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SELLADURAI, Manjubarkavi
Occupational divisions in any country are understood largely as change in the activities of the members
in a given society and the way to earn their livelihood. Mostly, the change is observed in terms of changes
in the distribution activities in relation to socio-economic structure of the society. India was a traditional
caste-based Hindu society, and a person who is born into a particular caste cannot easily escape from
its prescribed values including occupational activities. Its hierarchical nature reveals its rigid values
attached and hence change should also be understood in terms of socio-cultural aspects and not merely
socio-economic. In the caste hierarchy, the groups of people commonly known today as Dalits occupy
the lowest rung. The point of departure of this paper is the caste affirmation and its ramifications on a
traditional Dalit community that has been protesting against its nomenclature and trying to revive its lost
identity through its traditional occupation. This affirmation in turn is expected to lead to a shift in the socio-
political relationships of the community with the other dominant communities in the social hierarchy. In
India, occupational changes are taking place more widely than statistical changes and emerging with an
alternative social movement. The paper empirically validates the emerging alternative collective social
movement of a community; authenticate its social status through traditional occupation, knowledge
system and its resistance to State nomenclature.
Keywords: Traditional occupation. Contemporary changes. Community nomenclature Identity. Social
Kwat (2019) states that occupations can be broadly classified into three categories,
namely, primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary occupations include all those essential
and sustainable acts such as agriculture and allied activities like animal husbandry,
forestry, fishery, and poultry farming. Secondary activities include both large- and small-
scale manufacturing industries and mining. Tertiary activities include all other activities like
transport, communication, banking, insurance, and trade. The occupational structure
indicates the distribution as well as absorption of population into these three classified
types of occupations. Similarly, tertiary occupations are also considered as important, as
these have huge employment potential. In developed countries, the absorption capacity
of this sector is very high. According to ILO (2020), Indias employment in agriculture is
about 42.4% and the dimension of work, employment and vulnerability has been taken
for base categorization. On the other hand, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 9.2
promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, it is expected that there
will be a significant increase in industry's contribution toward employment and Gross
Domestic Product (GDP), in line with national conditions, and double its share in the Least
Development Countries (LDC).
Based on the occupational distribution of India, from early 1901 to 1951, agriculture
seemed to have occupied the dominant position and its absorption capacity had
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increased marginally from 66.9% in 1901 to 69.7% during 1951. Agricultural labourers in
the total labour force increased from 17% in 1901 to nearly 20% during 1951. The
percentage of population engaged in other allied activities like forestry, livestock, and
fishery declined from 4.3% in 1901 to only 2.3% of the total workforce in 1951. Further,
from 1951 to 2000, which marks the post-independence period, there was a shift in the
occupational structure of the working force from agriculture to secondary and tertiary
sectors, such as industrialisation, and this plays a major role in regulating the growth rate
of Indian economy. The highest recorded change occurred from 1975 to 1976, particularly
with the agricultural labour force, which accounted for 60% or so.
Indias diverse traditional occupational variation encompasses occupational models such
as traditional village farming, modern agriculture, handicrafts, a wide range of modern
industries, and a multitude of services. Slightly less than half of the workforce is related to
agriculture, and services are the major source of economic growth, accounting for nearly
two-thirds of India's output but employing less than one-third of its labor force. Similarly,
another aspect of occupational division in India is widely spread such as primary,
secondary, and tertiary with respect to labour force analysis that shares primary sectors
as well as service sector in an increasing manner. The primary occupation is categorised
as comprising of cultivators, agricultural labourers and livestock, forestry, and fishing; the
secondary sector comprises mining and quarrying, manufacturing and construction; and
tertiary sector includes trade and commerce, transport, storage, communication and other
Mehta (2020) points out that the statistics report on occupational distribution in India during
19012000 emphasizes that the primary occupation constituted 71.8 % in 1901; 72.1%
in 1951; 71.8% in 1961; 72.1% in 1971; 68.2% in 1981; 66.8% in 1991; 56.7% in 2000.
In the secondary occupational category, labour force was 12.6% in 1901; 17.3% in 1951;
12.2% in 1961; 11.2% in 1971; 13.5% in 1981; 12.7% in 1991; 17.5% in 2000. Finally,
tertiary occupational division was 15.6% in 1901; 17.3% in 1951; 16% in 1961; 16.7% in
1971; 17.7% in 1981; 20.5% in 1991; 20.8% in 2000.
The occupational impetus in India suffers from a constant stagnancy in terms of the ratio
of labour force employed in secondary and tertiary sectors. A total of 27.9% of the labour
force was employed in secondary and tertiary sectors till 1971. In 1951, 10.7% of the
labour force was engaged in the industrial sector which slightly increased to 12.7% in
1991. The National Sample Survey (NSS) estimate shows during 19992000, 17.5% of
total labour was engaged in the secondary sector. In the second five-year plan, huge
investments were made to industrialise the economy. This has had a small impact on the
occupational structure of the country.
Further, according to Karmel and MacLachlans Index (20012011), the Indian
occupational groups are divided into four major categories, namely, Cultivators,
Agricultural labourers, Household Industrial Workers and Other Workers. The figure that
represents them during 2001 is as follows: (Cultivators 03.5%; Agricultural labourers
03.79%; Household Industrial Workers 00.73% and Other Workers 05.15%).
Similarly, according to 2011 data, the representational figures are as follows: Cultivators
02.44%; Agricultural Labourers 04.55%; Household Industrial Workers 00.59% and
Other Workers 04.11%. The outcome of percentage point decline was affected,
whereas among household industrial workers the decline was only 0.14 percentage point.
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This low decline is due to the already low segregation in 2001 itself. Through the
analyses, it is to be noted that there is less diversity in the distribution of occupational
categories among the states of India (Prasad and Pratap, 2017). Duncan Index of
Dissimilarity analysis compared the occupational gender segregation and represents
(32.23) in 2001 and in 2011 (39.79).
Table 01 Workforce participation rates of gender segregation
Nation and State
Tamil Nadu
Source: Census of India, 2001 and 2011.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) conducted by National Sample
Survey Office (NSSO) during July 2017 to June 2018, the male workers in rural areas
constituted 9.1% and female workers 8.7% in the following occupational divisions:
Division 1: Legislators, Senior officials and Managers, Division 2: Professionals and
Division 3: Technicians and Associate professionals. In urban areas, 30.4% of the male
workers and 34.6% of the female workers were engaged in the following occupation
divisions: Division 1: Legislators, senior officials and managers, Division 2: Professionals
and Division 3: Technicians and associate professionals. NSSO introduced the
household type in their survey, which was based on the sources of household's income
during the year preceding the date of survey. Only the household's income (net income
and not gross income) from economic activities was considered accordingly but the
incomes of servants and paying guests were not taken into account. In rural areas, a
household occupation division belonged to any one of the following six household types:
1. Self-employed in agriculture, 2. Self-employed in non-agriculture, 3. Regular
wage/salary earning, 4. Casual labour in agriculture, 5. Casual labour in non-agriculture,
and 6. Others. In urban areas, the household types are as follows: 1. Self-employed, 2.
Regular wage/salary earning, 3. Casual labour and 4. Others. According to NSSO (2011
2012), Indias occupational categories are classified as rural and urban. Both rural and
urban populations have similar occupational divisions, namely Self-employed, Regular
wage/ Salaried Employee and Casual Labour and all these workforces comprise of men
and women equally.
Desai (1971) analyses the combined effect of all the occupational changes that compare
the social groups of the traditional society both in urban and rural areas. The comparison
relatively changes the traditional social or functional relations between the communities
that are hierarchically placed in the social structure of Indian society. The emerging
occupational changes become problematic when it comes to the question ofdivision of
labour that is based on sex and the other old stratificatory system based on caste, family
and village community.
Every region of India has its own cultural context relying on caste marks or the community
symbols and the existing caste theories constructed mostly on the mythological
interpretations. Thus, it becomes a point of review for the researchers to study the socio-
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cultural, economic, and political structures of the Indian society and it is taken for granted
that the caste stratification principles include occupational ethics along with the concept of
purity and pollution. The most common theory was that the caste system is believed to
have evolved out of the conquest of Aryan or Indo-European invaders on the Dravidians
while at the same time absorbing some of their proto-caste hierarchies, namely
Aristocracy and Slavery. In the middle of the first millennium BC, caste inequalities were
clearly institutionalized by the academicians, and were entered into the governmental
documents by Risley and others, and legitimised constitutionally, along with the rise of
Brahmanaic Hinduism. It continued with the formalisation of the law of Manu and its
interpretations justified the principles and practises of discrimination against Sudra, the
service communities, and Avarna, the communities, who were involved in menial jobs,
polluting in nature and the subjugation of women well intertwined.
The four major caste formations in India ramify into an enormous number of sub-divisions.
The basic caste-based division was based on Varna or colours; sub-caste or Jati are the
sub-divisions of the Varna. The most crucial criteria of caste principles were believed to
be based on occupation, namely the Brahmin or priestly caste, Kshatriya or warrior caste,
Vaishya or merchants and traders, Sudra or the service communities. Avarnas do not fall
within the caste structure and are believed to be born out of the sweat of Lord Brahma,
caused by exhaustion of creating human beings. Traditionally, physical touch with such
communities was considered as polluting and if and when one touches a person beneath
their caste status, elaborate purification rituals were followed before contact with one’s
own caste could be re-established. Such discriminatory practices were part of the
systematic social ranking and created institutional structures justifying unequal access to
valued resources like education, occupations, wealth, income, power, and prestige. The
Indian Caste System is considered as a closed system of stratification, which means that
a person’s social status is obligated to which caste they were born into. There are limits
on interaction and behaviour with people from another social status (Deshpande & Kerbo,
Post Indias independence, there has been considerable relaxation of rules related to the
caste system. There was also a significant change in occupational goals and pursuits
especially among men from 1954 to 1992. Earlier, most men were dedicated to their
traditional caste-related jobs, but by 1992, most had taken up newer occupations utilizing
special privileges that were constitutionally determined to the subjugated communities.
Special privileges provided opportunities in education, employment and political
participation. In spite of the changing patterns in the above three sectors, at the ground
level, caste-based prejudice and ranking still exist.
The post-independent India, however, shows that constitutional measures meant to end
caste oppression and the division of caste system and its hierarchical order remain caste
oppressive in different forms. For example, caste distribution of persons employed within
each occupation divisions becomes the same as that of the society as a whole. Caste
oppression has not ended through economic change, as the caste identity, and its
associated occupational division of labour in everyday activities has been established as
a structural necessary condition of the Indian society.
Desai (1971) highlighted the social dynamics associated with landholding pattern and
caste system. India's main occupation was agriculture. Agriculture was an open
occupation in the sense that anybody irrespective of his caste or religion could get into it.
But their differences existed as between owning the land and tilling it. The Brahmin, even
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the poor one, though he owned the land did not till it due to a religious belief attached to
his caste or "varna" position. The other Dwija castes without the religious belief did not till
the land but owned it. They either got it tilled through other labourers or rented it out to
others. People belonging to other castes owned their land and tilled it themselves and
also took other's land to till, in addition to their own. Some others tilled the lands that were
taken on rent basis only. Others never possessed or rented land but only tilled it as
labourers. So, the preordained beliefs associated with landholding pattern and getting into
the occupation of agriculture is determined by caste.
The occupational roles of village artisans such as Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Potters,
Tailors and Barbers were caste determined and the skills were acquired and transferred
across generations across the workbench. With respect to the above-mentioned
professions, the occupational relationships were known as Jajmani relationships.
Weaving of cloth was a caste inherited occupation and it was done largely in the home of
the weaver. But the raw materials were supplied by the trader and the cloth was owned
and sold by him. Therefore, the nature of relationship between an agricultural labour and
the owner of land or between a weaver and the trader included the remuneration of labour
and was governed by traditional and customary practices.
The labourer and his labour were not separated to the degree to which it is separated
today. Labour was not a commodity that was sold and bought and there was no labour
market nor labour force as there is in contemporary India. There is a big change in
occupational relations and occupational structure in terms of the way in which human
labour is disposed in contemporary Indian society. Thus, the type of activity that would be
allotted to an individual was largely determined by his birth in a family and caste (Desai,
The relation between occupation and caste can be broken and yet the overlap of caste
and class can be very strong. If this is true, then the contemporary situation could be
regarded as a permutation of an earlier caste structure where the link between caste and
occupation may be strong for some castes, weak for others, but the association between
caste and status or more correctly between caste and privilege persists, albeit in a
different form. It can even be argued that the cumulative advantage of the upper castes
has been so strong that they no longer need an institutional structure of hereditary
reservation in order to perpetuate their privilege. The Constitution of India through its
reservation policies protects and supports the rights of communities who have been
denied opportunities through the systemic practise of untouchability and also as a result
of granting special privileges to historically discriminated communities. The ground reality
in terms of the division of labour still lingers over historical deprivation of rights and labour
choices for underprivileged communities.
The practice of Positive Discrimination started in India under specific socio-historic
conditions. At the bottom of the caste hierarchy, the untouchable communities are found
with the lowest ritual standing and economic position. They were subjected to several
social participatory exclusions. They have also borne the brunt of several civic disabilities
over a long period of time and often were victims of caste-based discrimination and
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There were several attempts to overcome these historical injustices starting with the
British Period. That was the starting point for the practice and integration of Positive
Discrimination methods in administrative policies. This is popularly perceived as
reservation policy reflecting the changing nature of the Indian polity, economy, and society
as a whole. In India, the policy usually refers to provisioning of special treatment; special
concessions, privileges, and preferential treatment for certain historically deprived social
groups. The term Positive discrimination” was first used by Aexand Rowiez in 1957.
Galenter (1984) prefers the use of Compensatory discrimination for purposes of his
research and feels it is appropriate for the Indian situation. Thus, it is clearly seen that the
aim of this Policy is to constitutionally provide reservation in education, employment and
political office. Scholars have taken efforts to understand the issue linking the relevant
variables and caste proved to be the most crucial underlying impetus for all.
Seth (1999) and Shah (2007; 2002) attempt to capture the contemporary scenario of
caste and occupations. Kumar (2002a) tries to map occupational mobility across two
generations and attempts to investigate the patterns of