Caste-away: Caste-based Residential Segregation and the Case of Bengaluru


Caste is an unwritten compendium of rigid social structures that includes a network of hierarchies, segmentation and segregation (Ghurye 1969 in Bharathi et al 2019). It is beyond a social evil in India— it is a state of mind and a way of life. Spatial segregation and discrimination have been basic aspects of the caste system in this regard (Desai 1994 in Bharathi et al 2019). 

While ecological segregation in one form or another is universal, the pattern of segregation varies from place to place and is contingent on the broader political, economic and technological changes of the specific place (Gist 1957). A citizen’s access to rights in India is very often determined by their caste. This has a bearing on their socio-economic outcomes like education, health, type of employment and electoral politics (Beteille 1997). The most basic manifestation of caste in this regard is residential segregation. 

Early Indian Nationalist leaders like Dr. Ambedkar believed urbanisation was a solution to escape the appalling consequences of caste discrimination. The assumption was that social status in urban areas was marked by class factors- income, wealth, and education- rather than caste- urban spaces were thought to facilitate the dissolution of caste-hierarchies (Bharathi et al 2019).

Normative assumptions and implications

Scholarly literature since the 1950s has sought to analyse the heterogeneity along social dimensions within cities. They have predominantly relied on population enumeration data from census or other city-specific surveys to arrive at their findings (Balakrishnan 2016). However, it is only in recent times that the scholarship around the relationship between caste in urban areas and segregation is gaining traction. In a longitudinal study[1] undertaken to analyse residential segregation by caste over time in urban India, it was observed that despite high levels of urbanisation, nearly 60% of the cities included in study, the level of residential segregation on caste-lines either remained stagnant or worsened over time[2]. Caste-based social inequality in India is durable despite occupational, economic and even political mobility. (Singh et al 2019). Spatial separation gives rise to socio-economically restrained communities and sustains categorical inequality (Van Eijk, 2010 in Roy et al 2018). As of 2011, the total urban population of India stood at 377 million (Balakrishnan 2019). This is expected to more than double by 2050. The nuances of the social make-up of a city must be grappled with if one is to work towards building equitable and sustainable cities. 

Through the course of this essay, I shall attempt to specifically examine the caste-based residential segregation in the city of Bengaluru. Bengaluru’s unique terrain and developmental trajectory along with the social factors operating within the city have lent to its distinctive patterning (Gist 1957). Bengaluru’s ‘enclaved development [3]’ holds within it a caste element that cannot be overlooked. 

Caste-based residential segregation in Bengaluru

Historical context
The initial division during the colonial period— the old city of Bengaluru and the Cantonment area—influenced much of the spatial composition of Bengaluru. The erstwhile cantonment-side centre of the city is dominated by Anglo-Indians (Cantonment and Central Business District), Indian Christians (Austin Town, Benson Town) and Muslims (Russel Market, Commercial Street) (Gist 1957). The original municipality of Bengaluru is divided along caste lines— the western part of the city is dominated by Brahmins (Malleshwaram, as well as areas like Basavanagudi and Chamarajpet.) Dasarahalli and Peenya are home to predominantly SC migrant labourers; who lie in the periphery of the city (Balakrishnan 2016). The post-1990 IT revolution has also impacted the spatial landscape of the city. It has led to high-rise buildings and ‘tech-hotspot’ areas like Whitefield. High-rise buildings are notable as they mask intra-ward level inequalities, thus proving to be a challenge in understanding residential segregation. It is also noteworthy to consider urban slums in Bengaluru. They are heterogeneous and there is a high level of social segregation within them as well (Roy et al 2018).

Segregation is driven by both upper and marginalised castes, albeit with very different consequences vis-à-vis their access to socio-political-economic goods and services. These complex and enmeshing realities make matters of urban governance, provision of public services and social mobility an uphill task.

Understanding the Data
While urbanisation has helped in breaking caste barriers to some extent in the urban public spaces, it very much operates in the private sphere. This is evident from individual decisions on choices of leasing, renting or buying houses (Vithayathil et al 2018). The Gini Index shows Bengaluru as highly unequal. Two studies were useful in giving a snapshot of the extent of caste-based residential segregation in the city. In this paper, I shall analyse their findings and discuss their implications for the developmental trajectory of the city.
In ‘The Sub-cities of Bengaluru: Understanding urban heterogeneity through empirical typologies’ Balakrishnan and Anand (2015) use housing and population data at ward level from the 2011 Census to construct sub-city typologies for the city. They identified nine variables from the Census to represent three broad classes of attributes— housing conditions, availability of amenities and socio-economic status. They categorise this based on the quality of housing conditions, access to infrastructural amenities (primarily water and sanitation) and socioeconomic status (caste, income, education levels). Based on analysis of this data they arrived at four typologies of sub-cities in Bengaluru: High Socio-economic (SE) Town, Average town, Low infra worker town and Low SE town.

They represent their findings on a ward-map of Bengaluru providing a snapshot of the inequalities prevailing in the city. The spatial dimensions operating in the city have clear developmental implications. The High SE towns are mostly situated in the centre of the city. While there are some Low SE and Average towns near the High SE towns, they are mostly located away from the centre. The Low-Infra Worker towns are situated at the periphery of the city, presumably as they account for the migrant labour population, mainly from SC communities. This is reminiscent of Wallerstein’s core-periphery theory (Sorinel 2010). While the workers at the periphery contribute to the enrichment of the core, they do not enjoy the fruits of their labour. However, it is important to note that ward-level data, while useful, only provides a general view and fails to account for important intra-ward differences.

In this regard the study ‘Village in the City: Residential Segregation in Urbanizing India’ by Bharathi, Malghan and Rahman (2019) is useful. They contend that intra-ward segregation is a driving force of the ghettoization of the most spatially marginalised groups in cities. Through detailed household-level caste data at the block level, they use residential segregation as an indicator to study whether urbanisation weakens caste structures. Intra-ward segregation is especially prevalent in marginalised social groups. Older areas exhibit trends of segregation perhaps due to urban planning where caste-segregation was inculcated. In newer areas, segregation is subtle. Only a few sections enjoy the benefits of Bengaluru’s economic growth. It is only these classes and castes that can afford housing in newer areas. Muslim communities are the most segregated, followed by the SC community. They live in significantly homogenous neighbourhoods than upper-caste Hindu households. Spatial segregation is largely independent of the level of urbanisation— this challenges the very root of the normative assumption that there is a negative correlation between levels of spatial segregation and urbanisation. It is clear from their analysis that both “inter-ward” and “intra-ward” levels of segregation data must be collated for more focused policymaking on housing, provision of public resources to attempt to dilute the extent of residential segregation.

In lieu of a Conclusion
The scope of this essay is exploratory and thus limited to the assumptions and underlying facts of caste-based residential segregation in Bengaluru. However, the influence of caste-based politics operating in a city ecosystem, even at the ward-level is something one must be mindful of while analysing factors affecting segregation and in the scheme of urban policy and governance. There is no easy solution when it comes to eradicating entrenched caste-based residential segregation. It is left to be seen if provision of basic amenities will result in any form of equality, thus dissolving the existing trends of spatial segregation.

[1] From 2001 to 2011. Decennial census was analysed
[2] From 2001 to 2011. Decennial census was analysed
[3] The 1990s ushered in the era of Information Technology and IT-enabled services industries in Bangalore. The prevalent industrial and technical culture of the city was a big plus. Work, play and leisure were redefined. A new urbanism emerged, different from all its previous forms. Planning here responded to “implosion-explosion”. With the IT boom, the formless urban sprawl expanded. Urban concentration, rural exodus, extension of the urban fabric characterised this period. The influx of skilled migrant labour due to the IT boom resulted in yet another problem: a demographic reconfiguration. While Bangalore had always had a cosmopolitan outlook, the enclaved form of development had ensured that every socio-economic-religious group had its own corner of the city.


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