Poverty and Social Exclusion in India


This report by The World Bank focuses on social exclusion of the poor, which has its roots in historical divisions along lines of caste, tribe and gender. These inequalities are more structural in nature and have kept entire groups trapped, unable to take advantage of the opportunities that economic growth offers.

The report covers three select groups that face exclusion in India: Adivasis or Scheduled Tribes (STs), Dalits or Scheduled Castes (SCs) and women. However, recent data suggest that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) also fare poorly on some indicators. Since the National Sample Survey (NSS) data on OBCs is available only after 1999-2000, their performance, along a range of development indicators over time, is not dealt with in detail in this report.

For each group, the report focuses on a subset of issues. For Dalits, it discusses the poor labour market despite the expansion in education. For Adivasis, it talks about a distinct disadvantage in survival that goes beyond health and includes geographical isolation and the removal of tribals from their traditional lands. For women, it looks not only at poor health and survival, but also the disadvantage women face in the labour market, their vulnerability to violence within the family, and insecurity in public spaces. The analysis deeply probes one or two kinds of exclusion faced by each category and provides tools for the study of other forms of exclusion. 


  1. Despite a decline in poverty rates, Adivasis in 2004-05 were 20 years behind the national average. The poverty headcount index for Scheduled Tribes fell by 31 per cent (from 63.3 per cent in 1983 to 43.8 per cent in 2004-05). There was a faster decline of 35 per cent among Scheduled Castes (58.4 per cent to 37.9 per cent). The overall decline in India in the same period, in The World Bank’s reckoning, was 40 per cent (from 45.6 per cent in 1983 to 27.5 per cent in 2004-05).

  2. High child mortality was the starkest marker of tribal deprivation. ST children made up 12 per cent of all children under five in rural areas but accounted for almost 23 per cent of deaths in the 1-4 age group. Among the more proximate reasons were child malnutrition, the lack of immunisation, and the poor health of tribal mothers.

  3. While laws and programmes were in place to address the special disadvantages of STs, their implementation was poor. The low participation of tribals in decision-making and their alienation from land and forests were central to the continued exclusion of Adivasis from progress and development.

  4. Several features of caste made the system exclusionary for Dalits. The most important among them was the hereditary passing down of occupations, making it especially difficult for SCs to break the cycle of exclusion and move up.

  5. There was an impressive expansion of education among Dalit men, but belief systems still militated against the success of SC students. Historically, education was the preserve of the upper castes and excluded Dalits from its pale. This had begun to change, especially among SC men, whose educational attainment above post-primary had grown at a pace similar to that of non-SC/ST women.

  6. Dalits were slightly more likely to participate in the labour force compared with non-SCs/STs, but this was more the case among rural women than other groups. Most men, regardless of caste status, reported themselves employed. However, Dalit and Adivasi women in rural areas showed much higher labour force participation rates than other rural women.

  7. For the most part, Dalits did not own land and had historically been workers in the fields of landed castes. Their landless status also excluded them from the large category of farm-based self-employment, and within casual labour, Dalits mostly remained farm workers.

  8. The wage differentials between Dalits and others were a testimony to the continued disadvantage of the Scheduled Castes in the labour market.

  9. Despite many positive demographic outcomes among women, childbearing remained a high-risk event. Indian women faced a 1 in 70 risk of dying in childbirth, which placed them at the high end of risk levels in the global spectrum.

  10. Inequalities in wages and opportunities were disincentives for women to work. Women’s nominal weekly wages were, on average, 71 per cent of men’s wages in regular salaried work and 56 per cent of men’s wages in casual work. Over 89 per cent of the women doing only domestic work said they were obliged to do so.

  11. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme mandates that at least one-third of workers should be female. It remains an attractive employment option for poor women. According to the 2010 data of the Ministry of Rural Development, almost half of all MGNREGS participants were women, with Rajasthan exceeding 50 per cent. Kerala and Tamil Nadu scored even higher. This participation, however, was uneven across the states, with Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram recording less than 20 per cent.

  12. Despite a period of dramatic economic growth, labour force participation rates among women – in official measurement and reckoning – virtually stagnated from 1983 to 2004-05.

    Focus and Factoids by Revathi Ram.


International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The World Bank


The World Bank 


25 Apr, 2011