Caste is an institution of oppression and social discrimination specific to South Asia, more so to India. Central to the caste system were the status assigned to the Dalit people and the criminal practice of untouchability. Caste is embedded in production relations. It is an impediment to the growth of the productive forces, and a bulwark against the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling classes. Although there have been, in recent years, new scholarship and new attempts to understand the socio-economic conditions of life of Dalit people and households in India, it is still true, as a leading scholar in the field has written, that 'very few empirical studies have tried to study the phenomenon of economic discrimination'. This book is an attempt to contribute to the study and understanding of economic deprivation and exclusion among Dalits in rural India. The first section deals with poverty and group discrimination. The second section has case studies - from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal - on historical aspects of land, caste and social exclusion. The third section deals with contemporary fieldwork-based economic analyses from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
The last section has studies of Dalit households in village economies; the empirical base for these studies comes from the village-level data archive of the Project on Agrarian Relations (PARI) being conducted by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies.The articles in the book are evidence, in some cases, of direct discrimination, and in others of what has been described as differential impact discrimination. Most of all, they reflect cumulative discrimination and disadvantage.