Much of r.i.c.e.’s research documents how social inequality impacts health and wellbeing. It shows that discrimination against women and Dalits has negative consequences not only for those who experience it, but is also for society as a whole.
One example of this is the relationship between open defecation and untouchability. People from “untouchable” or dalit castes face severe discrimination and social exclusion. Many people in India see the sorts of simple, affordable latrines that are used to reduce open defecation and improve health in other countries as impure and polluting, in part because they are disgusted by the idea of emptying latrine pits: they believe that only people from the most socially excluded among dalit castes should interact with human feces. Pit emptying, which in other countries is a routine latrine maintenance activity, presents deep challenges in rural India because of its relationship to untouchability. This makes the reduction of open defecation in rural India a far more complex problem than is generally understood.
Another example is the relationship between a woman’s social status and her children’s health. In part due to the fact that young women of child-bearing age have low social status within their families, Indian mothers are underweight, and gain too little weight during pregnancy. It is common in many households for women to eat last, and to eat the least nutritious foods. When women are undernourished during pregnancy, their babies have lower birth weight, and grow up to be less healthy. Evidence also suggests negative consequences of low women’s status on long-term indicators of wellbeing such as child height.
In order to measure the attitudes of prejudice that reinforce the lower position of oppressed groups such as women, Dalits, and Muslims, and ultimately harm everyone, r.i.c.e. developed a phone survey called Social Attitudes Research, India (SARI) in 2016. SARI is the first survey dedicated to track social attitudes in representative samples of adults in states across India. It has collected data from over 9,000 respondents in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai, and Rajasthan to date, with possible future expansion to Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharastra, Himachal Pradesh, and Haryana. Quantifying the extent of prejudice will allow for a more robust public discourse and a more active approach to measuring and challenging prejudice and discrimination.
What is r.i.c.e. doing now?
SARI results from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai, and Rajasthan show widespread prevalence of the practice of untouchability and opposition to intercaste marriage. Results also show extensive discrimination against women: many people disapprove of women working outside the home, many women practice ghunghat, and in many households, women eat after men do.
While there are no easy policy solutions for these deep social problems, we at r.i.c.e. are sharing SARI’s results widely: see the full paper in EPW here, and media coverage here (Indian Express), here (Scroll), and here (NewsClick). We hope that this evidence will encourage others to study these important social dynamics, and push forward important conversations about how to confront prejudiced attitudes.