30 July, 2015

Dalits, Capitalism and Caste

For long, India has been the cauldron of casteism, synonymous with sectarian injustice directed at a segment of the community deemed “untouchables”, better known today as Dalits. Traditionally occupying the bottom rungs of the caste hierarchy, the Dalits were inflicted with all sorts of indignities and sufferings by the upper castes, their occupation solely dealing with the filthiest of tasks- toilet cleaning and cremating the dead.
Despite attaining Independence in 1947, and the Constitution providing for reservations for Dalits in legislatures, government jobs and education, leading to the emancipation of few of the oppressed, the vast social divide continued. This deprived them of access to resources in almost every sphere of civic, economic and political life.
The opening up of the Indian markets in 1991 after liberal economic reforms were initiated was perhaps a watershed moment for the Dalits, who now had an opportunity to overcome traditional barriers and explore other occupations. With the abolition of the license–permit system, they now entered businesses prohibited previously, ending the monopoly of the upper castes over resources and over knowledge.
Today, there are millions of Dalits running their own businesses, with a few thousand of them having successfully emerged as millionaires. Milind Kamble, Chairman of DICCI attributes this change to Capitalism, stating that while the Dalits remained in rural areas, they were unable to overcome the socio-cultural hegemony of the upper castes. With them joining the modern markets undergoing globalization, in which price and not the caste of a supplier mattered most, the Dalits were able to overthrow the caste monopoly over business.
On the lines of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), over 3000 Dalit businessmen have come together to create the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), signaling  a social transformation, with the Dalits as job-providers rather than job seekers.
A report published by Cato Institute attributes this ‘Dalit Revolution’ to the emergence of competitive markets, bringing in its wake ‘creative destruction’ of centuries old caste boundaries, stagnating their community.
The report mentions a study by Columbia University with the following results recorded after initiation of economic liberalization:
  • Between 2005-2011, the all-India poverty ratio declined by 15.7 percentage points(pp), but the poverty ratio of Dalits declined by 21.5pp, while that of scheduled tribes fell by 17.0 pp, with GDP growth rate averaging 8.5 percent per year.
  • Also in the decade between 1993–94 and 2004–05, Dalit poverty declined by 9.6 pp against all-India decline of 8.0, with GDP growth slightly more than 6 percent per year.
In their research paper -“Rethinking Inequality: Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era,”  Devesh Kapur, Lant Pritchett, and two Dalit economists, Chandra Bhan Prasad and D Shyam Babu, have aimed at measuring the social and economic progress of Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.
A survey which sought to cover every single Dalit household in the two sub districts – one in the relatively prosperous Khurja district in western part of the state and the other sub district was in Bilariaganj district, in the backward eastern part of the state showed the following results by way of material improvements in their lives from 1990-2008:

(The numbers expressed are as percentage of the Dalit population in the sub-districts surveyed)
Chandra Bhan Prasad, mentor and adviser to DICCI was of the opinion that Dalits should not regard Capitalism as the tyranny of the rich business castes, but view it as a wrecker of historical caste edicts, and as a force behind all efforts to end caste oppression. Success in business domains will go a long way in ensuring the Dalits their fair share of social equality, wealth and power.

No comments:

Post a Comment