Saturday, December 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Dalits for FDI in retail

Dalits for FDI in retail
Divya Trivedi

December 16, 2011:

The original inhabitants of the land — Scheduled Castes, erstwhile
untouchables or Dalits — feel that foreign investment in the retail
sector has tremendous socially-liberating potential. Dalit leader and
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, has opposed the approval of
foreign direct investment in retail, as mooted by the UPA Government
at the Centre. "Mayawati's stand is political, mine is social," says
Mr Chandrabhan Prasad, political commentator and columnist, who
supports the introduction of FDI. Even as the move to allow FDI in
retail has been stymied for now, intellectual leaders of the Dalit
community feel that FDI can remove untouchability in buying and

The Dalits, more than a fifth of India's population, have, for
centuries, been relegated to jobs considered 'impure' by upper castes.
By establishing a purely economic relationship in business, and
delinking it from political and other forms of domination, FDI will be
a boon to the socially and economically-backward communities, says
Dalit scholar Mr Chittibabu Padavala. "While the negative consequences
of FDI in retail to the economy are real, it has socially-liberating
potential," he says. Local business interests control the lives of the
local population through a hold on the social, economic, political,
cultural as well as educational aspirations of the people.

Mr Padavala points out that while the income of small businesses may
not be adversely affected with the entry of foreign players, their
overwhelming hold on society will get blunted. "Foreign capital uses
local capital as its subordinate or broker, and the big capitalists
work in tandem with local forces," he says. At such a time, when the
entry of foreign investment has the potential to open up several
spaces for progressive forces in society, if the Left continues to
represent local capital instead of grabbing these opportunities, it
will be disastrous, says Mr Padavala. Public intellectual Mr
Chandrabhan Prasad welcomes the plaza culture and asserts that unless
culture breaks, caste cannot break.


Notions of cleaning and sweeping, which were historically relegated to
the domain of the lower castes, have undergone a transformation in
plazas. A Brahmin boy works in the housekeeping department, Delhi
University students work in restaurants doing odd jobs. While the
taboos associated with cleaning have ended in plazas, they flourish on
the streets of Delhi, he says. Political thinker, Professor Kancha
Ilaiah, points out that if a Dalit sets up a shop in a village, nobody
will buy from him, but if he is a manager in a plaza, then nobody will
trouble him. Both Prof Ilaiah and Mr Prasad assert that FDI will be
good for the economy and help break the monopoly of the bania
community on the circulation of money.

Foreign businesses will purchase from small manufacturers, regardless
of their castes. "To give an example, in villages, the kayasthas and
banias are buyers and they don't purchase oil from the dalit producers
as it is used in temples," explains Prof Ilaiah. Dalits, who have
historically been artisans, have great skill sets, but nobody invests
in them. If foreign retailers buy and sell from them, it will boost
their income, by however little.


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