Defying Manu, Bowing to Mammon
On The Silent Emergence of Dalit Capitalism
It was 14 th April 2012, when dalits in different parts of the country (as well as abroad) were celebrating 121 st birth anniversary of Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, the legendary son of the oppressed. Thousands of people had congregated at statue of Dr Ambedkar situated near Parliament itself as they have been doing on every such occasion. It was a festive type of atmosphere where one could find book stalls on the way – where one could browse through books on different topics all geared to bring about a social transformation in India – cultural performances by small groups going on uninterruptedly, volunteers had put stalls to provide water to all the visitors.
And Delhi was no exception. One could witness similar gatherings in different parts of the country where people gather on their own to celebrate the life of Dr Ambedkar. Close watchers of such gatherings – where state patronage is not the deciding factor – would emphasise why this phenomenon need to be closely understood and comprehended by sociologists of our times that even fifty six years after his demise there has not been a let up in his popularity. In fact, he happens to be one of those rare leaders of the first half of 20 th century whose birth anniversary as well as death anniversary is still celebrated as people’s festival.
On this day at a place not very far from the ongoing celebrations in Delhi a different type of meeting was being held which was attended by a motley combination of dalit activists, dalit enterpreneurs as well as few top bureaucrats. It was an occasion to float DICCI Venture Capital Fund, (DVCF) a For-Profit company whose aim was to support India’s Dalit entrepreneurs. In fact, 121 smartly dressed Dalit entrepreneurs cut a 121-kg birthday cake in honour of B R Ambedkar, and announced the launching of the (VC) fund.
The main force behind this endeavour was Dalit India Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a body which represents emergent Dalit Capitalism in the country, which had received support from the Planning Commission as well. DICCI as it is popularly known had raised Rs 5 crore, the minimum capital to start such a venture capital fund and intended to raise Rs 100 crore on their own
It was told in the meeting how the whole idea to start VC germinated a year ago when a delegation of DICCI had met Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the planning commission, to explain the difficulties on the way and seek governmental support for their endeavour. He advised them that if they take initiative in starting own venture capital fund, for every one rupee they invested, the government would give three rupees.
Participants in the meeting were apprised of the modus operandi of the Venture Capital Fund. It was not to be a charity model where Dalit enterpreneurs would not be given grants for free rather the fund would work as a company for profit. The idea was to make the Venture Capital Fund a stake holder in the enterprise. Much on the lines of the other Venture Capital funds, if dalit entrepreneurs need money, VC would invest money in them in lieu of shares in the company. Profit would be shared by the company and DICCI, once the enterprise starts functioning. Unlike loan from a bank, where money has to be repaid with interest within a limited period alongwith interest, the VC fund would not ask for interest and wait for a year and two till the company turns into a profit making endeavour.
Underlining the significance of the date on which the fund was launched DICCI chairman Mr Milind Kamble said that “This is the greatest tribute that Dalit’s could give to Babasaheb Amedkar on his 121st birthday,” Chandrabhan Prasad, a leading Dalit activist and ideologue, who has played an important role in these developments added “With DVCF turning into a reality, the Dalit movement has stepped into a new future,”
Undoubtedly, dalit’s foray into the arena of capitalism defying Manu’s dictum is the latest talk of the town. We are being told that from the corporate honchos to the big bosses at the planning commission to the members of India’s multi-colour polity, everybody is ready to embrace this new breed of entrepreneurs for what they have done against heavy odds and what they intend to achieve.
For the proponents of dalit capitalism the whole thing is ‘full of promises’ and ‘compelling need for the future of India’ and in fact, is a critical element in ‘desegregating the Indian society.’ To make it happen dalits need to get integrated into capital / market, both dalits and non-dalits need to rub shoulders in stock markets, lest they would remain mutually bitter, distrustful, and disrespectful on campuses and on streets.
To confront ‘illegitimate dominance of the Caste Hindu Order,’ Dalits need to create a middleclass based on education/white collar jobs/professions.It is being declared that public sector with its attendant reserved seats is no more the panacea for the communities problems. Yes, affirmative action should be extended to private sector but it would be inadequate in producing an effective middleclass. The booming small scale industry presents a possibility before the dalit middleclass to grow into a big economic and social force.
The whole idea and its likely implementation seems to be a ‘veritable revolution of sorts’ in the ethos perpetuated by Manu Dharma which had prohibited a dalit from becoming an employer of non-dalits or becoming a money maker. For an outsider the logic definitely looks attractive.If millions amongst them become entrepreneurs then thousands amongst them can metamorphose into big time capitalists. And this way they can chase away Manu Dharma. It is also underlined that without support from state and society it would be impossible to achieve this.
A newsitem which appeared in a leading daily explains the growing enthusiasm of a section of the dalit middle class to catch in before it is too late.
Dalit chamber eyes SME exchange
NAGPUR: Formed with the idea of encouraging wealth generation by the backward classes, Dalit India Chamber of Commerce and Industries (DIis exploring opportunities for its members in the SME sector and the new proposed SME capital market.
Businessmen dressed in black suits greeted each other with ‘Jai Bhim’ at the launch function for the Nagpur unit at Hotel Centre Point on Sunday. DICCI is an association of entrepreneurs from the scheduled castes and tribes, formed in 2005, with 127 enrolled members in the city as of now.
DICCI, which had an overwhelming response, had to close the membership drive at 127, with around 200 entrepreneurs still waiting for membership. Strangely, DICCI would only say that they wanted to keep the group manageable, so they restricted membership. This led to some resentment, and with chances of protests, the launch function was held with security men deployed outside the hall.
A trip down memory lane tells us that the very idea of dalits getting into enterprises, or forming companies has not appeared from the blue. In fact the Dalit Agenda agreed upon in the “Bhopal Conference” [January 12-13, 2002] of Dalit intellectuals and friendly scholars held under the aegis of the then Digvijay Singh led Congress government in M.P., could be said to be a ‘milestone’ in this journey, which approved that Dalit Enterprise as the need of the hour.
‘.to be a true follower of Ambedkar means become a ‘job giver’ not a ‘job seeker’
…do ‘not fight capitalists but try to become one amongst them.’
(Both quotes by Milind Kamble, DICCI’s interview on CNN-IBN)
Question arises how should one look at the nascent emergence of dalit capital/capitalism ?
One thing which needs to be emphasised/underlined at the outset, before one goes into the details is that it has definitely challenged the age old Manu led order which had relegated the Shudras/Atishudras to demeaning/humiliating professions and had forbidden them from taking up economic activity. Under the Varna system, while the four varnas – Brahminsm Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras – had their task cut out, the Atishudras – dalits and tribals – were even considered outside this system. Thus nobody can deny its democratising potential where the dominance of a few castes/communities over economic affairs in society gets a challenge.
Is it possible for us to think of any emancipatory impact such developments can have on dalit psyche or it is another way to coopt the dalits into the system. It is worth noting that apart from journalistic write-ups or commentaries this ‘new turn in the Dalit movement’ as it is made out to be has not received the attention it deserves. Problem arises when dalit ideologues start claiming that it THE way before the movement.
Not some time ago, one of the pioneers of this idea Mr Milind Kamble, who has been instrumental in founding DICCI (Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries) is reported to have said that’ to be a true follower of Ambedkar means become a ‘job giver’ not a ‘job seeker’ or has exhorted the dalit youth ‘not to fight capitalists but try to become one amongst them.’ conveniently forgetting Dr Ambedkar’s address to dalit railway workers at Manmadway back in late 30s that ‘Capitalism and Brahminism’ are there twin enemies.
Chandrabhan Prasad, a key ideologue of this new turn says :
few dalits as billionaires, a few hundred as multimillionaires and a few thousands as millionaires would democratise and de-indianise Capitalism. A few dozen dalits as market speculators, a few dalit-owned corporations traded on stock-exchanges, a few dalits with private jets, and a few of them with Golf Caps, would make democratic capitalism loveable.”
- quoted in ‘Power and Contestation, Menon and Nigam, Page 96, Orient Longmann
Question arises whether Dalit Capitalism can really liberate/free/emancipate dalits from the ‘illegitimate dominance of caste Hindu order’ as it is claimed to be or would further consolidate/strengthen its stranglehold on the exploited and the oppressed with some dalit billionaires finding space in the list of ‘Fortune 500′ or ‘Forbes 500′ and broad masses of the dalit people left in destitution without any semblance of security? Can it be said that it is THE step needed for the post Ambedkarite movement to break asunder the chains of servitude and usher us into the much cherished ‘economic democracy’? Should one see it as further extension of the emancipatory project launched by legendary Dr Ambedkar or its exact opposite leading to further cooption of the radical potential inherent in the dalit movement ? How does one compare the recent experience of Dalit capitalism with that of Black capitalism ? Whether capitalism with an adjective – black, hispanic, dalit or white – have any import for the situation on the ground, does a black capitalism or dalit capitalism is more ‘bearable’ to the ‘black’ or ‘dalit’ toiling masses ?
In an ambience where the socialist project – to usher us into a more egalitarian society – has faced tremendous reversals since last two decades, coupled with the historical limitations exhibited by its proponents here to understand the complexity of caste – leading to valid accusations about their ‘sociological blindness – it has not been possible for left intellectuals of our times to engage with the issue. The legatees of the Ambedkarite project, who have faced splits after splits have also found themselves, wanting on this occasion as on earlier many occasions,.
The absence of any critical engagement either from the various shades of the left or from those bred in rich Ambedkarite praxis, has created a situation where the ideologues of this ‘new turn’ are able to present themselves as the real / true inheritors of Ambedkarite legacy. A new look Ambedkar is also being presented before us more suitable or rather amenable to this ‘new phase in the dalit movement.’
Before we begin the discussion it would be opportune to take a look at the trajectory of its unfolding.
Waiting for a ‘Dalit Ambani’
Few months back New York Times did a story on dalit millionaires – entrepreneurs, nascent capitalists from the Dalit community – a majority of them first generation learners from their family. Providing details of the struggle and depredations they went through, it also underlined the sea change in their lives and the way people perceived them today. There was a time when Ashok Khade, described as Ashok K on his visiting card, and who is at present into business, and his family were denied entry into the village temple because of their caste and today the same temple is being renovated with hefty donations from his pocket.
It was not for the first time that one came across similar reports on dalit’s entry in one more arena denied to them by the age old hierarchical system of stratification called caste. The beginning of the year 2011 the Planning Commission Chairman had his first interaction with representatives of DICCI (Dalit Industrialists Chamber of Commerce and Industries), and there were discussions without any structured agenda. And the year ended with DICCI organising one of its first fairs in Mumbai which was attended by some bigwigs from the corporate sector. During the interregnum UPA government at the centreled by Congress issued its first GO (governmental order) wherein it instructed all government departments to have fixed purchases from Dalit owned enterprises.
May it be the success stories of the likes of Khades’ or their efforts at coming together supposedly to help each other forge ahead, there is no denying the fact that a section – albeit a minority one – has ultimately succeded to ‘break the glass ceiling’ and today yearns to march in unison with other captains of industry. Undoubtedly with their perseverance and determination they have questioned / challenged the caste system which had condemned them to a life of humiliation, indignity for centuries together. It has been possible for them to demonstrate that given opportunities they can make wonders.
Looking back one finds that it was the year 2002 when one first heard murmurs of a new kind when the first baby steps in this direction were taken where ‘Dalit Agenda’ for the coming century was presented and ratified in a Conference held in Bhopal.
Modelling itself on the diversity principle a la USA and other advanced countries, it talked of adopting similar model in public institutions, private industry/corporate houses, implementing supplier/dealership diversity in every government and private organisations, providing free education to every SC/ST child with low income and starting a system of collective punishment in case of atrocities against SC/STs as oppressors enjoy community support and protection from law.The ‘uniqueness’ of this initiative could be discerned from the fact that it did not talk of expanding the ambit of reservation – rather it talked of the impossibility of providing reservation in employment to everyone. It also talked of globalisation – the new modus operandi of capitalism – as an era of increased opportunities for the people, as a period of enhanced freedom.
The concept of ‘supplier diversity’ first made its appearance then where the state government duly announced that the state social welfare department would procure 30 percent of all the goods and services it was buying from the open market from Dalit/Adivasi entrepreneurs.
A decade after this initiative one finds that the debate has gone one step ahead – today there is talk that Dalits have finally ‘arrived.’ Today as things unfold before our own eyes one knows that the idea has caught up and it has been adopted by the powers at be at the centre also.
It is being said that the new procurement policy adopted by the central government will in fact open business opportunities worth Rs. 7,000 crore for Dalit and ST enterprises.(Business Standard, Chennai December 13, 2011, 0:47 IST). Till the announcement of this public procurement policy for Micro and Small Enterprises, (MSE) it was mandatory that all annual purchases of Central Ministries, departments and Public Sector Undertakings were to be reserved for MSEs. Of these 20 per cent share, a share of four per cent has been reserved for dalit and ST led enterprises. To accelerate this process every such department will have to organise special vendor development programmes and buyer-seller meets. In their annual reports they will have to tell what had been their targets and achievements vis-a-vis this policy.
If the ascendance of Kanshi Ram – via Bamcef, DS 4 or BSP – had signaled the growing assertion of the dalits for political power – contrary to the fractious Republican Politics which had limited itself to a ‘guest actor’ role in bourgeois politics, the debate around Dalit Capitalism has similarlysignaled the assertion of the dalits for share in economic power.
It was evident in the 2011 trade fair held at Mumbai in December when few of the leading people from the community who have made it big were felicitated. It included Malkiat Chand, owner of ‘Jangal Exports, Ludhiana’ – which is a T-shirt exporter with showrooms in London and Dubai having a turnover Rs 70 crore ; RatiBhaiMakwana of the Gujarat Pickers, Ahmedabad – which has a sugar mill in Africa, has a turnover of Rs 380 crore ; Kalpana Saroj of the Kamani Tubes, Mumbai which has a copper unit in the Gulf, and a turnover of Rs 500 crore, Atul Paswan of Indo Sakura, Bangalore which happens to be a software firm with operations in Japan and a turnover of 2.5 million dollars. The event also hosted more than 200 Dalit companies involved in hardcore manufacturing, construction, trading, health, hospitality and the knowledge industry.
Speaking on the occasion the Tata group chairman Ratan Tata said India Inc should assist the small entrepreneurs, especially those from the dalit community, to become global entrepreneurs. The Tata group chairman also said the corporate India should use products manufactured by the small enterprises, and also help them increase their exports. A day earlier Godrej Group chairman Adi Godrej had appealed to the corporate India to help dalit entrepreneurs as a part of corporate social responsibility.
Speeches apart it would be opportune here also to look at the way the Corporate sector has performed as far as inclusion of the shudra/atishudra castes at various levels.
Varna Mindset and ‘Captains of Industry
In the pre-globalisation economic regime, there was no way a Dalit would make trucks or cars. Today, a Dalit industrialist in Uttarakhand manufactures silencers for the Nano car and parts for Hero Honda bikes. Another Dalit in Pune manufactures engine parts for Tata’s Indigo car.
This is a new democracy — the Economic Democracy. Now no company can claim to be manufacturing a complete product itself. ..Globalisation’s greatest contribution to human history is that it has shattered the monopoly of large companies and, thus, is democratising capital globally. In this evolving Economic Democracy, the rise of the Dalit Capitalism is unstoppable.
(Chandrabhan Prasad, http://www.dailypioneer.com /310860/.html, Rise of Dalit Capitalism FORAY | Sunday, January 16, 2011)
# A question can be posed why does the thesis of dalit capitalism ushering us into what is being called ‘economic democracy’ not only sounds utopian but also exhibits a very misplaced confidence on ‘capitalism’s potential for social transformation.’ (D Shyambabu, Defying Manu : Rise of the Dalit capitalist..Jan30, 2011) or ‘tenets of market and Manu Smriti cannot exist’ (same) or for that matter ‘dalit capitalist will be an effective catalyst in ending community’s bondage’ (do)
There are numerous experiences which can be counted to emphasise the longevity of caste despite tremendous material progress. SurinderJodhka’s paper, ‘Dalits in Business: Self-Employed Scheduled Castes in Northwest India’,(IIDS,2010)focussing himself on two cities of north India very well illustrates that though the rise of market economy has helped break many barriers, Dalit entrepreneurs have to face several hurdles on the road.
It has few case studies also illustrating how caste origins act as a hindrance if you want to transcend your traditional óccupation’. Sirswal (75) started as a sweeper but is now one of the oldest businessmen in Panipat, Haryana. He quit his sweeper’s job once his handloom unit was on its feet. His success, he says, came largely because he hid the fact that he was born a Valmiki Dalit. Customers who came to know of his caste boycotted him. Banks were not ready to give loans as caste was an issue for them also and there werevery few dalit entrepreneurs who could pull their resources and support him. RattanlalJatav (age 51) is today an established footwear manufacturer in Saharanpur, western Uttar Pradesh. Despite this even today, people refer to him by a caste label whose use is a non-bailable offence under the SC/ST Act. On the other hand his non-Dalit peers, who are less successful in their profession, are respectfully called “businessmen”.
In an interview to a newspaper DrJodhka, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, threw light on his findings :
“Most Dalit entrepreneurs face problems varying from difficulty in getting enough supplies on credit, lack of social networks, absence of kin groups in the business, and control of traditionally dominant business-caste groups. These, along with other social variables such as lack of social capital, make the Dalit situation in India more complicated and vulnerable to homogeneous categorization,”
His paper notes that “in urban areas, too, there is prevalence of discrimination by caste, particularly discrimination in employment, which operates at least in part through traditional mechanisms; SCs (scheduled castes) are disproportionately represented in poorly paid, dead-end jobs. Further, there is a flawed preconceived notion that they lack merit and are unsuitable for formal employment”.In fact the 11 th Five Year Plan recognised the marginal status of Dalits and their continued discrimination in the urban labour market.
# Another problematic aspect is that it also helps present a caste neutral, sanitised version of Indian ‘captains of industry’.It is well documented how they have consistently refused to acccomodatethe rising aspirations of the dalits and tribals forget playing a proactive role in their struggle for equity. While they have no qualms in acquiring subsidies and other benefits from the government, they have proved laggards in executing the very symbolic corporate social responsibility, forget showing extra concern towards the deprived and challenged. There have been occasions when they have shamelessly exhibited their disdain towards the deprived castes.
e.g. the support extended by representatives of Corporate world to the Dalit entrepreneurs did make a good story, but nobody ever mentioned their overall approach towards the Dalit masses especially moves under the constitution to empower them. In fact, few years back when under the UPA 1 regime there were discussions to extend reservation policy to private sector, the Varna mindset prevalent among the Captains of Industry had become quite evident.
Sanjeev Goenka, a leading industrialist had then even advocated that if the government was keen to extend reservation to private sector then it should also see to it that it cross subsidises it, so that they remain in competition. A representative of FICCI had added that if the corporate world is compelled to provide reservation in employment then instead of putting the dalits and tribals on some job, it would rather keep them idle and provide them with remuneration. Many representatives of the corporate world raised fundamental questions over reservation policy itself – a truly enabling measure for the scheduled communities which had historically been denied opportunities. S K Poddar, another ‘captain of industry’ who happened to be President of All India Organisation of Employers then had in an interview not only opposed reservation in private sector but also added that this policy has proved to be a bane in independent India and its implementation has severely impacted our achieving full efficiency. (Economic Times, 26 th March 2004). It was also raised then that if such policy gets implemented the ambience of harmony would give way to ‘class war’ or ‘caste war’. All those proponents of the autonomy of the private sector had no qualms in claiming that whereas it is the job of the government or public sector to promote equality, the private sector is completely free from such obligations and is aimed at enhancing productivity and profit.
A study done few years back jointly by Princeton University, USA and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies clearly demonstrated empirically the deep rooted caste biases which inhabit the minds of the corporate honchos. (www.rediff.com, 4 th Dec 2007). Using a methodology very similar to measure discrimination faced by the blacks and the hispanics, it sent around 5,000 applications to different leading private companies in India for 548 posts. While the qualifications in most of the cases looked similar, names of few applicants clearly showed that they belonged to dalit communities. It was worth underlining that the leading companies contacted only those candidates whose name sounded Upper caste. All those candidates whose name sounded like Dalits were not even called for interview. Economic and Political Weekly also carried a extensive writeup on this issue. It was ironical that while the corporate bosses have consistently refused to give reservation in employment and talked of preference to merit, this study which clearly exposed their caste biases did not generate any discussion.
A latest study ‘Corporate Boards in India : Blocked by Caste?’ (D Ajit, Han Donker, Ravi Saxena, Economic & Political Weekly, August 11, 2012 vol xlvii no 31) executed by scholars of University of Northern British Columbia, presents its findings of the caste diversity of Indian corporate boards. It tells us :
An examination of the caste diversity of Indian corporate boards of a thousand top Indian companies – accounting for four-fi fths of market capitalisation of all companies listed in the major stock indices in India – measured by the Blau index shows that their median score for 2010 is zero, indicating that there is no diversity at all. Indian corporate boards continue to remain “old boys’ clubs” based on caste affi liation rather than on other considerations (like merit or experience).
According to these researchers
” The average board size of the top 1,000 companies in India was found to be nine members; nearly 88% of them were insiders and 12% were independent directors. The distribution of board members according to caste shows that nearly 93% were forward caste members; 46% vaishya and 44% brahmin. The OBCs and SCs/STs were a meagre 3.8% and 3.5% respectively ..This clearly shows that the Indian corporate board consists of a small world dominated by forward castes and lacks diversity.
As an aside, the great hiatus between the approach of the Corporate bosses here and their US counterparts as far as affirmative action policies are concerned is for everyone to see. One can refer to the Michigan University case,(2003) where the policies of affirmative action had come under attack and the Supreme Court had taken up the issue. It may sound unbelievable to Corporate Czars here that while a leading chunk of the US capitalists came out in support of these policies, unequivocally demanded that blacks, hispanics, native americans be given special opportunities.
In his writeup ‘Globalisation and Affirmative Action’ in Economic and Political Weekly (5 th July 2003) written on the occasion Thomas Weinkof had mentioned an interesting fact. According to him in this fast globalising multicultural world US elite has finally realised that they cannot sustain themselves if whites keep dominating leadership. They have realised that they would never be able to win confidence and legitimacy from the increasing non-white population if white dominance is not done away with. Their support to the affirmative action policies is not because they were motivated by principles of social justice or economic equality rather they looked at it according to pure economic interest.
Celebration of dalit capitalism also tends to hide the predicament of Black Capitalism inside USA but before discussing this it would be opportune to compare situation in India and USA as far as the socially most oppressed sections are concerned.
Breaking Myth :Dalits As Monolith
Today when the celebrations have just started in anticipation of the emergence of a ‘dalit Ambani’ it would be opportune to look beyond the glitter and see for oneself the sociological implications of this nascent emergence.
To put it in a nutshell
- Dalit masses are a monolith is long passe.
For close watchers of the societal dynamics this point that — dalit masses are themselves divided today into different strata/classes apart from the cleavages among them based on community, clan etc – may look trivial but till date one has rarely witnessed frank admission of this changed reality. Although manifestations of these fractures/cleavages/classes were very much evident at the social-political level, but there was a tendency to deny it.
The lifeworlds of the dalits in the second decade of 21 st century present a contradictory picture.
On the one hand we have before us a majority which is poor, which is landless, which is subjected to deprivations and injustices of different kinds.Caste discrimination still persists in most parts of the country. Untouchability might have been officially abolished more than half a century ago but it still exists. Crimes against this section of society are rampant. Ranging from the police to the administration to the judiciary, one very well witnesses the continuing stranglehold of Varna mindset.
There is no denying the fact that a minority among the dalits has definitely benefitted from measures instituted by the government.The affirmative action programmes – comprising of seats in educational institutions, quotas in employment opportunities, political representation at various levels – undertaken by the state in the post-independence era, coupled with the changes in the economy has definitely impacted the lifeworlds of a section of dalits in very many ways. Despite the fact that the implementation of such schemes and policies has been tardy which still faces resistance at various levels, nobody can deny that a new middle class has emerged from among these oppressed communities, which was unthinkable in the pre-independence era.
ACCORDING to data obtained in 2007, about 17 per cent of Scheduled Caste persons in the country cultivate land; about 12 per cent in the rural areas and 28 per cent in the urban areas are in business, albeit small; the literacy rate among them has gone up to 57 per cent; unemployment has diminished; and the share of the S.Cs in government services has improved. As a consequence of all these positive changes, poverty has declined among the S.Cs, says SukhadeoThorat in Dalits in India: Search for a Common Destiny. Furthermore, he cites evidence to suggest that the practice of untouchability and discrimination have reduced to a certain extent in some public spheres.
..Thorat rightly says that notwithstanding some gains made in the past 50 years or so, the disparities between S.Cs and other sections of Indian society continue, with the S.Cs lagging behind with respect to a number of development-related indices.
…Thorat reveals, with the support of data, that the cumulative impact of these disparities is reflected in the high levels of poverty in the S.C. community. In 1999-2000, about 36 per cent of S.Cs were poor as compared with 21 per cent among non-S.Cs/S.Ts.
(http://www.frontline.in/stories/20090410260707100.htm,V. VENKATESAN )
The difference in class locations and consequent social-cultural attitudes has led to a state where despite coming from similar social origin, one does find a perceptible difference between the experiences, grievances and aspirations of the dalit masses and that of the dalit middle classes or the rising dalitbourgeosie.The way in which the internal dynamic of the dalit movement has unfolded itself , where radical transformatory slogans have given way to the idea of ‘capturing power’ in any manner, or ‘getting rich quick’ has also created an ambience which has reinforced this divide.The explosion of religiosity which is evident among different cross-sections of society has also impacted the dalits.
It would not be incorrect to say that the cumulative impact of deradicalisation of the dalit movement coupled with the growing hiatus between the broad sections of dalit masses and a stabilized dalit middle class , the overall spurt in religiosity has led us to a situation where it is not easy to map the dynamic of dalithood in a linear fashion.
One could even say that the dynamic of Dalithood has simultaneously traversed a terrain which has contradictory features.While one of its stream is showing a newfound enthusiasm for Hinduism or the political project of Hindutva, the second stream has aligned itself with democratic or radical forces and is involved in struggles of dignity or livelihood, including political power.
Black Capitalism, White Lies
Dalits, who constitute around 16 per cent of India’s population and Blacks/ African Americans, which are around thirteen per cent of US’s population share many commonalities as far as social dynamics is concerned.
The movements for civil-political rights for the Dalits reached its zenith in the first half of 20 th Century and it happened to be the same period when one found slow blossoming of the black movement for human rights. While dalits claimed to have a galaxy of leaders coming from different social backgrounds – the likes of JyotheeThass, Ayyankali, Swami Achhutanand, Mangoo Ram etc reaching their climax in the legendary personality of Ambedkar, the blacks also had their Du Bois, a contemporary of Ambedkar or Langston Hughes, Paul Roebson, Malcom X or Martin Luther King, who spanned twentieth century espoused the cause of radical social transformation. Interestingly much like the dalit stalwarts their appeal did not remained confined to the African-Americans alone.
With the adoption of independent India’s constitution, ‘untouchability’ – the dehumanising tradition which had social/divine sanction, which had condemned the dalits to a subhuman existence was outlawed and policies of ‘positive discrimination’ to ameliorate their condition were taken up, (1950) whereas it took another 13 years when US had its first steps in the direction of affirmative action for the blacks.
If the emergence of Black Panthers, – an African-American revolutionary leftist organization (1966)- which achieved national and international recognition through its involvement in the Black Power movement and U.S. politics of the 1960s and 1970s- signalled the new militant turn in the black politics of US, the rise of the Dalit Panthers, – inspired by Black Panthers – could be said to be a militant phase in Dalit Politics, which similarly helped awaken the dalit masses from the deep slumber in the post-Ambedkar period. The rich and multi-dimensional black literature also preceded Dalit literature.
Today, as we witness debate around emergent Dalit Capitalism, one finds that USA already has had enough debate around this few decade old movement among African Americans to build wealth through the ownership and development of businesses.And it still continues. The stark reality around the emergence of black capitalism and its impact on the rest of the African-American society is becoming clearer by the day.
In fact, we know for sure the role played by the US government then in nurturing this ‘baby of black capitalism’ as countervailing force to the growing radicalisation of the black movement. (One can debate it elsewhere how bourgeois politicians here or the ruling parties have facilitated similar turns in dalit politics).It viewed uncontrolled black power movement as a major threat to the internal security of the US (during the 60 s and 70s). It was during Nixon’s time that the Black Capitalism initiative as a domestic version of its widely publicised foreign policy initiative of détente ( to contain USSR and China) was formulated. There is enough evidence to show that black capitalism helped achieve the larger ideological goal of subverting African-American radicalism although it could not achieve his institutional goals related to Black Capitalism.
Nixon had declared in a 1968 speech that
“[w]hat most of the militants are asking is not separation, but to be included in–not as supplicants, but as owners, as entrepreneurs–to have a share of the wealth and a piece of the action.”
Federal government programs, Nixon said, should
“be oriented toward more Black ownership, for from this can flow the rest–Black pride, Black jobs, Black opportunity and, yes, Black Power.” (The Black Power era, Alan Maas, socialistworker.org)
Questioning the basic rationale behind ‘Black Capitalism’ in his Radio Commentary Glen Ford ( www. Black AgendaReport.com, Wed, 09/15/2010 – 10:43 ) tells us
Black Folks Ain’t Got No Money For Bootstraps: The Black Capitalist Dead-End
The two devastating recessions of the last decade have had catastrophic effects on Black economic prospects. Yet, ..there still exists a strong current of Black political thought that insists African Americans can pull themselves and the rest of the race up by their financial bootstraps, through hard work and pooling of collective resources. Some of these arguments are unashamedly Black capitalist; others preach a brand of communal partnerships among Black entrepreneurs and consumers that attempts to make the entire Black community a kind of capitalist engine of self-help. What binds the variations on the “bootstrap” theme together, is an essential refusal to challenge the capitalist system. The belief is that Black “buying power” or race-based investment schemes will allow Black folks to rise from the bottom of the American economic barrel.
Implicit in this line of thinking is the notion that Blacks are at the bottom because they have not been trying hard enough to move up – which is also the assumption of white racists, whether they call themselves conservatives or liberals. The most fatal flaw in the Black capitalist world view is the assumption that Black people actually have the wealth and discretionary income to build an internal economy that could insulate them from the general capitalist crisis. We know different, because all the data tell us that Black household income is stuck at the same level relative to whites as back in 1979, and Black comparative wealth was steadily eroding even before the last decade’s recessions. And we know that Black wealth has been further diminished relative to whites in the ongoing housing meltdown, in which Blacks are twice as likely to face foreclosure. And we know that Blacks, a majority of whom are renters, bear the brunt of the dislocations caused by rampant gentrification, which in some urban areas forces families to spend more than half their income on rent.
Simply put, there ain’t no damn money for these bootstrap capitalism dreams, and there never was. There was never the possibility of building a Black General Motors – and now General Motors requires billions of dollars in federal infusions to survive.
What a great distraction this nonsense about bootstrap racial upward mobility has been – so much wasted time and misdirected dreams over the generations. Worse than that, the bootstraps mythology – sometimes under the shorthand, “Do for Self” – implicitly or explicitly urges Black people to forego making demands of government, as if that amounts to “begging the white man” for something. This attitude surrenders all Black claims to any of the society’s resources except those we currently hold in our own pockets – which is the equivalent of social death. ..
Manning Marable. (quoted in ‘Tehelka’The false dalit of Capital, 24 May 2011, Anand Teltumbde) saw Black capitalism as three distinct constituencies: the proletarian periphery; the intermediate Black petty entrepreneurs; and the Black corporate core. The first one comprised over four-fifths of all Black-owned US firms, 82.7 per cent of the total number. He noted several common characteristics among these 1,91,235 enterprises: almost all were sole proprietorships, unincorporated firms owned by a single Black individual; most were started by Black blue-collar or marginally white-collar employees; the firms were under-capitalised from the outset and at least 75 per cent of them become bankrupt within three years. The corporate core of Black capitalism comprised just 1,060 Black businesses, led by Black Enterprise magazine’s top 100 firms. Even this constituted a drop in the corporate ocean. As Manning observed, white corporations allow Black companies to exist for symbolic value.
It would be instructive here to look at the situation of the blacks as it exists today, and to see the change in their lives, during a period which has witnessed rise of many black billionares from among them. In his column in ‘Wall Stree Journal’ Rex Nutting, MarketWatch tells us (Feb. 9, 2011, 12:00 a.m. EST, Wealth of black families has disappeared : Progress of a whole generation is just gone)
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The Great Recession has been hard on almost everyone, but it’s been really tough on black households, who have seen much of the economic progress of the past generation disappear. Despite high-profile success stories such as Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey, the typical black family is poorer by some standards today than it was nearly 30 years ago. In a country where access to capital is everything, most blacks have nothing.
Part of the story of the recession is a story about jobs. The unemployment rate for most demographic groups essentially doubled during the recession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For blacks, the jobless rate rose from 7.7% to 16.5%, while the jobless rate for whites went from 3.9% to 9%. ..
…it’s not until you look at the figures for net worth — assets minus liabilities — that you can understand just how marginalized blacks are in our capitalist society.
Most blacks really don’t have any capital at all. The average black person leaves his or her heirs just enough to pay the undertaker, with the typical black household’s net worth totaling just $2,200, according to the latest data.
Let’s be clear: The vast majority of wealth in this country is owned by a few people, mostly white. It’s estimated that about 80% of all wealth is owned by 20% of the people, while about a third is owned by the top 1%. About 40% have no wealth at all.
What little wealth the typical black family has is mostly tied up in the house. With housing prices falling for the past five years, black wealth has been wiped out.
The typical black family had about three times as much wealth in 1983 than it did in 2009 — $6,300 in inflation-adjusted terms in 1983 compared with just $2,200 in 2009, according to an analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. Read more about the survey on the Fed’s website.
Whatever happened to the economic democracy’ ushered in with the story of Dalit Capitalism.
Capitalism or Capitalisms ?
How does one define capitalism ?
The world capitalism is defined variously by different sources. According to Merrian Webster dictionary : it is ‘.. an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.’
What is capitalism according to Marxism. For Marxists, capitalism is a system which is based on the extraction of what is known as surplus value. In capitalism, the motive for producing goods and services is to sell them for a profit, not to satisfy people’s needs The capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class whilst reinvesting some of their profits for the further accumulation of wealth.It is a system under which ‘[th]e means for producing and distributing goods (the land, factories, technology, transport system etc) are owned by a small minority of people. (capitalist class). The majority of people – working class – must sell their ability to work in return for a wage or salary The working class are paid to produce goods and services which are then sold for a profit.
Imagine we are living under neoliberal schemata of things, what would happen if the owners of capital happen to be people of colour. Would they be managing capital differently apart from the fact that they might be more keen to have a diverse workforce. Would it impact the end result in any significant way? Definitely not.
Let us take another case.
If one substitutes Ratan Tata by say Mr Ashok Khade, would the story be different on the ground apart from the fact that many oppressed amongst the working class may feel more ‘closeness’ towards the person who leads/owns the exploitative machinery.
- If tomorrow one starts using adjectives to delineate/differentiate capitalism unfolding in an area we will have n number of capitalisms. One can imagine the comic situation we may land up with Marwari capitalism competing with Gujarati capitalism and Brahmin capitalism joining hands with Dalit capitalism to fight Muslim capitalism.
Howsoever, one may define / understand capitalism, the point worth raising here is what difference does it makes on its actual operation on the ground if the owner belongs to a particular community – caste, religion, ethnicity etc. Does it impact the inner logic of capital – whether the ‘factors of production’ would be defined differently, the exploitation of the working class would become ‘bearable’ if the worker realises that the owner of capital also belongs to her/his community or the ‘owner’ would be lenient towards her/his own community people and give them extra wages. ?
One knows that these are just hypothetical situations and there is no difference on the ground.
- It needs to be emphasised that the political structure obtained in a particular country/area would not have any qualitative impact on the functioning of capital. If it starts making a difference then we will not have capitalism rather capitalisms.
One may say that the long term interest of capitalism are better served under a bourgeois democracy but that does not at all mean that it has difficulty in functioning under a dictatorship of say monarchy etc.
The point one wants to make is that capitalism is always a many coloured system where the inner core of the system remains the same.
What future prognosis for Dalit Capitalists
According to Mr Chandrabhan Prasad
“The government ought to constitute a body, say, the ‘National Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Supplier Development Council’, which should identify Dalit/tribal entrepreneurswho are already supplying goods and services to the government through middlemen, and connecting them directly to procurement departments,”
He cites the examples from the US, where a national body connects minority entrepreneurs with large American firms.
When he is asked how it is that on the one hand you sing paeans to the spirit of free market and have no qualms in demanding protection from the government, he argues that the Indian bourgeoisie itself would not have thrived without state support and protection till 1991. “Dalit businesses particularly need help since most of these are small-scale operations,” he adds.
The contradiction between what they preach and what they demand is quite apparent but they do not seem to be bothered about such inconsistencies.
There is no doubt that their espousal of the cause of globalization or their unquestioned support to capitalism a la the ‘new opportunities offered by economic reforms since 1991’ or íts potential for social transformation’has come at a time when the toiling masses in this country are putting their acts together to fight the growing dispossession of people, growing attacks on hardly earned rights. The manner in which they portray a rosy picture of US, which has received enough opprobrium during this period marked by 9/11 and the ‘war against terrror’ unleashed by the US regime.
Their understanding that ‘.tenets of the market and Manu Smriti cannot coexist’’ shows their ignorance about the Indian social situation.
Consider this statement by D ShyamBabu, a scholar who is part of the think tank which has helped the idea of dalit capitalism gain wider currency :
“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 up.”
(Defying Manu: Rise of the Dalit capitalist, D ShyamBabu, Jan 30, 2011, 03.02am IST)
It is true that since the proponents of Dalit Capitalism serve a wider political purpose and are also able to provide legitimacy to the tottering regime, the powers that be would continue to extend helping hand to them at all levels.
Question is whether they will be able to deliver what they claim. It nearly looks impossible.
Mythologize the man,marginalise the meaning
Does anybody remember the story of six blind/visually impaired people being asked to describe the shape of an elephant ? It is told that everybody described it the manner in which it could lay hands on an elephant. For some it was like a rope, for others it was like a pillar etc. Whenever somebody mentions Ambedkar’s thought it reminds me of this Panchatantra story where everyone has his ‘own’ Ambedkar and nobody wants to comprehend or present him in a holistic manner
- A dalit activist’s speech on 14 th April, Hissar, Haryana
‘The sky-piercing slogan shouting ‘Down with imperialism’ naturally ignores Brahminism because of which imperialism could entrench itself in India. The young leaders (refers to the leadership of Bombay regional youth conference which took place in Pune) do not seem to understand how easy it would be to destroy imperialism if the foundation of Brahminism on which the superstructure of imperialism is erected, is itself weakened. The power and strength of imperialism lies in the weakness of the classes that are ruled by imperialism. The weakness of India is accumulated in the social structure of the Hindus. Our social norms and traditions are destructive of unity and supporter of division. That is why imperialism could strengthen its base here and it is still able to carry on.
- Dr Ambedkar
In 1967 at Riverside Church, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the sermon and speech, Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break Silence, and addressed three of America’s demons; racism, materialism and militarism. He called US government; “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.” As a person of faith, King knew the power that was within and that, “there is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”He also knew that the only hope for real change “…lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism…The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”
Interestingly two great leaders of the oppressed in the 20 th century shared similar fete after their deaths. If today Martin Luther King is much reverred by every President of US and the establishment has seen to it to present a very sanitised image of the man, DrAmbedkar the legendary leader of the oppressed and the exploited who talked about two enemies of the dalits namely Brahminism and Capitalism is similary being mythologised.by emptying him of his meaning.
It is a tragedy of our times that Ambedkar – the eternal revolutionary – who always thought of emancipation of dalits in broadest possible terms, who started off his political journey with the formation of ‘Independent Labour Party’ and who formed ‘Republican Party of India’ at the fag end of his life,’ who fought ‘casteist’ trends within the movement he led and underlined the difference between Marxism/Socialism as an idea of liberation of humankind and the mechanical manner in which it was implemented here, is today being used by different factions of the dalit movement to buttress their politics. While the left is rightly criticised for the historical blunders it committed and has earnestly reviewed its earlier follies, the dalit movement has not even felt the necessity of verifying if anything has gone wrong with its ideology, strategy, tactics or organisational approach. Whatever it does or is engaged is projected as faithful adherence to ‘Ambedkarism’.
The debate being peddled around Dalit Capitalism by renowned Dalit intellectuals with due support from their friends in the media/establishment needs to be challenged and questioned not only because of it is devoid of any merit, shows ignorance of social dynamics in India, looks at capitalism with gratitude for enhancing freedom’ and is an apologist for globalization – the latest modus operandi of capitalism’- but also because it is attempting to present a vulgarized image of Ambedkar. Throwing anti capitalist contents of his understanding to the winds, it wants us to believe that if he would have been alive he would have been a strong defender of all their crap.
(Draft Paper Presented in Mumbai University Seminar, 24-25 th March 2012)