Proclaiming the Indian village to be a ‘sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism’, the economist-turned-lawyer and the architect of the Indian constitution, B.R. Ambedkar famously exhorted Dalits to move away from villages practicing residential segregation to the anonymity of cities.
Seven decades after India’s independence, Ambedkar’s great dream of cities as equal spaces for citizens still remains a distant dream. Ward-level census data from India’s six largest cities show that all of them have extremely segregated residential patterns, with marginalized groups — Dalits or scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs) — largely relegated to a few clusters in these cities.
According to the census, SCs and STs collectively form only 11.25% of the population of the six biggest cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru — much below the share of SCs and STs in the country’s population at 25.6%.
Of these cities, only in three, the share of SC/ST population exceeds 10%— Chennai (17%), Delhi (16%), and Bengaluru (13%). And in all three, a large proportion of SCs and STs are clustered in wards neighbouring railway lines, suggesting that many of them could be living in slums and lack access to civic amenities. In two of the three cities — Delhi and Chennai — a large share of the SC/STs are clustered in a few high-concentration wards.