Mumbai: Indians disadvantaged by class, caste or education, and thus without access to public services or government bodies, often use political institutions and social networks to get their work done and disputes resolved, according to a new study.

To access public services or get official work done (for example, secure water connection, get a below-poverty-line card, manage admission to a hospital or a school), nearly 50% of 16,680 respondents across 22 assembly constituencies in eight states, on average, picked elected representatives in panchayats or municipal wards, according to the study conducted by Azim Premji University (APU) and Lokniti (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

The next most-preferred intermediary was an elder outside the family (10%), followed by government officials (8.5%).

These findings are significant because they indicate whom people from different socio-economic groups, communities and educational levels approach for tasks that require state intervention.

The decision on whom to approach depended on 10 socio-economic factors that included caste, class and education, as per the study. Respondents were given the following choices for intermediaries: Member of parliament (MP), member of legislative assembly (MLA), government official, local political leader, councillor or sarpanch (elected head of village constitutional body), caste leader or elder outside of family.

In Chhattisgarh, four out of five respondents said they would approach the sarpanch or councillor, while 23% in Bihar said that they would rather approach government officials, the study noted.

“In our field research we find that local elected members like the sarpanch or councillor are increasingly becoming important players in resolving issues related to services across states,” said Siddharth Swaminathan, one of the authors of the study.

Government officials (excluding collector and tehsildar) scored only 4.8% in a survey included in the same study, which ranked institutions according to the trust they enjoyed, IndiaSpend reported on July 13, 2018. Political parties ranked last (-1.75%) and government officials were only one level above them. But people showed a strong preference for elected local representatives, the report said.

In general, access to the state oftens required an intermediary in India, said Swaminathan. More educated Indians have better access to individuals in the higher levels of the administration, he added.

Upper caste and college-educated Indians, for instance, preferred approaching MPs by a percentage point more than others, as per the study. They were also more likely to approach MLAs than other categories.

Family preferred for settling disputes

Family was the preferred arbiter of domestic disputes relating to marriage, violence and property. Nearly 37% of Indians preferred to approach their family to settle marital disputes; only 5% said they would go to a court. In the case of domestic violence, nearly 44% said they would settle for family arbitration.

How individuals choose to settle disputes also varied across states. Maharashtra (56%) and Madhya Pradesh (51%), for instance, preferred family intervention the most for marriage disputes; while in Jharkhand only 26% picked the option.

A similar study reported by on January 24, 2018, found that 74% of respondents said they would pick friends and family to settle disputes and 49% said they would opt for village elders or other social/political leaders.

Source:Politics And Society Between Elections, 2018 [Azim Premji University and Lokniti (CSDS)]
Note: Figures are average of responses from eight states

More than 50% of respondents in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan voted to seek help from family in case of domestic violence. Only 15% said they would approach the police, which ranked third in preference, after neighbourhood.

Crimes against women increased 34% over the last four years to 2015, with cruelty by husbands and relatives being the most widely reported crime, IndiaSpend reported on September 6, 2016.

Nearly 30% of respondents in Telangana and 25% in Andhra Pradesh (AP) preferred to approach the police with crimes against women. In MP, Rajasthan and Bihar, the number of those who would approach the police was negligible. Courts were the least preferred option.

Police as an institution received 5.7% average “effective trust”, third from the bottom of a list of 16 elected and non-elected institutions, IndiaSpend reported on July 13, 2018.

The results did not show much difference in terms of the gender of the respondent but women seem more likely to approach families than men who prefer other social networks or the police, the report noted.

Caste and class matter

Among the seven caste communities listed in the study, nearly 50% said they would approach the sarpanch or the councillor to get important work done with variations based on class and caste-related factors.

However, upper caste Hindu (40%) and Muslim (37%) respondents preferred this option the least. But Muslims and adivasis preferred religious or caste leaders while upper-caste Hindus said they would directly approach government officials.

Source:Politics And Society Between Elections, 2018 [Azim Premji University and Lokniti (CSDS)]

Upper-caste Hindus fear the police the least, are most likely to have a favorable opinion of them and are least likely to be contacted by them, IndiaSpend reported on June 11, 2018.

Similarly, 38% of the respondents each from upper class and urban areas prefered approaching the sarpanch or the councillor. They recorded the least preference for this option in economic class and region (urban and rural) category.

Source:Politics And Society Between Elections, 2018 [Azim Premji University and Lokniti (CSDS)]

(Paliath is an analyst at IndiaSpend.)

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