19TH ANNUAL WINTER CONFERENCE
TOPIC - CASTE AND ECONOMICS
The Department of Economics, Ramjas College, University of Delhi, organized the 19th Annual Winter Conference on the 20th and 21st of February, 2021. It consisted of the paper presentation competition and a panel discussion on the theme of Caste and Economics. The theme selected to break the monotonous discussions regarding the plunging of the economy due to COVID and its subsequent post-pandemic recovery. We aimed to redirect the focus of popular discussion on an equally important but often overlooked topic in economics: Social Identity. Discourses around economics are often devoid of any mention of caste; it might even seem absurd to bring caste into an extensively academic subject like Economics. However, caste is present latently, not only in economics but in society as a whole. As a consequence, this topic generated much excitement for both the organizers and the audience.
We commenced the conference with the much-awaited paper presentation competition where some of the brightest undergraduate students from institutions all across the country showcased their analytical and research skills along with their critical thinking on a variety of quite intriguing topics the themes of which ranged from Gender Economics to Environmental and Labor Economics. Their work showed exemplary use of economic theory, empirical analysis and extensive research which made the competition an extremely interesting learning opportunity for all the spectators. The competition was judged by the faculty members of the Economics Department, Ramjas College who were extremely impressed by the exemplary presentations of all the participants. After presenting their research papers, participants had to answer a string of questions put forth by the judges and the audience. The competition was fierce. The best paper was awarded to Monishankar Dutta, Rahul Sinha and Shouryo Bose of St. Xavier's University for their paper titled "Covid-19 Impact on Education, Child Labour and Policy Responses: A Dynamic Model".
The exciting competition was followed by a panel discussion on the topic of Caste and Economics. Caste plays a role at every stage of an Indian's economic life; in school, university, the labour market, and into old age. The influence of caste extends beyond private economic activity and into the public sphere, where caste politics determines access to public resources. The aggregate evidence indicates that there has been convergence in education, occupations, income, and access to public resources across caste groups in the decades after independence. Some of this convergence is likely due to affirmative action but caste-based networks could also have played an equalizing role by exploiting the opportunities that became available in a globalizing economy. In a country like India, nevertheless, the socioeconomic outcomes of individuals are heavily dependent on the caste they belong to.
Empirical data suggest that members of a high caste not only enjoy more wealth and opportunities but also have better health outcomes and economic prosperity than those who belong to the lower caste. With this background, we aimed to delve deeper to understand the salient role that caste plays in Economics and decided to address the lingering taboos and stigmas that revolve around the caste system.
The Panelists for this year's conference were Prof. Ashwini Deshpande of the Department of Economics, Ashoka University and Prof. Surinder Singh Jodhka, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The discussion was moderated by Dr Apoorva Gupta, Department of Economics, Ramjas College.
The panellists aimed to familiarize the audience with the prevalent stigmas around caste-based discussions and tried to inculcate a feeling of sensitivity for those who still faced discrimination on these lines. The attendees actively engaged with the panellists and discussed at length the reservation system in India and affirmative action with its pros and cons. Professor Deshpande explained the need for such a system and why it was still relevant, while Professor Jodhka's talk explained how we as a society could help improve the current system to ensure that we attain equality of opportunity.
It was also mentioned to us that almost every time discussions about caste ended in a debate on the pre-existing caste-based reservation. However, the panel broadened the scope of discussion by bringing suitable insights from economics and sociology. The discussions revolved around the intersections of several identities such as those along the lines of caste and gender and how women of the upper castes and the lower castes were so different but yet subjected to conform to gender norms which entrenched their degraded statuses in their respective ways. The panellists exhorted that we must aim to examine all aspects and not stay oblivious to them as it would provide us with a clear understanding of the functioning of the caste-based systems. The talk was followed by a brief Q-A session where people expressed different opinions and viewpoints on caste. It was an enlightening discussion and an eye-opener for the many people present in the audience.