Secondly, the opening up of economic avenues for UCs leads to the denial of property rights to Dalits, in the form of a lack of ownership and employment in private enterprises[114]. This essentially leads to the reproduction of “historical privileges of caste”[115]. As has been previously mentioned, owing to greater resource endowments, UCs behave as market sovereigns by controlling the operations of the market and the economy. Hence, the legal void characterised by the lack of affirmative action in the private sector is filled by the laws of market sovereigns.

V. Conclusion

A ‘free-market economy’ does not always work according to economic logic. The Indian society, characterised by caste differentiations, is an example of one where the market operates on the logic of caste. By analysing empirical data, this essay shows that the caste logic is in fact at work in the Indian market. The employment and wage differentials between UCs and Dalits attest to the functioning of caste logic in the Indian market. The differential also symbolises the reproduction of caste hierarchy in the market. The reproduction is essentially the sustaining of inequitable power relations through the exclusion of low-caste individuals from employment opportunities in the market. Put simply, low-caste individuals are selectively barred from entering the market economy under the garb of meritocratic principles in the ‘free-market economy’.



[1] Vikas Dhoot, ‘India’s 1991 liberalisation leap and lessons for today: Montek Singh Ahluwalia’ The Hindu (1 July 2021) <> accessed 2 December 2022.

[2] Stephen K Aikins, ‘Political Economy of Government Intervention in the Free Market System’ (2009) 31 Administrative Theory and Praxis 403.

[3] Dhoot (n 1).

[4] Richard M. Cyert, Praveen Kumar and Jeffrey R. Williams, ‘Information, Market Imperfections and Strategy’ (1993) 14 Strategic Management Journal 48.

[5] Kaivan Munshi, ‘The impact of caste on economic mobility in India’ (Livemint, 16 August 2017) <> accessed 1 December 2022; Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman, ‘Economic Discrimination, Concept, Consequences, and Remedies’ in Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman (eds), Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India (OUP 2010) 1.

[6] Thorat and Newman (n 5) 1.

[7] ibid.

[8] Munshi (n 5).

[9] B.R. Ambedkar, ‘Annihilation of Caste: An Undelivered Speech, 1936’ in S. Anand (ed), Annihilation of Caste (Navayana Publishing Pvt Ltd 2014).

[10] D Ajit, Han Donker and Ravi Saxena, ‘Corporate Boards in India: Blocked by Caste?’ (2012) 47 EPW 39.

[11] Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman ‘Caste and Economic Discrimination: Causes, Consequences and Remedies’ (2007) 42 EPW 4122.

[12] Maitreyi Bordia Das and Puja Vasudeva Dutta, ‘Does Caste Matter for Wages in the Indian Labor Market’ (18 December 2007) <> accessed 1 December 2022.

[13] ibid.

[14] Munshi (n 5).

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid.

[17] Kaushal K Vidyarthee, ‘Trajectories of Dalits’ Incorporation into the Indian Neoliberal Business Economy’ in Clarinda Still (ed), Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility of Marginalization (Routledge 2014) 74.

[18] Sumeet Mhaskar, ‘Locating Caste in a Globalising Indian City: A Study of Dalit Ex-millworkers’ Occupational Choices in Post-industrial Mumbai’ in Clarinda Still (ed), Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility of Marginalization (Routledge 2014).

[19] ibid 114.

[20] ibid.

[21] ibid.

[22] ibid.

[23] Sumeet Mhaskar, ‘How a Strike 40 Years Ago Dismantled Workers’ Claim over Mumbai, Hastened its Gentrification’ (The Wire, 18 January 2022). <> accessed 2 December 2022.

[24] Mhaskar (n 18) 124.

[25] ibid.

[26] ibid 125.

[27] ibid 128.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Sharit K. Bhowmik, ‘Hawkers and the Urban Informal Sector: A study of Street Vending in Seven Cities’ (National Alliance of Street Vendors of India) <> accessed 3 December 2022; Mhaskar (n 18) 124.

[31] Mhaskar (n 18) 125.

[32] ibid 126.

[33] ibid.

[34] Lakshmi Iyer, Tarun Khanna and Ashutosh Varshney, ‘Caste and Entrepreneurship in India’ (2013) 48 EPW 52, 56.

[35] ibid.

[36] ibid.

[37] Christopher Jaffrelot, ‘The Caste-Based Mosaic of Indian Politics’ (HAL Open Science) <> accessed 15 August 2023.

[38] Christopher Jaffrelot, ‘The Rise of the Other Backward Classes in the Hindi Belt’ (2000) 59 The Journal of Asian Studies 86, 98.

[39] ibid.

[40] Mukulika Banerjee, ‘Sacred Elections’ (2007) 42 EPW 1556.

[41] Iyer (n 34) 58.

[42] ibid; Pushpendra, ‘Dalit Assertion through Electoral Politics’ (1999) 34 EPW 2609.

[43] ibid.

[44] ibid.

[45] Vivek Soundararajan, Garima Sharma and Hari Bapuji, ‘Caste, Social Capital and Precarity of Labour Market Intermediaries: The Case of Dalit Labour Contractors in India’ (2023) Organization Studies 1.

[46] Mhaskar (n 18) 127.

[47] ibid.

[48] ibid.

[49] ibid.

[50] Christophe Jaffrelot, ‘Caste and Politics’ (2010) 37 India International Centre 94.

[51] ibid.

[52] Hira Singh, Recasting Caste: From the Sacred to the Profane (1st edn, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd 2014) 41.

[53] ibid; Jaffrelot (n 38).

[54] ibid.

[55] ibid.

[56] ibid.

[57] ibid.

[58] ibid.

[59] ibid.

[60] ibid 157.

[61] ibid.

[62] ibid 41.

[63] ibid.

[64] ibid.

[65] ibid.

[66] ibid 157.

[67] Jaffrelot (n 38); Sukhadeo Thorat and Joel Lee, ‘Caste Discrimination and Food Security Programmes’ (2005) 40 EPW 4198.

[68] Mhaskar (n 18).

[69] ibid 127.

[70] ibid.

[71] Thorat and Newman (n 5).

[72] Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell, ‘The Legacy of Social Exclusion: A Correspondence Study of Job Discrimination in India’s Urban Private Sector’ in Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman (eds), Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India (OUP 2010) 37.

[73] ibid.

[74] ibid.

[75] ibid.

[76] ibid.

[77] ibid.

[78] Rosabeth Mosse Kanter, Men and Women of the Corporation (Basic Books 1977).

[79] ibid.

[80] Thorat and Attewell (n 72). The research methodology for the study involved responding to job advertisements targeting university graduates. The companies whose job advertisements were responded to were in the fields of information technology, accounting, construction, and financing firms. The correspondence methodology involved submitting fake CVs through mail, and signalling the social identity of the applicants. The resumes were prepared to depict identical experience and educational qualifications for each applicant.

[81] ibid.

[82] Mosse (n 78).

[83] ibid.

[84] Surinder S. Jodhka and Katherine S. Newman, ‘In the Name of Globalization: Meritocracy, Productivity, and the Hidden Language of Caste’ in Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman (eds), Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India (OUP 2010).

[85] ibid.

[86] ibid.

[87] ibid.

[88] ibid 61.

[89] ibid.

[90] ibid.

[91] ibid 58.

[92] ibid.

[93] ibid.

[94] Prachi Paliwal, ‘Caste and Education in India: Linkages, Promises and Obstacles’ (SPRF, 13 July 2021) < Education_Final_Updated.pdf> accessed 19 July 2023. The gravity of the situation can be evinced from the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of SC and ST students at the undergraduate level vis-à-vis the national average. As per the Ministry of Education’s All India Survey on Higher Education 2020-21 report, the GER of SC and ST students in higher education was found to be 23.1% and 18.9% respectively, compared to the national average of 27.3%.

[95] Vidyarthee (n 17) 74.

[96] Das and Dutta (n 12).

[97] ibid 3.

[98] Grant Duncan, ‘Sovereignty and Subjectivity’ (2013) 6 Subjectivity 411.

[99] ibid.

[100] James Charles Smith, ‘Introduction: Property and Sovereignty in the Twenty-First Century’ in James Charles Smith (ed), Property and Sovereignty: Legal and Cultural Perspectives (Routledge 2016) 1.

[101] ibid.

[102] Morris R. Cohen, 'Property and Sovereignty' (1927-1928) 13 Cornell LQ 8.

[103] ibid.

[104] ibid.

[105] ibid.

[106] Sukhadeo Thorat, Debolina Kundu and Nidhi Sadana, ‘Caste and Ownership of Private Enterprises: Consequence of Denial of Property Rights’ in Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman (eds), Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India (OUP 2010).

[107] Mosse (n 78).

[108] Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman, ‘Economic Discrimination Concept, Consequences, and Remedies’ in Sukhadeo Thorat and Katherine S. Newman (eds), Blocked by Caste: Economic Discrimination in Modern India (OUP 2010) 7.

[109] Nitin Tagade and Sukhadeo Thorat, ‘Intergroup Inequality in Wealth Ownership in Rural India: Caste, Tribe and Religion’ (2020) 6 Journal of Social Inclusion Studies 132.

[110] Awanish Kumar, ‘Ambedkar and his idea of the caste of land’ Indian Express (30 October, 2022) <> accessed 23 July 2023.

[111] C.R Yadu, ‘The Land Question and the Mobility of the Marginalized: A Study of Land Inequality in Kerala’ (2015) 4 Journal of Political Economy 2.

[112] ibid 33.

[113] Mosse (n 78).

[114] Thorat, Kundu and Sadana (n 106) 311.

[115] Mosse (n 78) 1248.


Rohit Dalai is a fourth-year student of B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. He is interested in analysing the covert and overt ways in which caste impacts the lives of individuals.

Cover Image Credits: Thenmozhi Soundararajan, via Wikimedia Commons.

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