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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 18, New Delhi, April 17, 2021

The Dynamics of Social Mobility, Land Inequalities and Occupational Structures in Punjab Since The Colonial Period: Some Observations | Supriya Bedi

Friday 16 April 2021


by Supriya Bedi *


There exist wide inequalities in land ownership in Punjab among the Scheduled Caste (SCs) and non-SCs in comparison with their respective share in the population. SCs own merely 3.6% share in landownership despite having 31.9% share in the State population. The continuous inflow of poor migrants especially SCs into the State from the underdeveloped states for better livelihood conditions is further widening such inequalities in asset ownership among the SCs and non-SCs. The new migrants mainly join unskilled low paying occupations, while the local SCs are moving out of traditional ties including operating as sharecropper for landowning class. The SCs in Punjab now are increasingly engaged in diverse occupations at various hierarchical levels. With these changing dynamics, the SCs have started asserting their rights on common land. But with the slowdown in employment generation in the economy, all social sections are facing the constraints. This, however, has not resulted in rise in the hate crime, but instead various social sections are resisting to policy changes which they fear can affect their livelihood including three farm laws.

Keywords: Development, Inequalities, Mobility, Migration, Occupation

The gap between the Scheduled Caste (SCs) [1] share in land ownership and population not only remains high but is much wider compared to the gap at the national level. The reason for comparatively high inequalities in land ownership among various social classes in Punjab relate to the pattern of land allocation adopted by the Britishers in Western Punjab, now part of Pakistan. This happened at the time of canal colony development and Land Alienation Act, 1901. After the partition, a large number of Hindu and Sikh families migrated to Indian side and those owning land were allocated land in lieu of land owned by them in Western Punjab (Pakistan). For the analysis in this study, the Punjab region before independence referred to undivided Punjab including Western Punjab, while after partition it is referred to present day Punjab after the bifurcation of the State in 1966.

The limited share of SCs in land ownership is further widening with the inflow of poor labour from underdeveloped areas in search of better livelihood conditions in Punjab. Because of unequal distribution of land on the caste lines, the SCs were mainly relying on upper caste for their livelihood. This has its implication for the social mobility especially because land is not merely a means of production, but also defines various other socio-economic entitlements in the traditional set-ups. With increased migration, the wage rate for unskilled labour force has not grown in correspondence with the development level. But despite this upward mobility in occupation among the SCs, there exist wide gap between the shares of better-offs among the SCs and overall population. This may be one of the reasons for the SCs not being perceived as a threat to encroach upon their domain areas.

But these inequalities in statistics may be overstated because of high inequalities caused by rising inflow of migrants, which are dominantly SCs and poor. They are attached towards state because of job opportunities, social conditions and low crime rate. Under these circumstances, it can be stated that the SCs well being has improved in the State over time. Despite that the low crime rates against the SCs goes against various theories of development and crime including against marginalised sections. On the contrary, the changed dynamics such as SCs breaking away from the traditional ties including sharecropper (Siri) with the land-owning class has resulted SCs to increasingly engage in diverse occupations at various hierarchy levels. This changed dynamics has given courage to the SCs to assert for their rights including for their right in common land. These issues have been discussed in detail in the various sections below.

1. Skewed Ownership of Land in the Region: 

There exist wide inequalities in land ownership in Punjab, which are comparatively much more skewed compared to India. As per the Agriculture Census (2019) data for the year 2015-16, the share of the SCs in cultivable landownership in area is merely 3.6% in Punjab compared to their share of 31.9% in Punjab. This means gap between the State’s SCs share in landownership and population is 28.3 percentage points as against 8.1 percentage points in case of all India. For India, the share of the SCs in landownership is 8.5% as against 16.6% for overall population.

The SCs of Punjab in Population Census is actually representatives of SC/STs as the ex-notified criminal tribes during the British period are clubbed among the SCs of Punjab [2]. STs are, therefore, reported nil in the Population Census data in Punjab, while they are reported in other data sources such as Economic Census, NSS surveys etc. The share of STs in landownership is almost negligible in Punjab. It, therefore, makes sense even if one makes comparison of SCs of Punjab population with the SC/STs of India.

This makes the gap further wide as the share of land ownership and population among SC/ST in India is much lower at 5.5 percentage point as against 28.3 percentage point for Punjab. The share of the SC/STs in India is 19.8% in ownership of cultivable area and 25.3% in country’s population.

The relatively poor share of the SCs in landholding ownership of Punjab is contradictory to the expectation for the State which otherwise witnessed much higher upward social mobility. Puri (2003) observed that the gains of upward mobility in Punjab are not small [3]. The distribution of land ownership is particularly important not merely as a means of production, but also because it defines various other socio-economic entitlements especially when the economy is less industrialized. There is, thus, need to investigate the reasons for highly skewed distribution of land ownership in a society otherwise witnessed upward mobility.

2. Historical Reasons for inequalities in Land Ownership Distributions: 

The concentration of population in various regions evolves in consonance to the supporting capacity of the cultivable areas in general. However, the better quality land was historically taken by powerful groups, while the weaker ones were pushed to floodplains. Similarly in case of Punjab, the fertile river valleys got possessed by the dominant groups, while the Tribals were pushed to remote areas (Krishan, 2004). This distorted land ownership share got further skewed at the time of canal colony with the pattern of development adopted by the Britishers. Nine canal colonies were developed by the Britishers in Western Punjab in order to meet the imperial needs of cereals including fodder for animals required for the police and the imperial army. The peasantry from the crowded Central and Eastern parts was allotted lands of various sizes according to the status at their place of origin (Darling, 1928). This resulted in higher internal migration within Punjab from Eastern Punjab, where the pressure on land was high because of the small size holdings and low productivity.

The discrimination against lower classes by the Britishers is even getting reflected with five times more charges for guarantee per acre of small size land compared to charges for large size lands allocated mainly to classes already owning large size plots. By 1930s, many of such guarantors from the lower class fell into more and more debt and turned to wage labour to meet their ends. The ‘junglis’, the dysphemism for the displaced natives, on whose grazing lands the colonies were developed, shifted from the pastoral lifestyle to cultivation on the irrigated small holdings. But they lacked the cultivation skills and were hostile to the outsiders and continued with their love for the cattle theft and, as such, a large number of them got notified as the criminal tribes and were put under surveillance within the village. While some other indigenous groups preferred not to move to the allotted land and, instead, rented out their lands to the sub-tenants (Ali, 1979).

Implications of Punjab Land Alienation Act, 1901 on Land Inequalities:

All these developments coupled with the enactment of the Punjab Land Alienation Act, 1901 helped consolidation of the landholdings in the hands of the Jats. According to this Act, the agricultural land could be purchased or acquired only by the people belonging to the defined “agricultural castes”. Puri (2003) is of the opinion that this law was mainly enacted primarily to save the indebted farmers from the moneylenders. But the lower castes were excluded from the “agricultural tribes” and, thus, were debarred from owning land even if they had resources to purchase the land for cultivation. It was only after the independence that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the Law Minister, moved to repeal the Act in 1952 to remove the invidious disability. Thus, the Britishers actually promoted the caste and class system in land allocation. Singh (1933) noted that it was in fact made mandatory to include caste in the land records and other official documents. In cases where caste identification was difficult, the hereditary occupation was recorded.

The partition of the country further impacted the marginal sections by increasing the pressure on the land. The land in India was allocated to migrant in lieu of land acquired by them in Pakistan on the basis of documentations provided. The migrants left behind around 67 lakh acres of land in Western Punjab, while acquired from those migrated to Pakistan only 47 lakh acres (Randhawa, 1986 as cited in Singh, 1993). With 40% lower allocation of land, it was natural for marginalized section to further get adversely affected.

3. Occupational Changes among the SCs of Punjab since Canal Development during British Period: 

The pattern of development adopted particularly at the time of the canal colony in Punjab region, therefore, reduced original natives on whose grazing lands the colonies were developed, towards landless labour status and tenancy cultivation. The pattern also pushed several small holders of land, landless poor and original natives to opt for alternative occupations, the opportunities for which got enhanced with the development of canal colonies and rise in urbanization. Thus, this occupational mobility among the lower segments came at the heavy cost for them in the form of uprooting and inequalities, while the upper class virtually monopolized the new resources entirely. The high employment opportunities in agriculture emerged as the technological adoption was mainly labour intensive in the canal colonies, which attracted a large inflow of the migrant labourers. A large employment was also generated in production of agriculture implements as demand was high of indigenous implements. Ali (1979) reported that several towns emerged as industrial centres for producing agriculture implements. A large number of iron foundries were developed in Batala town by 1930 because of increased demand for industrial produces coupled with enhanced urbanization through the process of colonization. These developments resulted in several occupational changes including in sectors such as weaving and leather manufacturing (Singh, 1997). Through this process of development, a large number of employment opportunities were emerging for socially deprived communities in unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled jobs. The Britishers also spread education to meet the skill-set required by them for official work through the spread of missionary education system. Thus, the educated locals including SCs got absorbed in the Government services (Marenco, 1976). Apart from that a large number were employed in canal colonies for work related to canal digging and road construction projects, while a large number of Mazhabis were also migrated for permanent settlement as farm hands and agricultural tenants.

The occupation shift also happened as Britishers encouraged recruitment of Mazhabi Sikhs in the imperial army. All these developments resulted in upward mobility of Mazhabi Sikhs, which gave them a sense of dignity and, thus, enhanced their status compared to the urban SCs. Around 17% of the Sikh soldiers were Mazhabis (Marenco, 1976). A number of these retired Mazhabi soldiers were even allotted lands in the lower Chenab colony and were officially declared to be an agricultural caste. As per the Punjab Land Alienation Act, 1901, agriculture land was only to be allowed to be purchased and acquired by the people belonging to the defined “agricultural castes”.

Occupational Changes among the SCs compared to others in Punjab from 1993-94 to 2018-19: 

1993-94: Therefore, the occupational shift started taking place in Punjab during the British period because of the development. Thus, the diverse pattern of occupation among the SCs reflected in Table 1 for the year 1993-94 is not surprising. The share of SC/STs in total workers in the State during 1993-94 is estimated at 33.9%, which were actually slightly higher than the SCs share in the population of Punjab. The STs are classified separately in NSS/PLFS data for various rounds though the same are merged with SCs in the Population Census data of Punjab. SC/STs representation is found to be highest at 42.1% in Craft Related Trade Workers, Plant and Machine Operators & Assembly related activities. The share in agriculture and allied related activities was quite high at 34.7% till 1993-94.

Table 1: Share of SCs and STs in Sector-wise Employment in Punjab and % p.a. Growth

- - Legis -lators, Officials Profess -ionals, Techn -icians etc Clerks Service Workers & Shop & Sales Craft Related Trade, Plant & Machine Workers Skil’d Agro & Fishery Workers etc Total
- Share of SCs and STs in Sector-wise Emplo -yment in Punjab
1993-94 SCs 16.6 10.2 29.9 27.1 40.7 33.1 32.6
1993-94 SC/ST 17.7 10.2 30.3 27.5 42.1 34.7 33.9
2018-19 SCs 19.8 25.4 25.9 30.5 46.7 48.3 40.0
2018-19 SC/STs 19.8 25.6 25.9 30.5 46.8 48.7 40.2
% p.a. Sector-wise Growth of employ -ment among SCs and Overall employ -ment in Punjab
% p.a. Growth Rate in Employment during Fy1994-19 SCs 3.4 10.7 -1.4 1.5 1.7 1.3 1.6
Total 2.7 6.8 -0.8 1.0 1.6 -0.2 0.8

Note: Fy1994-2019 means period from 1993-94 to 2018-19.

Source: Derived using household-wise EUS, 50th Round, NSS, 1993-94, Punjab and PLFS, 2018-19

Occupational Engagement of SCs of Punjab in 2018-19:

The occupation pattern changed quite drastically during Fy1994-19 (means period from 1993-1994 to 2018-19) with the share of SC/STs in total employment of Punjab increased from 33.9% in 1993-94 to 35% in 2011-12 and then steeply to 40.2% in 2018-19. The share of SC/STs in total worker increased for sector requiring semi-skills, sales and technical including among senior officials activities etc. The share of SC/STs, however, declined sharply in agriculture and allied activities from 34.7% in 1993-94 to 25.9% in 2011-12. But due to merger of various classifications, similar comparison is not possible for 2018-19. But in case the fisheries, skilled agriculture related activities are also added to primary agriculture and allied activities, the share of SCs increased from 40.7% in 1993-94 to 46.7% in 2018-19. These facts can be explained with the increasing evidence found in literature. Jodhka (2004) argued that the local dalits are increasingly dissociating from their traditional occupations especially related to the agrarian economy. This is important in the context that for centuries, SCs were working as long-term siri workers (share cropper) with the landowners under conditions that were akin to bondage. With steep decline in siri activities by local SCs, those jobs are now either done by casual labour workers or by migrated labourer, who also mainly belong to the SCs. The local SCs also started doing their own entrepreneurial agriculture activities in fishing etc by making use of various Government schemes either on their own land or leased land or on common village sapar (pond) after cleaning the same.

Thus, these occupational changes could materialize with increased opportunities for the SCs in other occupations such as administrative, managerial and professional and production related, transport and equipment related services (Table 2). The employment growth among the SCs grew by 1.6% p.a. during Fy1994-2019, while the overall employment in the State grew by only 0.8% p.a.

In order to find the hierarchy at which the SCs has engaged in various occupation, the percentile share of SC employees in total employees for different types of jobs have been estimated. Since the data on per capita consumption at detailed level is not released after 2011-12, the household level NSSO, employment-unemployment, 2011-12, data is analyzed to find the share of SCs in total employment in various sectors for various percentile groups below.

Share of SCs in different Occupations as per percentile groups categorized according to Per Capita Consumption level:

The SCs share in different occupations is estimated for various percentile groups using Household-wise NSSO, 2011-12 data using per capita consumption (PCC) level. The share of SCs is very high at 50.7% of the total work-force engaged in Punjab for bottom 50 percentile group as against 35% average for SCs for total work-force in Punjab. The higher share compared to average for bottom 50 percentile workers is the phenomenon observed for large number of sectors except for occupations in sectors such as information and communication, real estate and mining. This means the SCs are able to participate in majority of the services at a reasonably good hierarchy i.e. for bottom 50 percentile groups. But the share of SCs in the percentile 50-90 groups is lower compared to their share for 40-50 percentile groups for sectors such as education, professional services, trade, manufacturing and more importantly even in agriculture. For the percentile 50-90, the share of SCs is 27% on an average, which is lower compared to their share in population. The share for percentile above 90, SCs participation is only 10.5% in total work-force of the State.

Table 2: SCs share in Sector-wise Workers Engaged in Punjab for Various Income Deciles and Importance of Each Sector: 2011-12

SCs share in Sector-wise Workers Engaged in Punjab for Various Income Deciles
Sectors Total Workers P30 P40-30 P50-40 P90-50 P>90 **
Agriculture 28.4 32.9 61.3 57.7 17.8 0.0 25.9
Mining           0.0 0.1
Manufacturing 31.2 37.3 40.6 36.0 24.9 2.6 18.6
Electricity etc 23.1   0.0 79.3 47.1 9.0 0.5
Water Sewage 50.4 57.5 15.7   72.1 17.6 0.3
Construction 64.6 72.9 64.0 70.5 55.6 0.0 13.5
Trade 25.7 36.5 38.4 30.4 17.4 6.0 15.2
Transport 41.7 48.9 32.5 35.0 44.0 38.0 4.7
Food Services 42.8 52.3 52.6 42.5 29.2 3.3 1.6
Information & Communication 16.7 29.4 27.0 0.0 19.8 3.0 0.8
Finance Insurance 37.5 83.9 45.5 85.9 43.0 9.6 1.6
Real Estate 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2
Professional 22.4 30.8 36.9 0.0 14.9 28.2 0.8
Administration 30.4 36.1 30.8 0.0 28.1 40.8 1.1
Defence 29.6 49.2 33.7 0.0 54.0 15.9 2.8
Education 20.1 29.7 17.0 33.1 12.6 17.0 5.9
Health & Social 39.1 53.4 35.3 41.1 32.7 29.9 1.3
Entertainment 59.0 60.4 78.6 33.4 58.1 0.0 0.7
Other Activities 43.0 48.8 52.3 30.7 35.2 0.0 2.9
Own Use Activities 55.9 49.9 97.1 100.0 31.6 100.0 1.5
Total 35.0 42.8 46.6 50.7 27.0 10.5 100.0

Note: ‘P’ represents Percentile | ** is Share in Total SC workers in the State

Source: Authors Calculations using NSSO, 2011-12 data

The low skill/education level as well lack of ownership of productive asset may be affecting the participation of the SCs at highly paid occupations though they are able to overcome several constraints up to medium level of hierarchy. SCs are able to do this through increased participation by setting-up small entrepreneurship and even by opting for leasing-in land up to their capabilities and participating in other occupations. This is becoming evident from other data source as well. Even in cultivation in which SCs are coming out of traditional Siri relationship, one can find from household-wise data of various rounds of EUS shows that SCs are increasingly opting for leasing-in land to overcome the constraints of the limited land ownership [4]. The leasing-in as a percentage of total owned area by SCs in case of Punjab in 2011-12 is estimated to be much higher compared to leasing-in by SCs in case of all India. In manufacturing, SCs are setting-up small enterprises as per their capacity as is clear from data from unit-wise 6th Economic Census, January 2013-April, 2014 from which the share of SC/STs in unincorporated enterprises is estimated at 21%. Thus, SCs are making effort to set-up their enterprises but mainly at the level of small scale. This means SCs through increased involvement in work-force are able to do reasonably well for various percentile groups (Table 2). But, their participation at very high percentile level, however, is limited.

Percolation of Benefits of Development among low Pyramid of Population:

This increased participation of marginalised section resulted in improving the well-being in general at the State level. The per capita consumption and income levels in Punjab is higher by around 66% and 50% compared to the respective levels for India (NSSO, 2011-12 data). The development seems to have benefited all the percentile groups in the State when compared with other parts of the country, but the bottom deciles groups seem to have relatively benefited more. The per capita consumption of the bottom 40 percentile population in Punjab ranks among the top in the country. Kerala is the only State which catches-up to the level of Punjab for bottom 50 percentile population. Because of this, the State has consistently higher level of average per capita consumption, but at higher percentile groups, the other states have relatively higher level of per capita consumption.

The regional disparities are also relatively low in Punjab with the bottom 30 percentile populations in relatively less developed Southern part of Punjab having 80% level of per capita consumption that of the level in Northern Punjab. This is achievement in the sense as the regional disparities are much wider in other states. This ratio for the bottom 30 percentile population in Western Haryana is merely 50% compared to Eastern Haryana.

Punjab is also the State reflecting relatively high level of better-off share at 59% in overall population compared to 45.6% for the country (IDC, 2020). This study worked out these estimates using composite index of various assets/facilities owned/availed by households using Population Census, 2011 data. The share of graduates is also found higher at 7.3% in Punjab compared to 6.3% for overall India’s population. Punjab is also doing much better in terms of average per capita rural consumption in the State at Rs 2345 as against Rs 1430 for India. Therefore, the welfare level in the State of Punjab has improved across regions.

This is also true in case of various sections of the society. The better-off share among the SCs in Punjab is 49.7% compared to 40.3% for India. The better-off among SC/STs in India are 37.2%. The SCs in Punjab are relatively better-off can also be gauged from the relatively high per capita rural consumption in the State at Rs 1785 compared to Rs 1252 for India. Thus, the development in the State of Punjab seems to have benefited wide spectrum of the people. This could happen through increased employment opportunities in better paid jobs despite the fact that the overall level of growth in the State in terms of per capita income and GDP have lagged behind other states in the country after 1991, economic liberalization. IDC study emphasized that this was made possible as the growth model adopted in the State allowed the benefits to be percolated to masses.

The focus of the next section is to examine the circumstances under which this upward mobility of marginalised section could happen in the State of Punjab without disturbing the social equilibrium. As is evident from the above data, the marginalised sections including SCs are able to reap the benefits of the development in Punjab with much higher growth in employment compared to employment growth for the overall population in the State. Under such circumstances, the social conflict is the possibility. But despite improvement in position of the SCs, there seems to be limited evidence of crime against the SCs in the State of Punjab. On the contrary, SCs in Punjab after achieving diverse occupational diversity are harnessing enough courage to assert for their rights to possess common land.

In this regard, a critical review of literature emphasizing the inverse relationship of crime against the marginalised sections has been examined below in the light of empirical evidence related to development and crime against SCs or SC/STs in the State of Punjab.

4. Theories of Development and Crime against Marginalised Sections and Empirical Evidences: 

Theories of Development and Crime:

The social equations changes away from stability with the process of development (industrialization and urbanization) and this raises the crime rate (Andzenge, 1991). Theories of crime have long assumed the rise in crime as the inevitable consequences of economic and social progress. This was based on the experience of development process in the Third World countries till 1960s. Therefore, the modernization theories and even the dependency theories, developed a decade later, were built upon this belief. But this assumption underwent a major change with several countries succeeding in industrialization and urbanization and adapted associated social changes at a much lower crime rate. But based on urban counties of USA data, Kelly (2000) and Fajnzylber et al. (2002) found strong co-relation of the crime with the existence of overall higher inequalities. Therefore, these are complex issues which require much more scrutiny (Rogers, 1989).

Theories of Development and Hate Crime against Marginalised Section:

These theories are based on the concept that at higher development level, the minority groups started overlapping into others traditionally classified areas, which lead to rise in inter-groups conflicts. Gale et al. (2002) theory is based on the hate crime. Becker (1981) model of envy extends hate crime with relative well being considering this to be a comparative status matter. Based on the State level American data for the period 1992-1995, the results found positive relation between the ratio of incomes of the blacks and the whites with the hate crimes. Jacobs and Wood (1999) based on 165 cities of US found rise in relative murder/crime against the blacks by the whites and rise in competition among them for economic jobs. D’Alssio et al. (2002), Price et al. (2008), Beck & Tolnay (1990), and Olzak (1990) found negative relation between the rise in relative unemployment ratio among the blacks and the whites and crime rates against the blacks.

These crimes are often termed as defense to protect the turf or encroachment to maintain the existing hierarchy. Lyons (2007) and Green et al. (1998) highlighted hate crimes to protect influx of minority population in their neighborhood. Dollard et al. (1939) and Hovland & Sears (1940) came out with frustration-aggression thesis to emphasize that the economic crisis resulted in lashing the vulnerable. The policies which enhance competition are often considered as a threat for economic insecurity (Pinderhughes, 1993).
Mitra and Ray (2014) analyzed the relationship of economic well-being among the two groups in the society with conflict through theory of the ethnic conflicts in which any member/s of group can be the victim or aggressors. They found the per capita expenditure by Hindu have no effect or have negative effect on conflict, while there is a positive relation with per capita expenditure of Muslim and conflict. In developing countries, there are often instances of collective punishment targeted towards the entire community because of the breaching of the established norms or because of the assertion of their rights. National Commission of the Schedules Castes and Scheduled Tribes (1997) highlighted instances of backlash from the feudal people in the form of gang rapes, mass killings, looting of the SCs in rural areas against their organized efforts to assert their rights. From the evidences of the crime against the SCs in India, Sharma (2015) found a positive relationship between the relative living conditions and relative crime rate (especially violent crimes) against the SCs compared to the overall population.

Evidence of Development and Crime against SCs in India:

Sharma (2015) found that there is a positive relation between the relative crime rate (especially violent crime) among SCs and overall population and their relative living conditions as estimated using district-wise data for the period 2001-10. The relative living conditions are estimated by using the ratio of per capita consumption among SC/STs and overall population. Sharma is of the view that this is especially relevant in instances where other castes perceive improvement in living conditions of SC/STs as a threat to their hegemony by enhancing competition which result in reducing inequalities. Generally crime against the victim is inflicted not because of any fault of the victim but because of the intentions of culprit to extract economic surplus.

Crime Rate against SCs of Punjab and India:

Despite improvement in overall development and living conditions, the crime rate in Punjab remained low. Using NCRB, 2019 data, the total cognizable crime rate per lakh of population in the State of Punjab is found to be lower at 243.3 compared to average for the country at 385.5. The better-off position of the SCs has also not resulted rise in crime against them. Despite high better-off share among SCs in Punjab, the total cognizable crime rate per lakh of the SC population in Punjab is 1.9 as against 22.8 for India. The crime rates against the SCs in Punjab are also lower. The total murder rate under IPC 302 crime rate against the SCs in Punjab is 0.1 as against 2.3 for overall population of the State. Therefore, not only the crime rates in the State of Punjab are lower, but crime against SCs in the State is even lower. This has to be seen in the light of the level of development in the State. This means that the results from Punjab defy the emphasis placed in the literature about the inverse relationship of crime against the SC/STs and economic development or improvement in their relative position.

There could be various explanations for low crime rate against SCs in Punjab despite improvement in better-off share in SC population.

5. Gap in better-off share among the SCs and Others is still high partially because of high Inflow of Migrants: 

One of possible reasons for this is that despite improvement in well-being of SCs, the gap between better-off share among the SCs and overall population is still high at 13.7 percentage points for Punjab as compared to 5.3 percentage points for India. The monthly per capita expenditure of the SCs in rural area for Punjab at Rs 1785 though much higher compared to India, but still quite low for State average at Rs 2345 and much lower compared to average for non-SCs in Punjab at Rs 3009. Similarly, the ratio of per capita consumption among the SCs and overall population for rural areas of Punjab is 76.1% as against similar ratio of 87.6% in case of rural area for India. Therefore, despite SC population doing well in Punjab, there exist wide disparities among the SCs and overall population of Punjab, which is even higher compare to other parts in the country.

Therefore, considering wide inequalities, the SCs in Punjab may still have not been perceived as threat to enter into the domain areas of others. However, the data on SCs have been further scrutinized in this study to establish whether there exist wide inequalities among the SCs and other classes in Punjab. In this regard, the continue inflow of poor migrants labour seem to be the predominant cause for contributing to wide disparities among the SCs and other classes. This is explained in detail below.

Continous Inflow of Migrants is responsible for wide disparities among the SCs compared to Overall Population:

Punjab witnessed economic development at an early stage because of high growth in agriculture production after green revolution. The labour absorption in agriculture till the eighties was quite high which was met through continues inflow of migrants especially belonging to socially deprived section of the society from the relatively less developed States. This pattern of high inflow of migration continued even after the nineties despite low labour absorption in agriculture. The SC migrants are attracted towards Punjab not merely because of the employment opportunities, but also because of the better social conditions and low crime rate. The welfare schemes for the SCs are also more effectively implemented in Punjab compared to the State of origin of these migrants. This continuous inflow of a large number of the poor SC migrants along with relatively higher population growth among poor, which dominantly belong to the SCs, is the important reason for the rising share of SCs in Punjab over time.

Table 3: Scheduled Castes as Percent of Total Population of Punjab, 1971-2011
1971 1981 1991 2001 2011
24.7 26.9 28.3 28.9 31.9

Source: Population Census of India, various years and Gill, 2017

The other reason for rising share of SCs in Punjab population is limited outward migration of the SCs to developed countries/other States from Punjab in search of better opportunities and increasing pressure and fragmentation of agriculture land. Initially this outward migration was taking place among non-SC and SCs were lagging in this because of lack of availability of documents coupled with the limited resources. But now outward migrations among the SCs have also increased.

The SCs share in Punjab population increased by 7.2 percentage point from 24.7% to 31.9% (Table 3) in 40 years period during 1971-2011. The high inflow of migrants from other states, however, is one of the main factors contributed to continuation of wide disparities as percentage of better-offs among the SCs and others. This is because large numbers of new migrants are from extremely poor background and consume less to repatriate more to their place of origin. Therefore, they start from very low level and get uplifted over time by which new wave of migrants started coming in. This continues migration level also reflects the low share of graduates among the SCs at 2.2% in Punjab as against 3.2% for India. The share of graduates among the SC/STs in India at 2.8% is also relatively higher. Therefore, the SCs in Punjab reflect relatively better-off position in terms of per capita consumption and better-off share, while they fair relatively poorly on indicators which take time to improve such as education indicators etc. This clearly highlights the influence of continues inflow of poor SC migrants in pushing down the welfare indicators to some extent of the State for SCs. Therefore, the comparative data regarding the inequalities prevailing among the SCs and the overall population in the Punjab is bit distorted. The picture is likely to be different regarding prevailing inequalities among the local SCs and overall population of the State. This data about the inequalities, therefore, need to be interpreted keeping in mind these realities.

In nutshell, it can be concluded that the development in Punjab has lead to improvement in the welfare of the State in general and among all the social classes through their upward mobility. However, the estimates regarding better-off share among the SCs are underestimated because of continues inclusion of poor new migrants from backward states, which are dominantly SCs. In the light of these evidences, it can be clearly stated that the results from Punjab defy the emphasis placed in the literature about the inverse relationship of crime against SC/STs and economic development or improvement in relative position of the SCs and other classes.

On the contrary, the SCs are now generating enough courage to assert their rights as happened recently in case of land right movement. This was the movement against non-effective implementation of Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act. In 1961, the State passed this Act reserving 33% of agricultural village common land for those who failed to get an annual land through lease through bidding as per the rules framed in 1964. However, farmers from upper caste sponsored proxy to continue cultivate the land with the result SCs remained deprived from their right. In order to fight for their rights, several thousand of the SCs participated in the movement of land rights which was spread mainly across Southern Punjab in around 70 villages (Moudgil, 2019). This resulted in several clashes and greatly disturbed the power equations between the farmers of upper-caste and labourers from the SCs community as the popular culture here is gun-toting to gain possession of the land. These clashes cannot be termed as crime inflicted by the non-SCs on the SCs and, instead, is assertions by the SCs to claim their rights. Sharma (2012) tried to link this assertion with the issue of political marginalization among the SCs. She argued that in the absence of a strong political force to represent the interest of scheduled castes, cultural activism has become an important strategy of assertion.

But the breaking away of SCs from traditional relationship of Siri with majority landowning community had been made possible only as socio-economic dynamics has changed. The upward mobility of the SCs clearly reflects the occupational diversity among the SCs of Punjab and they even are participating in entrepreneurial initiatives and leasing-in of land for cultivation according to their capacity. In fact the majority benefits of employment growth in Punjab during past 25 years seem to have been taken away by the SCs. The employment growth among the SCs was 1.6% p.a., which contributed more than 2/3rd in overall employment growth of 0.8% p.a. in the State from Fy1994-2019.

Actually, the period Fy1994-2019 should be split into three sub-periods i.e. Fy1994-2005, Fy2005-2012 and Fy2012-2019. The employment in Punjab during Fy1994-2005 period grew at rate of 2.64% p.a., which was higher compared to growth in population. On the contrary, the employment growth was merely 0.48% p.a. during Fy2005-12 and in fact declined by (-) 1.47% p.a. during Fy2012-19 [5]. This decline in employment generation after 2004-05 and especially after 2011-12 in the Punjab economy despite reasonably GDP growth is posing serious problem for livelihood of masses. The share of the SCs in employment increased from 35% in 2011-12 to 40% in 2018-19. The breaking away of the SCs from traditional ties, continuous inflow of SC migrants in the state and local SCs rapidly opting to other occupations even at less than prevailing margins in such sectors, seem to have allowed such transformations. This allowed upward mobility of the SCs as is evident from occupational diversity among the SCs of Punjab and their participating in entrepreneurial initiatives and leasing-in of land for cultivation according to their capacity. This, however, has been made possible as the SCs have gathered confidence to assert for their rights in changing socio-economic dynamics in the Punjab society with breaking away of traditional ties.

This, however, is becoming unsustainable with employment growth showing no signs of revival. The SC/STs during 1993-94 accounted for 33.3% of the labour force, but were only having 20.9% share among total unemployed in the State. With the increased participation of SCs in diverse occupations, their share in the labour force increased to 39.3% by 2018-19 along with rise in their share in total unemployment of the State to 42.4%. Thus, unemployment share of SC/STs have even crossed their share in the labour force. Thus, the situation seems to be becoming unsustainable for all sections of the society with little overall growth in employment opportunities in the State after 2004-05 and especially after 2011-12. Thus, the marginalised sections, which earlier were finding it difficult to remain unemployed even at low wages, are no more finding work attractive below certain returns. Therefore, large numbers of them prefer to remain unemployed after slowdown in employment growth.

The recent farm agitation against the three farm laws in a way is the reflection of stress faced by various sections of the society and, therefore, they are protesting against the laws which they fear could further affect their livelihood [6]. Though SCs have very limited share among landowning community, but they are providing support to the agitation through various groups representing farm-labour community. They also fear adverse indirect implications of these farm laws on the livelihood and also want to show their solidarity. The point of emphasis here is that despite several overlapping conflicting interests, the hate crime has not increased in Punjab. The dynamic people of Punjab with majority believing in the principles of hard work, equalitarian, sharing with others, modest living, and emphasis on less exploitation might have allowed such socio-economic dynamics to take place without disturbing harmony.

(* Author: Supriya Bedi is in the final year of graduation at MCM College, Punjab University, Chandigarh. Her e-mail address is supriyabedindian[at] | Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Mr Ajad Singh (Assistant Professor, Economics at Motilal Nehru College, Delhi University) who not only guided me for this study, but also generated data/Tables using various data sources including household-wise data from various NSSO rounds. )


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[1The Scheduled Caste (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are officially designated groups of people in India. The terms are recognised in the Constitution of India and the groups are designated in one or other of the categories. For much of the period of British rule in the Indian subcontinent, they were known as the Depressed Classes

[2Around 128 tribes and castes were notified as criminal tribes under the British rule and these accounted for around 1.5 lakh Punjabi in 1947. These groups living in miserable conditions in a prosperous State of Punjab are clubbed as SCs and asking for tribal status as caste based reservation system put these into disadvantage through such clubbing (Singh, 2008). Punjabi University has recently submitted the Government report about the existence of tribes in Punjab, which so far has denied their existence (Singh, 2009).

[3This he attributed to prevalence of equalitarian principles and the concept of Langar and Sangat prevalent among the Sikhs helped in improving the participation of the lower castes into various social spheres of life. These opportunities for participation and a few exemplary instances of courage by the members of the deprived sections boosted their morale and self-esteem.

[4In Punjab, the leasing-in land as percentage of land ownership for SCs increased from 26.4% to 532.8% from Fy1984-2012 (during 1983-84 to 2011-12) as compared to increase of 28.5% to 65.2% in case of India.

[5Employment estimates are worked out from various NSSO rounds data on participation rate of rural male, rural female, urban male and urban female. These are then multiplied by respective population estimates, which are derived using extrapolation using nearest data from Population Census.

[6Punjab has historically fought such agitations. Pagri Sambhal Jatta Movement was important farmers’ agitation aimed against the three British Laws namely the Doab Bari Act, Punjab Land Colonization Act and the Punjab Land Alienation Act. These laws reduced peasants as mere share croppers and denied them ownership rights and prohibited them to build houses or cut the trees on those lands.  These acts deny land to be passed to younger son in case of death of eldest son before attainting adulthood. To control resentment, the minor amendments were made in the laws. But the laws were cancelled after large scale riots, manhandling of British personnel, burning of churches etc in Punjab.

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