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winsight 04 Gandhigram and Ambedkargram: Discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion in India

Gandhigram and Ambedkargram: Discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion in India

Gandhigram and Ambedkargram: Discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion in India

A measure of privilege and exclusion

1.       Context: Definition and policy response

The words discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion are often used loosely and interchangeably in development discourse. However, there are different in their cause and effect. To craft an appropriate policy response and design appropriate programmes to address each of them, they must be accurately defined and tracked with precision. Rigorous definition is the starting point that would enable a scientific response, those affected by these different phenomenon can be correctly identified, appropriate policy framed, relevant programmes designed, focussed execution architecture built and category specific monitoring enforced.

There will always be differences in accomplishments and access. This could be active or passive. The point of departure is to measure when this ‘difference’ becomes discrimination, marginalisation or exclusion. The Human Development Indicators (HDI) provide a roadmap. When unacceptable variance occurs across different indicators of human wellbeing for the same individual or community, then we can surmise that there is some disadvantage or vulnerability for the individual or group.

‘Personal choice’ could account for a variance of up to 5% negative or positive, or be a passive phenomenon. The policy response can be advocacy, and knowledge of gaps itself is sufficient to get it addressed. However, a negative variance of over 5% indicates an active process, with varying intensity. Where negative variance is over 5%, mere knowledge of the achievement gap would not make the state act since the state, or powerful persons within it, have an active role in perpetrating this disadvantage. At the very least, the state is dependent on a compromised delivery mechanism to reach out to these disadvantaged groups. A negative variance of 5-10% indicates discrimination. Discrimination could be the result of individual bias, but within a framework of ‘acceptable behaviour’ and therefore with guarantee of impunity.

A negative variance of 10-15% indicates marginalisation. Marginalisation is an active process, and is systemic. A negative variance of over 15% indicates exclusion. It reveals a high degree of vulnerability, and is a consequence of structural deficiency. It is active and normative—i.e this discrimination is considered the ‘natural order’ of things.

The same could be deduced from positive variance. Up to 5% would be ‘natural’, but over that would be favoured (>5%), privileged (>10%) or elite (>15%).


Privilege Exclusion Scale


% variance

Active, passive



> 15%




> 10%




> 5%




+5% to  -5%




> - 5%




> - 10%




> - 15%



2.       The international measure

To track social privilege or exclusion HDI can be used as a starting point. The HDI combines three basic dimensions:

Life expectancy at birth, as an index of population health and longevity

Knowledge and education, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio (with one-third weighting).

Standard of living, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in United States dollars.

Therefore if the community has a negative variance of > 5% we can conclude that they are discriminated against. If the negative variance is >10% then it is marginalisation. If above 15% then it is exclusion. The appropriate remedy—policy, institutional or structural—can be designed and applied accordingly.

This measure can be used to measure intra-community vulnerability when tracking variance for senior citizens, people with special needs, women and children, provided there is disaggregated data.

The indicators tracked for the national average and for the particular section are:

1.       Life expectancy at birth.

2.       Infant mortality rate (IMR)

3.       Under five mortality rate (U5MR)

4.       Adult literacy rate.

5.       Primary school enrolment ratio.

6.       Secondary school enrolment ratio.

7.       Tertiary school enrolment ratio.

8.       Per capita GDP at PPP.

9.       Percentage employed in primary (agriculture) sector.

10.   Percentage employed in secondary (manufacturing) sector.

11.   Percentage employed in tertiary (services) sector.

12.   Percentage employed in ‘unclean’ occupations.

3.       Gandhigram and Ambedkargram: What does it mean

The pattern of discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion is visible in rural India for Dalits as a collective also. There is certainly a urban/rural divide, and a regional bias in development. However, even where basic services exist, they are invariably in the ‘Gandhigram’ part of the village and seldom in the ‘Ambedkargram.’ It would do well to remember that the Dalits (who have to stay in Ambedkargram) are allowed extremely restricted access, if at all, to the main village (Gandhigram). In very many places they are not only segregated, but also walled off.

This is aggravated by the phenomenon of ‘no-name’ villages that the Dalits live in. this phenomenon results in all the infrastructure being located where it is inaccessible for the Dalits. So what is this ‘no-name villages’? India, it is said, is a land of 600,000 villages—638,365 according to the census of India 2001. The curious fact is that these do not count the Dalit villages. Instead, the Dalit villages are recorded as Dalit ‘colonies’ or ‘Dalit-para’ of the ‘main village’. Therefore a Dalit village near a dominant caste village called Belur would be called Belur Dalit colony. It is a continuation of the social construct that the Dalit cannot ‘own anything’—so lowly as to be even without caste—even the village where a Dalit lives cannot ‘own’ a name or an identity.

The consequences of this ‘no-name’ status are well known to those in the women’s movement, where many of the issues facing women were ‘problems with no names’. No-name villages are identified and treated as a colony of the ‘main village’ (the ‘Gandhigram’) where the dominant live, and for whom those from the ‘Dalit colony’ (the ‘Ambedkargram’) have to compulsorily provide free or subsidised ‘services’. Just as any colonised people, the Dalits of this ‘colony’ are virtually slaves of the dominant of the dominant caste village. They are forbidden entry into these villages (since they would pollute it) except for performing ‘unclean tasks’ that would ‘pollute’ the dominant. The dominant village (the ‘Gandhigram’) has the first right to all the resources (natural and human) of the ‘colony’ (the ‘Ambedkargram’). It is only after fulfilling the labour requirements of the Gandhigram that the denizens of Ambedkargram can venture out. Providing free labour as a caste function is mandatory.

Yet all the infrastructure is cornered only by the dominant village. Since the Dalit village does not have a separate existence, government records show that the village has all infrastructure (schools, primary health centres, telephones, community centres, primary health centres, child care centre, water supply, electricity….). In reality, all these are only in the dominant caste village (the Gandhigram) which the Dalits are forbidden to enter or to use. The Dalit village (the Ambedkargram) does not get any of these. So the Dalits are denied all these facilities, while the government statistics show that the ‘village’ has all the infrastructure. In older infrastructure (water, burial grounds, land) there is discrimination. In the newer technology and infrastructure there is exclusion and denial of service (roads, electricity, community halls). So whether it is 100% electrification or 100% broadband connections (promised by 2012), the Dalit village will be excluded.

4.       Access to basic services

Let us track sixteen basic services in 1000 villages and where they are physically located—in Gandhigram or in Ambedkargram.

  1. Drinking water bore well/hand pump
  2. Electricity
  3. Primary Health Centre
  4. PDS Outlet
  5. Community Hall
  6. Balwadi
  7. Anganwadi
  8. Primary School
  9. High School
  10. Post office
  11. Panchayat office
  12. Bank/cooperative society
  13. Police station
  14. Polling booth
  15. Bus stop.
  16. Location of        (a) Temple

                                (b) Mosque

                                (c) Church


Data available shows irrefutably which sections of India are privileged which are excluded. It is valid even within communities, where data shows who are the 'Dalits among Dalits', the age, sex and regional composition of such exclusion.