Caste Exclusion and Health Discrimination in South Asia: A Systematic Review

Asia Pac J Public Health. 2021 Nov;33(8):828-838. doi: 10.1177/10105395211014648. Epub 2021 May 24.


The caste system is social stratification system that has been used over the last 3 millennia. This review aims to investigate caste-based inequity in health care utilization in South Asia, particularly focusing those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, commonly known as Dalit communities. A systematic methodology was followed; key databases (including CINAHL, Medline, SocINDEX, PubMed, Nepjol, JSTOR, and ASSIA) were searched for relevant articles published before October 2019, using comprehensive search strategy in accordance with the PRISMA guidelines. In total 15,109 papers were found, and from these, nine selected papers were included in the review. The papers focused on studies in both India (n = 7) and Nepal (n = 2) and utilized a range of methods including qualitative (n = 2), quantitative (n = 3), and mixed methods (n = 4) approaches. The review identified four main themes: stigma, poverty, cultures and beliefs, and health care. Caste-based inequity impacts upon all aspects of an individual's well-being including violence and everyday life risks. Caste also impacts upon individuals' opportunities to access education, employment, and health care. Dalits appear to experience this more significantly due to both poverty and their caste status, which increases their vulnerability to health risks.

Keywords: Asia; Dalits; caste; health access; health equity; health utilization; social exclusion.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Humans
  • India
  • Poverty*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Stigma