The Indian Institution of Dalit Studies (IIDS) was established in January 2003 by a group of social activists and academicians. IIDS has covered a long distance since then. We recognised that there was a visible gap in the knowledge on the problems of excluded communities in India, particularly the Dalits, De-notified and nomadic tribes, other backward castes, religious minorities, Dalit women, and women from minorities. We saw a big knowledge gap, which brings debates without evidence, and induces stereotypes and prejudices against the problems of excluded groups. It is this neglect and gap that motivated some of us, to set up this Institute. There were massive challenges in the pursuance of the research. The research of IIDS came in stages. Initial efforts were made to understand the status of Dalits. Later the status studies were extended to other groups like Adivasis, de-notified tribes, religious minorities, and differently-abled persons.
Simultaneously, the research was undertaken on one of the most neglected themes, namely, economic discrimination: market and non-market. The market discrimination also included discrimination faced by the untouchable farmers in input and output exchange. Equally new is the contribution on research in non-market institutions. In the first round, it included research on caste discrimination in schools, primary health centers, and public distribution system. This was extended to discrimination in various government schemes related to health, nutrition, and public employment. Thus the caste discrimination in markets, such as employment, input and output, discrimination in non- market institutions and government schemes revealed for the first time the nature of discrimination and differential access faced particularly by the Dalits.
The studies on discrimination also throw lights on the consequences of discrimination which results in reduced access of Dalits not only to market such as employment, but also to public services like education, health, food, nutrition, and public employment. The economic discrimination, in fact, provided new insights on the reasons for the persistence gap between the excluded groups, particularly the Dalits and the rest on indicators of human development. The empirical evidence on the economic discrimination and their consequences was indeed a new contribution of the Institute’s research, which unfolded the causes for inter-group disparities and gaps between excluded groups of Dalits and the rest.
The research had policy implications. The policy research is one area in which the Institute has made significant contributions. IIDS research had significant impact, direct and indirect, on the policies of the government. What is more important is that some policy research has led to a few policy initiatives on the part of the government, which resulted in actual policy formulation.
Equally important is the knowledge support which IIDS extended on the problems of excluded groups, particularly related to discrimination to civil society organisations which are engaged at the grassroots level. IIDS also helped to enhance the research capabilities of the researchers to undertake research on the issues of excluded groups and social exclusion. The Institute has been organising methodology workshops for the researchers in 32 Centres for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, and several Ambedkar Research Centres for a number of years. IIDS has also initiated Ambedkar Summer School for the young scholars working on the issues of exclusion, discrimination and inclusive policy. This week-long residential has created a cohorts of young scholars who are emerging as future scholars.
By undertaking research on the relevant but neglected issues like the concept of social exclusion, on application of concept and methods to empirical research, IIDS has in fact opened up ways for further research particularly on the economic discrimination experienced by the excluded groups. This new body of research influenced the research agenda in universities and research institutes, on which more and more research is now being undertaken on the excluded groups and the group-specific policies.
The Institute has come a long way and served the cause of the excluded and marginalised groups for the last Fourteen years. I am sure it will continue to do so in future.