Everybody knows that income inequality in India not only has a rural-urban and gender bias but also a socio-religious component. What's worrying is the extent of disparity in the latter. According to a recent study, titled Wealth Ownership and Inequality in India: A Socio-religious Analysis, the population belonging to Hindu High Castes (HHCs) boasts four times more wealth than those classified as Scheduled Castes (SCs).
Moreover, HHCs hold 41% of the total wealth in the country, which is almost double their population size of 22.28%. The next biggest slice of the wealth pie is cornered by Hindu Other Backward Classes (HOBCs) at close to 31%, a little less than their population size (35.66%). Muslims own 8% of the country's total assets while their share of households stands at nearly 12%. And, as expected, SCs and STs own substantially less share of assets (11.3% combined) as compared to their population size (over 27%).
This two-year-long study was jointly conducted by the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU), Jawaharlal Nehru University and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies from 2015 to 2017, and is based on NSSO data from 1.10 lakh households across various states. The study then classified the respondents into eight groups apart from HHCs - Hindu Scheduled Castes (HSCs), Hindu Scheduled Tribes (HSTs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Castes (NHSCs), Non-Hindu Scheduled Tribes (NHSTs), Hindu Other Backward Classes (HOBCs), Hindu High Castes (HHCs), Muslim Other Backward Classes (MOBCs), Muslim High Castes (MHCs) and Rest.
The two biggest asset classes in the country are land and building, constituting more than 90% of the total assets in the country. And inequality in these two assets "is responsible for more than 83% inequality in the country", the study found.
Lending credence to the Modi government's politically astute move to introduce a new quota for economically weaker sections, which many equated with pandering to HHCs, the study found that the share of wealth in the hands of the bottom 50% of households to the poorest 1% "is lowest among HHCs followed by, HOBCs, Muslims, STs and SCs". In other words, HHCs hold much more wealth in the top economic groups and less wealth in their bottom economic groups as compared to any other socio-religious group. Moreover, the share of this demographic is higher in urban areas constituting 32.7% of wealth as compared to 16.7% in rural areas.
The distribution of wealth also varies wildly across the Indian states. "Of the total wealth, the highest 17.5% is concentrated in Maharashtra, followed by Uttar Pradesh (11.6%), Kerala (7.4%), Tamil Nadu (7.2%) and Haryana (6%). These five states together hold about 50 per cent of the total wealth in India," said the study. At the other end of the spectrum were states like Odisha, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, accounting for 0.9% to 1% of the country's total wealth.
Furthermore, in states like Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, more than 70% of the assets are owned by the top 20% households. Interestingly, in some poor states, like Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar, the poorest 20% of the households own more than 2% of the total wealth as compared to that of less than 0.5% in some of the developed states. "Therefore, results show that wealth is distributed more unequally in the economically developed states," the study added. On a pan-India basis, one-fourth of the total wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1% households.
(Edited by Sushmita Choudhury Agarwal)