Status of Dalit Women Gaps in Educational Attainment and Economic Opportunities

July 24th, 2014


  • In a bias-ridden country like India, women, the abashed victims of Patriarchy have always been subjected to discrimination and the conditions still prevail. But, Dalit women are incomparable to other women as they suffer from triple burden of gender biasness, caste discrimination and economic deprivation, simultaneously.
  • Dalits constituted about 16.60% of India’s population in 2011, with less than half being women. Dalits have faced caste based social exclusion from economic, civil, cultural and political rights but Dalit women are the most depressed; for they are discriminated on both, Caste and Gender.
  • Just like all other women residing in India, Dalit women, too are in the strong hold of Patriarchy. It seems that deprivation is their cup of tea. They have lack of access to income, education inheritance, productive assets which lead to nowhere but high poverty. Not only Patriarchy but other malpractices are levied on these women i.e. sexual exploitation in the name of religion (Devdasi & Jogini).
  • Notwithstanding the principle of equality of all citizens, the government reserves to itself the right to pass legislation designed to give special relief to the ‘weaker sections’ of the society which includes the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, women and children. Permanent National Commissions have been set up both for SC’s, ST’s and also for Women.
  • Increase in the number of crimes and atrocities against Dalits especially on Dalit women have raised a serious issue regarding empowerment of Dalits as well as Dalit women. Analysis of certain educational and economic indicators can depict the true picture about the status of the Dalit women in Indian society.



  • The depressed classes, especially the Dalit women are located all over India, in almost every nook and corner but the percentage is more in rural areas, they being the underdeveloped regions and lacking even the basic amenities.
  • In India, 19.98% of females are Scheduled Castes, majority of them are found in the rural areas. According to the NSSO 2009-10 data, 21.90 % of the SC females live in villages while 14.53% reside in urban areas. States such as Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Chandigarh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had higher share of SC females than the all India averages.



  • Illiteracy is rambling in our country and is one of the major shortcomings in the development of our economy. Though, it is true that times have radically changed and so has the imparting of knowledge yet education is not easily accessible by everyone.
  • At the national level, nearly 50% of the SC women are illiterates, as compared to 32.6 % SC males and 39.20% non-SC females. Near about 12% and 4.4% Non-SC females are found to be c o m p l e t e d e d u c a t i o n u p t o s e c o n d a r y a n d graduation level; whereas only 1.8% SC females and 3.5% SC males get opportunity to complete graduation. Thus, the gap in educational attainment is much wider in higher education; especially at the graduation level.
  • As compared to other women and all others, Dalit women fail to achieve education even at primary level. Also, to them, dreaming of higher education means building castles in air. Still, some of the Dalit women are able to attain education in urban areas but rural women are majorly deprived.
  • Further, in the urban areas the percentage of illiterates is generally lower than that of the rural areas among all the population subgroups but the illiteracy level is the highest among the SC females (36.10%) as compared to SC males (23.70%) and Non-SC females (24.85). A big gap is noticeable in the Graduation level; whereas 8.7% SC males are Graduate, only 5.80% SC females are found in this category. In case of Non-SC females in urban areas 13% have completed Graduation.
  • In rural areas, the percentage of illiteracy is much higher; here 52.90% SC females are illiterates whereas 34.90% SC males and 45% Non-SC females are illiterates. Therefore, in the rural areas, gaps in the educational attainment among the SC and Non-SC females are not as high as found in the urban areas. The gender gap is higher among the male and female SC population, as compared to the gap between SC and Non-SC females.



  • Because of their association with their occupation (perceived as unclean occupation-sweeping/ manual scavenging), SC women face discrimination and exclusion from participation in certain categories of job. For example, woman belonging to sweeper community is hardly employed for cooking and other household jobs because of the notion of purity and pollution of their traditional occupation (of manual scavenging).
  • SC females are found to have lower incidence of activity status as self- employed, than the non- SC females in all India and also in major states. Bihar is the only state where women self- employment for Non-SC females is 54.30% but in case of SC females it is 36% only.
  • It has been observed that at the national level, 11.30% Non-SC females have been recorded as regular wage earner while only 9.80% SC females are found in this category.
  • The roots of Patriarchal society along with the caste system hold back Dalit women from being independent irrespective of the sectors i.e. education or employment.
  • SC women who worked as wage labourers faced discrimination in wage earnings, particularly, in the urban areas. In 2000, SC women casual wage labourers received daily wages earning of Rs. 37 as compared to Rs. 56 for Non-SC/ST women, while the national average was Rs. 42. The disparity in earning between the women from excluded and non- excluded groups reflect discrimination faced by them in terms of engagement in the labour market. This form of discrimination is likely to result in depressed earnings/income which ultimately will cause higher incidence of poverty amongst SC women.



  • The Indian Constitution banned the practice of untouchablity under Article 17 and the Schedule Caste/ Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 was introduced to combat persecution and discrimination against Dalits. Despite the existence of these strong legal provisions, Dalit population has found it virtually impossible to access their rights through the legal system. In this context, the Dalit Rights Initiative provides legal aid and rights-awareness to members of Dalit community and uses the law to ensure that the violation of Dalit rights is addressed through the legal system.
  • Despite a few steps taken by the government for the rights of Dalits, much more needs to be done, especially for Dalit women.
  • Assess the different social problems associated with Dalit women;
  • Discuss the status of sanitation and hygiene among the Dalit women;
  • Raise awareness in the society about the economic contributions of the Dalit women;
  • Explore different possibilities for the empowerment of the Dalit women by improving their traditional occupational skills; and Suggest pragmatic measures for the improvement of the conditions of the Dalit women.
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