Unequal Reward for Equal Work? Understanding Women’s Work and Wage Discrimination in India Through the Meniscus of Social Hierarchy
Social inequality revolves around the axis of class, caste, tribal status, religion, and gender (Hasan, 2010). Intergroup disparities exist in different forms and degrees in societies in terms of social stratification, which is a universal phenomenon and an unavoidable feature of all human societies (Yadav, 2009).
These inequalities are rooted in the caste system, property, employment, and income relation. In India, the upper castes are the most advantaged caste group and the scheduled castes (SCs)/scheduled tribes (STs) are the most disadvantaged and poorest ones (Dumont, 1980). Hence, the unequal distribution of resources and cultural hegemony of the upper castes forced the lower castes to live into poverty, economic inequality, and discrimination, which lead to a multidimensional social exclusion where people are excluded from livelihoods, employment earnings, property, housing, minimum consumption, education, personal contacts, respect, etc. While on the other hand, people can be excluded from different sorts of groups often, or at the same time. Landlords exclude people from access to land or housing, elite political groups exclude others from legal rights, priests in India exclude Dalits from access to temples, exclude marginalized people from getting jobs; exclusion happens at each level of society (Louis, 2007).
However, the caste system has emerged as an archaic institution for the practices of exclusion, and over the period of time, it has been weakened by modern market forces, but it is still very relevant when it comes to the access to resources (Dumont, 1980).
Caste has been recognized and has constitutional legitimacy in terms of reservation (caste-based affirmative action), but it works as an invisible force to control the social and economic resources to run the labour market. Gender-based exclusion is common across the globe, but within gender, there is caste hierarchy, which forces Dalit/tribal women to suffer from the double burden of exploitation, due to their caste and gender.
Caste has also forced women to practice ‘traditional’ occupations such as peasantry, scavenging or disposing of animal carcasses, etc. Therefore, there should be freedom of choice related to occupation, which would help them to come out of poverty and social exclusion (Chandrasekhar & Ghosh, 2011; Sabharwal & Sonalkar, 2015). Therefore, this study investigates the magnitude of women workers among the social hierarchy (caste) and the relative factors responsible for workforce participation with their socio-economic and demographic characteristics. Furthermore, this study aims to examine the wage differential between Dalit/tribal and upper-class women workers by socio-economic and demographic characteristics and estimate the extent of wage discrimination between Dalit/tribal and upper-class women workers.