Political Quota, NGO Initiative and a Marginalized Community: Village Council Leadership and Dalit Empowerment in Rural India
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Political representation quotas are often expected to increase marginalized groups' participation in the political process, create socio-economic well-being, and eventually empower the underrepresented minority. There is mixed evidence, however, about the effectiveness of quotas in promoting these results, especially when it comes to minority empowerment. This project investigates the political, economic, and social effects of Dalits (also known as "untouchables") caste quotas within village councils. This study argues that the extent to which Dalits are empowered to advance their socio-economic and political status depends not only upon whether they are represented through official quotas, but also on community engagement through local non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Specifically, the project investigates how the official representation quotas and NGOs' communal engagement reinforce each other in empowering marginalized communities. It argues that formal representation effectively empowers marginalized groups only when combined with minority civic education, information flows, and collective action--conditions enabled by active local NGOs. The project utilizes the "natural experiment" settings in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where official quotas currently exist in some (but not all ) villages, for village councils. By conducting a public opinion survey among Dalits in villages with--and without--representation quotas, this research is able to evaluate the effects of state- and community-level actions aimed at minority empowerment. The empirical results generally support the argument that formal representation is more valuable for a marginalized group when the local NGOs enable the condition of effective community engagements in the political process.