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COMMENTARY

Dalit Emancipation and


the Land Question
Ishan Anand

In the context of the agitation


in Gujarat where Dalits are
demanding five acres of land for
landless households among them,
the National Sample Survey
Office data is used to throw
empirical light on landlessness
among Dalits, the unequal
landownership structure, and
availability of excess land
for redistribution.

Ishan Anand (ishan.jsr@gmail.com) is a


doctoral student at the Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi and a visiting scholar at
the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US.

12

n a predominantly agrarian economy,


land distribution is arguably the most
important determinant of the nature
of socio-economic and power relations.
Indian society has historically been an
unequal one; with the Dalits being at the
bottom of the caste hierarchy. Decades
after Ambedkar brought to the fore the
plight of the untouchables, Dalits continue
to face the worst forms of caste-based
violence, oppression, and discrimination.
The Dalit uprising in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Una incident has opened up
fresh possibilities of a political movement
seeking redemption of Dalit dignity. At the
heart of the Una agitation was the anger
against the barbarism by self-proclaimed
cow vigilante groups, and also the demand
for distribution of five acres of land to
landless Dalit households.
The motivation behind this article is
to throw empirical light on landlessness
among Dalits and the availability of excess
land for redistribution using the 70th
round of Land and Livestock Holdings
Survey (L&LS) of the National Sample
Survey Office (NSSO). This round was
conducted during 2013 in two visits and
covered 4,529 villages and 35,604
households in the rural areas. The L&LS
collects data on household characteristics and aspects such as ownership of
land, land use, and tenancy. While calculating landlessness, I have considered the
land that was owned and possessed by
the households during visit 1 of the L&LS.
Land owned and possessed by a household can further be disaggregated into
homestead and other than homestead
land which includes land used for cultivation, livestock or other purposes.
Unlike previous rounds, this survey
does not provide information on cultivation of homestead land. The category
of landless is used here for those households who did not own and possess any

land other than homestead land. I have


shown the figures for states where Dalits
have a substantial population share.
It is important to begin with the caveat
that the L&LS severely underestimates
the extent of area possessed by large landowners as well as the aggregate area of
operational holdings. There is underreporting and under sampling of the very
wealthy in NSSO data. In a study of the
L&LS sample design and a comparison with
other data sources, Kumar (2016) has
shown that the extent of difference
between the estimate of total operational
area by Agricultural Census for 201011
and L&LS for 201213 is around 38%. I
have used the L&LS data to show the landlessness among Dalits and the unequal
landownership structure keeping in mind
these limitations. As the results will show,
despite the underestimation, the results
are quite stark.
Landlessness among Dalits
An analysis of the unit-level L&LS data
reveals that about 6.84 crore or 43.8% of
the rural households in the country did
not own any land other than homestead
land. There are regional variations in
the proportions of landlessness across
major states. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh,
and Punjab top the list with 60% or more
landless rural households.
The impact of historical subjugation and
exclusion of Dalits from landownership
is clearly visible in the data presented in
Table 1 (p 13). At the all-India level, 58.4%
of rural Dalit households are landless,
much higher than households in any other
social group. Landlessness is particularly
severe among Dalits in Haryana, Punjab
and Bihar, where more than 85% of
Dalit households do not own any land
other than homestead land. More than
60% of Dalit households are landless in
Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Kerala, West Bengal,
Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and
Odisha. The last column of Table 1 gives
the ratios of the percentage of landlessness among Dalit households to the
overall landlessness in the state. A ratio
of more than one would mean that landlessness among the Dalit community is
higher than the overall landlessness in

NOVEMBER 19, 2016

vol lI no 47

EPW

Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

the state. In all except three states, the


ratio is more than 1 implying that the
proportion of landlessness among Dalits
is more severe than the overall landlessness. In Haryana in particular, the proportion of landlessness among Dalits is
more than double the overall landlessness in the state. Gujarat is next in this
regard, with landlessness among Dalits
being 1.7 times the total landlessness
across all social groups.
Inequality in Land
From Table 1, it is clear that the incidence
of landlessness is highest amongst Dalits
in large parts of the country. Another
aspect related to the land question is the
extreme inequality in ownership of land.
Concentration of landholdings in the
hands of a small section of the population,
largely belonging to a specific social group,
has serious socio-economic implications.
Table 2 reveals the extent of inequality
in landownership in India. The first
column in the table shows the Gini coefficients in ownership of land (other than
homestead land). The Gini coefficient at
the all-India level is as high as 0.76. In
states like Punjab, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil
Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, the land distribution is even more skewed and the
Gini is higher than 0.80. The rest of the
table shows certain figures for two categoriesthe Scheduled Castes and the
non-Scheduled Tribes (ST)/SC (that is,
Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and
General category) households. Table 1
showed that landlessness is the least
among the STs. For geographical and
historical reasons, despite being backward in terms of most socio-economic indicators, the Adivasis of this country fare
better than the Dalits in terms of landownership. It is for this reason that Adivasis have been left out of this analysis
and Dalit households are compared to
non-ST/SC households.
Table 2 gives the population shares,
shares in landholdings and average
land sizes in hectares for Dalit and OBC
General households. The table also gives
the ratios of population share to land
share; the ratio will be one when the
share of a social group in the population
is equal to its share in land. A ratio of
less than one implies that the social
Economic & Political Weekly

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NOVEMBER 19, 2016

group owns less land than its population


share. For Dalits, the population share
is more than the land share in all states
except Chhattisgarh. At the all-India
level, in rural areas, Dalits constitute
20% of the population but own only 9%
Table 1: Landless Households by Social Group
in Major States
(%)
ST

SC

Jammu and
Kashmir
7.3
Himachal Pradesh 20.1
Punjab
76.5
Uttarakhand
0.9
Haryana
7.8
Rajasthan
9.6
Uttar Pradesh
46.2
Bihar
97.7
Tripura
45.1
Assam
24.0
West Bengal
61.3
Jharkhand
6.7
Odisha
39.6
Chhattisgarh
19.4
Madhya Pradesh 33.7
Gujarat
39.2
Maharashtra
53.8
Andhra Pradesh 43.0
Karnataka
42.1
Kerala
93.2
Tamil Nadu
38.6
Telangana
25.6
Total
34.8

17.1
17.9
86.6
38.5
92.1
33.5
44.4
86.0
63.9
39.8
69.4
35.7
61.1
27.4
55.5
77.0
63.3
62.6
46.8
72.3
77.4
35.9
58.4

OBC General Total SC/


Total

11.3
17.9
68.5
30.3
51.2
25.3
30.0
55.5
74.3
51.4
44.7
36.2
41.8
38.2
27.3
48.4
42.5
57.8
35.1
58.6
57.8
51.2
43.3

11.9
29.6
32.2
40.1
21.3
18.2
21.3
40.3
71.7
37.5
47.7
17.1
35.7
73.9
23.1
26.5
26.0
66.2
33.7
41.3
72.8
56.9
36.6

11.8
23.9
60.5
36.5
44.3
24.2
32.1
59.6
61.2
39.6
55.2
22.2
43.9
31.1
33.9
44.3
41.3
60.6
38.0
56.6
63.4
45.1
43.8

1.5
0.7
1.4
1.1
2.1
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.0
1.0
1.3
1.6
1.4
0.9
1.6
1.7
1.5
1.0
1.2
1.3
1.2
0.8
1.3

Source: Authors calculations from unit-level data, L&LS,


70th round, NSSO.

of the land, whereas the OBCGeneral category constitutes 68% of the population
and owns 78% of the land. Table 2 also
gives the average size of land for the two
social categories considered here. In all
states except Chhattisgarh, the average
size of land for the OBCGeneral category is higher than that for the Dalits. At
the all-India level, the average size of
operational holdings for the OBCGeneral category is 2.5 times larger than
that for the Dalits. The disparity is much
higher in Punjab and Haryana where
the average land size for OBCGeneral
category is 20 times that for the Dalits.
This data set also reveals that among
large landholders who own more than
10 hectares of land, only about 3% are
Dalit households. More than 95% of
households belonging to the large landowner sizeclass are from OBCGeneral
category.
Scope for Land Redistribution
The data presented till now highlights
the skewed distribution of land. In the
context of the demand for land redistribution to landless Dalit households, the
extent of excess land in each state with
different social groups is calculated. Excess
land has been calculated by applying a

Table 2: Inequality in Landownership across Social Groups


State

Jammu and Kashmir


Himachal Pradesh
Punjab
Uttarakhand
Haryana
Rajasthan
Uttar Pradesh
Bihar
Tripura
Assam
West Bengal
Jharkhand
Odisha
Chhattisgarh
Madhya Pradesh
Gujarat
Maharashtra
Andhra Pradesh
Karnataka
Kerala
Tamil Nadu
Telangana
Total

Gini Coefficient

0.56
0.67
0.85
0.72
0.76
0.69
0.71
0.84
0.78
0.65
0.79
0.63
0.71
0.60
0.69
0.73
0.70
0.82
0.71
0.83
0.83
0.71
0.76

Scheduled Caste
Population Land Average Population
Share
Share Land Size
Share/
in ha
Land Share

10.49
6.31
28.65 15.38
39.85 2.80
21.08 10.90
17.54
1.04
25.06 13.68
24.65 10.53
16.36
3.10
18.60 16.89
8.45 6.36
31.44 18.64
8.82
5.16
19.23 11.27
8.92
9.04
18.34
7.14
7.75 2.64
9.19
5.07
21.86
7.52
23.90 12.24
13.48 2.22
27.35 14.40
27.04 20.88
20.17
9.08

0.23
0.19
0.04
0.15
0.04
0.72
0.19
0.04
0.18
0.37
0.08
0.24
0.19
0.73
0.42
0.27
0.48
0.15
0.39
0.02
0.16
0.51
0.24

0.60
0.54
0.07
0.52
0.06
0.55
0.43
0.19
0.91
0.75
0.59
0.58
0.59
1.01
0.39
0.34
0.55
0.34
0.51
0.16
0.53
0.77
0.45

Non- ST/SC (OBCGen)


Population Land
Average Population
Share
Share
Land Size Share/
in ha Land Share

77.10
66.37
60.06
73.48
82.34
59.84
74.66
79.91
45.80
76.05
60.99
50.05
53.94
52.77
50.31
67.59
73.44
71.96
70.35
85.35
71.94
63.57
67.92

80.30
81.39
97.17
85.53
98.06
75.32
88.95
96.63
26.88
70.77
73.44
32.25
57.52
42.59
72.17
83.90
85.87
82.88
82.48
96.96
84.08
65.20
77.65

0.41
0.44
0.88
0.34
0.81
1.65
0.53
0.25
0.12
0.45
0.17
0.27
0.35
0.58
1.55
0.97
1.03
0.49
0.89
0.16
0.36
0.68
0.61

1.04
1.23
1.62
1.16
1.19
1.26
1.19
1.21
0.59
0.93
1.20
0.64
1.07
0.81
1.43
1.24
1.17
1.15
1.17
1.14
1.17
1.03
1.14

Source: Same as Table 1.

vol lI no 47

13

COMMENTARY
Table 3: Excess Land in States Assuming a
Uniform Ceiling of 8 Hectares
State

Excess Land (ha)

Jammu and Kashmir


Himachal Pradesh
Punjab
Uttarakhand
Haryana
Rajasthan
Uttar Pradesh
Bihar
Tripura
Assam
West Bengal
Jharkhand
Odisha
Chhattisgarh
Madhya Pradesh
Gujarat
Maharashtra
Andhra Pradesh
Karnataka
Kerala
Tamil Nadu
Telangana
Total

16,381.02
12,006.72
2,17,265
18,629.27
84,697.63
25,75,890
5,40,920.1
89,393.89
0
2,638.6
0
1,43,208.7
25,208.27
50,014.57
14,82,634
3,80,611.5
7,67,310.9
1,44,681.3
7,06,891.2
758.16
91,650.21
1,40,254.1
75,03,368

Source: Same as Table 1.

uniform land ceiling of eight hectares


(around 20 acres) on operational holdings. Rawal (2008) has done a similar

14

exercise using the 59th round of the


L&LS data. He has also pointed out the
limitations of assuming a uniform ceiling across states. Given the difference in
estimates of total area of operational
holdings between the L&LS and other
data sources like the Agricultural Census
and the limitations of the L&LS the calculation of excess land seems to be a serious underestimation. Moreover, the
L&LS does not reveal the availability of
government wasteland. Nevertheless, it
shows that more than 75 lakh hectares
of excess land is available for redistribution, with a ceiling limit of eight hectares (Table 3). Of the excess land, 94%
belongs to the OBCGeneral category.
Dalit households have no excess land in
any state other than Rajasthan.

in the hands of the OBCGeneral category


and is out of reach for the Dalits. The
governments have aggressively pursued
neo-liberal economic policies in the liberalisation period and has rendered cultivation unviable for most small and marginal farmers, who are also the socially
marginalised. While the need of the hour
is to fight for rolling back policies which
are responsible for the agrarian crisis, land
redistribution remains important from a
social justice perspective. Giving five
acres of land to Dalit households will not
completely resolve the crisis of rural
livelihoods, but it will provide an opportunity to the socially deprived sections
to move away from humiliating castebased occupations like manual scavenging and prove to be an important step
towards redeeming Dalit dignity.

Conclusions
This article throws empirical light on landlessness among Dalits and the unequal
structure of landownership. Despite all
its limitations, the L&LS data shows a very
high degree of landlessness among Dalits.
The results also show a very high degree
of concentration of operational holdings

References
Kumar, Deepak (2016): Discrepancies in Data on
Landholdings in Rural India: Aggregate and
Distributional Implications, Review of Agrarian
Studies, Vol 6, No 1.
Rawal, Vikas (2008): Ownership Holdings of Land
in Rural India: Putting the Record Straight,
Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 43, No 10,
pp 4347.

NOVEMBER 19, 2016

vol lI no 47

EPW

Economic & Political Weekly