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Religious Polarization and Under-Supply of Public Goods

Pulkit Bajpai

6. Conclusion

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1I use a panel data and spatial estimation method to establish the causal relationship between religious polarization, measured in the form of religious heterogeneity, and the supply of public goods. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first body of research to study this relationship in the Indian context. I find a reduction of 6.4% in the number of primary schools, 1.1% in the number of middle schools, 0.7% in the number of senior schools, 10.1% in the number of colleges, 1.6% in the number of roads, 0.26% in the number of public toilets, 1% in the number of public taps and 0.84% in the number of public tube wells. However, I do not observe a statistically significant change in the number of secondary schools, electricity supply or public wells. My results corroborate the findings of seminal works on the impact of ethnic heterogeneity such as those by Alesina et al. (1999) and Banerjee and Somanathan (2007), who also find that heterogeneous areas have lower access to public goods.

2I also estimate the heterogeneous effects of the presence of different group sizes for Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. I observe that the larger group size of Christian and Muslim communities results in a lower supply of public goods delivery. Simultaneously, the relationship is positive for Hindu and Sikh communities, due to the social antagonisms biased toward Muslims and Christians in India. These results are driven by collective dislike between religious groups who act collectively against each other and obtain utility from discriminating against the other groups. These groups may also have divergent preferences for public goods, but due to financial and technological constraints, only a few varieties of goods can be provided, resulting in under-supply of public goods in religiously polarized areas.

3I focus extensively on the supply of public goods, relying solely on the quantity of available public goods as a measure. A drawback of my analysis is the absence of information on the quality of public goods supplied. This work’s extension can incorporate richer data to carry out a detailed analysis focusing on the quality of public goods. For example, I can incorporate average student-teacher ratios, student absenteeism at the sub-district level, and integrate it with data from the Census of India.

4Potential solutions to reversing the relationship between religious polarization and public goods delivery rely on making India’s living spaces more inclusive and less segregated toward religious minorities. This would help reduce the role of identity politics and align diverse groups’ preferences more closely by discrediting biases against different religious communities. Measures to address economic, social and cultural discrimination against religious minorities should also be adopted. This would include advancing the rights of Muslims in India, extending recognition of Scheduled Caste status to of all faiths, including lower-caste Christians and lower- caste Muslims and recognizing Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism as distinct religions within the Constitution of India.


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