Reality that stinks

“Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy: Three Essays and an Atlas” captures the experience of doing business in a caste-conscious social environment

KULDEEP KUMAR writes in The Hindu, 5 March 2016:

The suicide of Dalit researcher Rohith Vemula, termed “institutionalised murder” by many a commentator, has focused the nation’s attention on the status of the Dalits and other disadvantaged sections of our society as we approach the 70th anniversary of the country’s Independence next year.

Despite the “Swachchh Bharat Abhiyan” (“Clean India Campaign”) launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not much has changed on the ground and there are an estimated 1.3 million manual scavengers in the country. Manual scavenging is a euphemism for removing faeces from dry toilets and open drains by hand and carrying them to the place of disposal. For centuries, this task has been forcibly thrust upon the members of the untouchable communities – a recent report informs us that of the 1.3 million manual scavengers, nearly 90 per cent are women. Thus, besides being an issue of caste-based discrimination, manual scavenging also involves gender-based discrimination.

Despite this shameful reality, it is also a fact that many Dalits like Rohith Vemula have tried to improve their lot by getting education and gainful employment. However, whenever we discuss the condition of the two most disadvantaged communities – Dalits and tribals – we seldom look at their role in the country’s economy in general and corporate world in particular. The same holds true for the other disadvantaged community – that of the Muslims who constitute the largest minority group in the Indian society.

Three Essays Collective, a one-man publishing house started by well-known Hindi poet Asad Zaidi to make a meaningful intervention, has brought out an excellent book titled “Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy: Three Essays and an Atlas”. It has been written by Barbara Harriss-White, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies at the Oxford University, in collaboration with Elisabetta Basile, Anita Dixit, Pinaki Joddar, Aseem Prakash and Kaushal Vidyarthee.

Ten years ago, Three Essays Collective had also published a pioneering study “Muslims in Indian Economy” written by Omar Khalidi. Reading both these books together, one gets an idea of how dismal the situation really is and, in the absence of corrective measures, how this can lead to fault lines one day erupting with serious consequences for the nation and its polity.

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