So Who is Practicing Untouchability in India?

So Who is Practicing Untouchability in India?

By Amit Thorat and Omkar Joshi,

National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, India.

The IHDS 2012 data provides a rare detailed look at the practitioners of untouchability. New research by Amit Thorat and Omkar Joshi has explored the social contexts surrounding untouchability in India: who is practicing it and what are their social and economic characteristics? Overall, the practice remains fairly common with 27% of the households in the sample continuing to practice. Thorat and Joshi examine social networks and test whether having wider within community networks and smaller outside community networks, leads to greater practicing of untouchability. They find that the larger the size of a household’s network outside its own community, the lower the chances of the household practicing untouchability. Conversely, the higher the spread of the in-community network, the higher the chances of someone in the household practicing untouchability.

Other characteristics associated with practicing untouchability are the rural/urban divide – where urban dwellers are less likely to practice. In rural areas 30% report practicing, while in urban areas, the percentage falls to 20%. Religious affiliation is very much related to the practice:


Jains are most likely, followed by Hindus and Sikhs (please note the Jain sample size is small, thus these results need replication).

For all the Brahmins surveyed, little more than half agreed to practice. At the same time 33% of OBC and 24% of Forward castes also agree to practicing untouchability. Interestingly 15% of the SC and 22% of the ST too concede to the practice.


Education has a modifying effect on the practice of untouchability, one that is particularly strong for Brahmins and the Other Backward Castes (OBC), the two highest practicing castes. Regional differences analyzed show a North Central bias towards practicing. Higher income is also associated with lower percentages practicing, as shown in the following chart:


The IHDS data gives a unique glimpse into the practice of untouchability today in India. This paper is one of the first to investigate who is currently practicing and what are their likely characteristics. For more information, go to