2023 in a blink: How did PM Modi’s biggest 4 ‘castes’ — poor, youth, women and farmers — fare this year

PM Modi first made the statement on November 30, 2023 during Opposition calls for nationwide caste census

By Shagun
Published: Thursday 28 December 2023
Photo: iStock

On December 25, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated that the four biggest castes for him were: poor, youth, women and farmers and that he had made it his priority to ensure dignity and respect for the deprived. 

He had first made a similar statement on November 30, 2023, amid the Opposition’s call to conduct a nationwide caste census.

As 2023 draws to a close, let’s see how these four “castes” have fared. 


India has more than 230 million people who are poor. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in July, 2023, some 415 million Indians escaped poverty between 2005-06 and 2019-21. 

But some 18.7 per cent of the population was ‘vulnerable’ to multidimensional poverty. The UNDP defines this as the share of people who are not poor but have deprivations in 20-33.3 per cent of all weighted indicators. 

It also said cooking fuel, housing and nutrition were the three biggest areas of deprivation among Indians. An estimated 13.9 per cent, 13.6 per cent and 11.8 per cent of Indians were classified as deprived on these three metrics, respectively. 

Moreover, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy data released last month showed that India’s unemployment rate climbed to the highest in more than two years in October as joblessness in rural areas increased. 

In November, the National Sample Survey Office released the Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2022-23, according to which unemployment decreased in the country from 5.3 per cent in rural areas in 2017-18 to 2.4 per cent in 2022-23 and from 7.7 per cent in urban areas in 2017-18 to 5.4 per cent in 2022-23. 

But one striking feature was the increase in the share of self-employed persons in the total employed population — from 52 per cent in 2018-19 to 57 per cent in 2022-23. 

The definition of self-employment is wide: It ranges from a tea stall to working on a farm, helpers in household enterprises, practicing medicine and also includes unpaid work undertaken in one’s own economic activities. A high level of self-employment is an indicator that there are no other alternatives; the people, therefore, stick to these non-rewarding jobs and usually countries with low per capita income have higher self-employed populations. 


In September this year, the Women’s Reservation Bill, also known as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, which seeks to reserve one-third of the total number of seats in the state legislative assemblies and Lok Sabha for women, was passed with near-unanimous support. It was passed with the aim of bringing gender parity to politics. 

While it is known that its implementation is linked with delimitation and not likely to happen anytime soon, the recently concluded assembly elections in five states doesn’t inspire much confidence. According to think tank PRS Legislative Research, the strength of women MLAs in the newly elected assemblies remains much below the one-third mark. 

This year, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index placed India at 135 rank out of 146 countries. While this was an improvement by 1.4 percentage points and eight positions since the last edition, the report also underlined that India has reached only 36.7 per cent parity on economic participation and opportunity.

Meanwhile, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reports reminded of other grim figures as far as crimes against women are concerned. According to the report, crimes against women rose by four per cent in 2022, as compared with 2021, with a staggering over 4.45 lakh such crimes being registered. 

A majority of these were categorised as ‘cruelty by husbands or his relatives’, kidnapping and abduction, assault with intent to outrage modesty and rape. Moreover, 12 states and Union territories recorded crime rates higher than the national average.


This year has not been kind to farmers. The southwest monsoon was ‘below normal’, and erratic, which impacted the yields of Kharif crops in many parts of the country. States like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Jharkhand are still reeling under drought and drought like conditions. 

In many other areas, farmers lost their standing crops to excess and untimely rain, leading to a huge blow to their incomes. Meanwhile, recurring losses due to the pink bollworm pest on the BT cotton crop in north India compounded farmers’ distress

The NCRB data released on December 4, 2023 revealed that deaths by suicide of those involved in farming continued to increase. The figures indicate that at least one farmer died by suicide every hour in India. 

Some 11,290 such suicide cases were reported from across the country last year. This is an increase of 3.7 per cent from 2021, when 10,281 deaths were reported. It is an increase of 5.7 per cent when compared with 2020 figures. 

Another emerging and worrying trend from the NCRB data was that deaths by suicide of agricultural labourers — those depending on daily wages from farming activities — was higher than farmers / cultivators. Among the 11,290 persons engaged in farming, at least 53 per cent (6,083) of those who died by suicide were agricultural labourers. 

This is significant because over the years, the dependence of an average agricultural household for its income has been increasing on wages from farming rather than crop production.


Nearly 36 per cent Indians in the 15-34 year age group believe unemployment is the biggest problem in the country, a survey by research institute Lokniti-CSDS released in August 2023, found. The survey, conducted in 18 states with a sample size of 9,316 respondents, also found that 16 per cent Indians think the biggest problem is poverty, 13 per cent think it is inflation, 6 per cent think it is corruption, while 4 per cent identified problems in education and high population. 

World Bank data released in September 2023 corroborated the same about youth unemployment. The youth unemployment rate in India was at 23.2 per cent, higher than its neighbours Pakistan (11.3 per cent), Bangladesh (12.9 per cent), and Bhutan (14.4 per cent), in 2022. Although the youth unemployment rate in India dropped from 23.9 per cent in 2021, it is still marginally higher than the 22.9 per cent recorded in the pre-COVID year of 2019. 

The unemployment rate in China stood at 13.2 per cent, Syria 22.1 per cent, Indonesia 13 per cent, Malaysia 11.7 per cent, Vietnam 7.4 per cent, South Korea 6.9 per cent and Singapore 6.1 per cent. The youth unemployment rate refers to those in the workforce who are aged 15 to 24 years and without a job, but actively seeking one.

Meanwhile, Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment released its The State of Working India 2023 study on September 20, 2023. It found that unemployment among graduates under the age of 25 was the highest at 42.3 per cent in 2021-2022 even as the overall rate of joblessness stood at 8.7 per cent.

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