The Gender of Caste: Identity, Political Reservations and Access to Water Resources in Rural India

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Abstract:

In this paper, I analyze the impacts of a centuries-old social institution, the caste system, (directly) on households'access to water resources and (indirectly) on female time allocation in India. The idea behind this study is quite intuitive, yet this remains an almost entirely unexplored topic: water is believed to be an agent that spreads pollution upon contact with a person who herself is in a state of pollution. Therefore, in many regions of India, the upper caste households insist on maintaining distinct water sources from the lower caste (i.e. untouchable) households in their villages. Data shows that over 69% of rural Indian households have to collect water for drinking purposes, and those fetching water are predominantly women. Thus, caste discrimination in the access to water resources creates an unequal burden for women and have important intra-household implications. My empirical findings support this hypothesis: the total time low caste women spend to collect water is significantly higher when they reside in a village dominated by lower castes (in terms of population shares), compared to a village dominated by upper castes. This is due to the congestion of the wells that low-caste members can access, and the results hold true even after controlling for village-level fixed effects. I also document the effect of the reservation of leadership positions in the village administrative bodies, i.e. Panchayati Raj, for low castes members: indeed, low caste members are more inclined to invest in water infrastructure in the low caste hamlets, which decreases the time spent at the water source by low caste women. This positive impact tends to be relatively higher in villages where low caste households represent a majority of the population. The analysis also shows that reservations for women in village leadership positions do not have a significant impact on low caste women's access to water resources. 
 

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Last updated on 07/14/2017