Focus on changing status of Dalits
Reviewed by Rajesh Kumar Aggarwal

Mapping Dalits
by Paramjit S. Judge and Gurpreet Bal.
Rawat Publications, New Delhi.
Pages 234. Rs 575.

PRIMARILY based on the information collected from 1,600 Dalit households, divided equally among the rural and urban areas from Amritsar and Jalandhar districts, the book attempts to know the changing status of Dalits in Punjab by examining the extent of social change brought about by four variables namely education and occupation, empowerment, entrepreneurship and emigration.

The book lists that different socio-religious reform movements such as Bhakti (Kabir, Guru Nanak and Namdev), Satnami (Jagjivan Dass), Exhavas (Narayana Guru), Arya Samaj (Dayanand Saraswati), Shudhi (bringing back Dalit converts from Islam or Christianity to the Hindu fold by renaming them ‘Mahashas’ or ‘Aryas’) had little impact on the conditions of the Dalits and even after the Independence, the constitutional and other benefits reached to the creamy layers among the scheduled castes. Similar was the fate of the other efforts (Sanskritisation, conversion to Buddhism or Christianity, and the launch of Ad-dharmi movement) organised by the Dalits to improve their condition.

Dalits in Punjab enjoy a better social space than their counterparts elsewhere in the country. As per Census 2001, there are 37 scheduled castes in Punjab, though 92 scheduled castes population comprises only 10 castes—Mazabis, Ramdasia, Ad-dharmi, Balmiki, Bazigar, Dumana, Megh, Sansi, Julaha and Dhanak—which implies that even within the scheduled castes, 27 castes are marginalised.

The first chapter describes the social, demographic, family, economic characteristic of the surveyed households. There is a hierarchy of castes within the scheduled castes though there was no religion-based exclusion within the caste groups. There is a class formation among the Dalits and each caste is not economically homogeneous. The Chamar/Ad-dharmi caste is most mobile among all scheduled castes. Most respondents were from a nuclear family, and had modern means of communication and transport.

A chapter on education and occupation explains significant upward intergeneration shifts within these domains despite limited access to higher education. The reserved posts in Group A and Group B continue to be unfilled due to absence of suitably qualified candidates. Another chapter on empowerment examines both the macro and micro aspects of Dalits empowerment, including the impact of 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, and illustrates with examples and case studies how the Dalits have significantly improved their political participation.

The third variable namely emigration has a complex relationship with social mobility. The book traces the pattern of emigration from the colonial period and points out that the place of migration largely determines the status of migrant, as permanent or transitory. Since migrants from Middle East countries ultimately return back, their socio-economic impact is visible more. There is considerable strong tendency among the Punjabi diaspora to invest/spend earnings on their return. Despite variations in the pattern, renovation/construction of house and repayment of loans remain two major heads of expenditure. Further, exposure to foreign land brings tremendous change in the outlook and standard of living.

On the whole, the book is scholarly. Despite based on a small sample, it captures a comprehensive picture of the whole gamut of Punjabi Dalits.