Survey shows Dalits now eating better, buying more

Survey shows Dalits now eating better, buying more

New Delhi: Most Dalits in Uttar Pradesh could afford to eat rice only after the country’s economic liberalization of 1991, says a survey of India’s most populous state.Dalits, who are at the bottom of the country’s caste pyramid, could also eat wheat and wear slippers after the opening up of the economy

Earlier, most Dalits could only afford bread made of millet, chutney and jaggery water, says Dalit writer Chandra Bhan Prasad, who supervised the survey of 20,000 Dalit households in Azamgarh and Bulandshahr.

Liberalization also resulted in Dalit youths migrating to cities in search of jobs. And the money that flowed back radically improved the diet of the poor, enabling them to have rice, wheat and vegetables on a daily basis for the first time in their lives, the survey points out.

And over the past one decade—as more Dalit youths found jobs as truckers, factory or construction workers in cities—families back home began to use shampoos and cellphones and watch television. “There is a clear correlation between the migration of youths to the cities and improvement in the lifestyle of Dalits," says Prasad.

The study was led by Devesh Kapur, a professor at the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, US.

In a yet-to-be-released documentary that’s part of the survey, Dalits say they started consuming spices such as cardamom and vegetables such as tomatoes as part of their everyday diet only in recent years.

Researchers associated with the project say the number of Dalits who wear slippers or shoes has risen nearly threefold from 1991 to 2008.

While almost no Dalit had a cellphone in 1991, almost half the number of houses in these villages own such gadgets now.

“Urban agglomerations are the centres of economic activities in India, and there will be some dependence on cities for growth in the future, too. I think the findings of the survey are credible" says Planning Commission member Anwarul Hoda.