Participation of Schedule Castes in Panchayat: Field Study of a District in Uttar Pradesh
In decentralized states of developing countries with large rural populations, local governance plays a key role in deciding policies that, in turn, affect well-being. But, despite its key role in governing resources within villages, community participation (especially of traditional caste based communities) in local governance decision making is yet a big concern. Prior research on decentralization in various states of India suggests that the social identities play a key role in deciding village polity and local affairs. But little is known about caste based social networks and their impact on participation in local governance (attending open meeting in villages). Over the time, with introduction of reservation based decentralized institutions of panchayati raj (PRIs) have attempted to give a new power position to vulnerable groups such as women and schedule castes (SCs). Here, I use unique data from a novel mixed-method field experiment on seven villages (N=135 HHs) across seven villages in Allahabad district of Uttar Pradesh, India. This study comes up with quantitative evidence that though participation of SCs has improved (attendance in open meetings) yet active participation (giving suggestions in meetings) remains a concern for the lower caste groups. Additionally, it also assesses the caste based social positions shaping and controlling the social networks and, in turn, how these networks shape the local polity and community engagement. In these villages, households with larger networks significantly shape the local polity and local politicians use these network holders to their favour during elections. The narratives and statistics suggest that social disparities of caste and occupation work through social networks. Reservation based system of local governance has given rise to the inter-caste tie-ups leveraging local politicians and doing a marginal favour to SC communities as whole.