Sunday, January 30, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Defying Manu: Rise of the Dalit capitalist

Saturday, January 29, 2011
Defying Manu: Rise of the Dalit capitalist

Recently, a group of 30 Dalit entrepreneurs, many of whom are
manufacturers, visited the Planning Commission at the invitation of
its deputy chairman, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The meet was
unstructured; the hosts content to watch the new phenomenon the Dalit,
quintessential underdog, embracing entrepreneurship and becoming a
capitalist or at least, setting up small-scale industries. Meanwhile,
the Dalit visitors were elated at the reception they got.

Almost all of them are first-generation entrepreneurs. Just a couple
of decades ago, they were neither well-endowed nor well educated. Only
a few had benefited from government schemes. Each one had a
rags-to-riches story.

Three decades ago, Rajendra Gaikwad was a fogger in a pesticide
company. Today, he has an ISO-certified company G T Pest Control Pvt
Ltd., which operates in Punjab, Maharashtra, Goa and Delhi and employs
400 people. Further afield, it also operates in Singapore and has
plans to enter Malaysia and Thailand.

Then there is Kalpana Saroj, who made headlines a few years ago when
she took over Kamani Tubes Ltd. Right now, she is in the process of
putting the company back on the rails.

Ratibhai Makwana's Gujarat Pickers is a large polymer distributor. His
nephew, Jeetu Makwana produces monofilament and multifilament yarn
twine tape.

The 30-strong group's activities are strikingly diverse. Their range
of products includes hi-fi sound systems and home theatre, sugar,
spirit and ethanol, cement products, automobile parts, garments and
knitted garments, printing machines. Some others are in construction,
the services sector, garment export and handicrafts, etc. Their visit
to the Planning Commission was a message to the power elite that they
exist. Before leaving Delhi, they threw a party that became a media

What next? Milind Kamble, chairman of the Pune-based Dalit Indian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), says the 1,000-member body
is largely confined to western Ind! ia but p lans are afoot to open
chapters in other states. DICCI's Punjab chapter is to be inaugurated
in March.

Two inferences are inescapable. First, the development is nothing
short of a minor revolution. That these entrepreneurs are a
microscopic minority in a community known its poverty and deprivation
cannot diminish their significance. They have proved that India now
offers enough opportunities, irrespective of caste and creed, to make
it in life with hard work. The Dalit entrepreneurs appear to have
understood and grabbed the new opportunities offered by economic
reform since 1991.

Second, Dalit capitalism a term coined by activist Chandra Bhan Prasad
is no transient phenomenon. The spirit of entrepreneurship initiative,
hard work, ambition, etc is well-entrenched in the Dalit community.
There is increasing evidence of this from a survey carried out by
Devesh Kapur of Pennsylvania University's Centre for the Advanced
Study of India.

Too often do policymakers treat capitalism as a system of economics
and finance. Too often do they ignore its potential for social
transformation. The truth is the tenets of the market and Manu Smriti
cannot coexist. When the market's influence increased after 1991, the
Dalits did not wait for the state to guide them towards

Dalit capitalism today is akin to the origins of a mighty river. The
spirit of adventure will find its own course, the journey will take a
long time and it will be turbulent. What is certain is this - the
Dalit capitalist will be an effective catalyst in ending the
community's mental bondage that is the belief they are inferior, their
plight is linked to birth and that the government alone can raise them

(The author is a fellow at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies.)

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