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“The Recent Strife Will Mean Huge Losses To The Leather Industry”

Chandrabhan Prasad talks about how the market has helped in creating entrepreneurs, while fighting caste inequities. He was the first Dalit intellectual to support and embrace the spirit of free market economy

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Chandrabhan Prasad

Chandrabhan Prasad talks to BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha about how the market has helped in creating entrepreneurs, while fighting caste inequities. He was the first Dalit intellectual to support and embrace the spirit of free market economy. Excerpts:

Q: How do you look at the attacks on the Dalits across the country in the name of cow?
A: I am of the view that 10-15 per cent of the Hindus are undergoing radicalisation. I was born and brought up in eastern UP countryside. There was hardly any temple. Temples used to be found in urban centres like Faizabad, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur. Today, every housing society in a city has a temple. Today, a section of the people are suddenly becoming nostalgic about the past, and this includes caste.

When Anna Hazare a few years ago said “Bharat barbad ho gaya”, people used to clap and agree with him. I tried to intervene then also and said that “if you look at all the indicators — whether they are literacy rate, life expectancy, availability of per capita food, India has marched ahead as when compared to the 1950s”. This particular social class is the core constituency of the BJP. So how does this class assert itself? By clinging on to the cow — a symbol of the past reverence.

Q: What do you think about the recent declaration that Dalits should stop carrying cattle carcasses?
A: When I was in high school, the Dalits protested and stopped carrying the carcass of dead animals and cattle in our village. Now I see this trend catching up in Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh. Dailt youths are discussing on Facebook and WhatsApp to stop this practice of removing dead cattle and their carcass. Earlier, their skin and bones used to be collected. Now if they refuse to remove the dead cattle, how would the leather industry survive? It would lead to a huge economic loss for India.

Q: There’s a counter argument that Dalits would stop skinning dead animals and go for productive vocations. What do you think?
A: That might happen. But who would compensate for the loss that would happen to the leather industry. The leather industry in the country is huge and even if there’s a 25 per cent less skinning of dead cattle, the loss to the country would be huge. Millions of people are involved in the leather industry. The leather industry is as big as the dairy industry in India.

Q: What is the future of this conflict?
A: This will further intensify. The smartphone-wielding Dalit youth doesn’t respect the hierarchies of the yore. I was told during a research that no one can dare touch a Dalit girl who uses a smartphone. Such is the degree of empowerment.

Q: How much do Dalits contribute to the GDP?
A: Unfortunately, no such study has been done in India on these lines, while in the US, studies have been done to find out the Blacks’ share in the GDP, and also on their purchasing power. It was, for instance, found out that they don’t hold back cash in hand. Blacks don’t horde money, they pump into the system resources they have.

Q: What kind of economic opportunities does the Dalit youth aspire for?
A: The Indian state embraces Dalits who are educated. So if an educated Dalit youth dreams of becoming an IAS officer, an uneducated Dalit youth dreams of becoming a factory worker. He is fascinated with machines because they treat everyone equally. Like in Delhi, not many auto rickshaw drivers are Dalits, but Dalits do become truck drivers.

Q: There was a landmark study done on Dalits and their economic behaviour by you, Shyam Babu and Devesh Kapur. What was the outcome of the study and how is it relevant today?
A: We studied nearly 20,000 households in Azamgarh and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh. We wanted to study the impact of the economic reforms on the Dalits. We studied there parameters — occupation, food habits and lifestyles. There were radical changes. There’s an equality in food sources now but an inequality in assets. Now all the Dalit youths are wearing jeans/trousers. Especially all those who are below 40 years of age. Earlier, housing architecture was ‘controlled’. Dalit houses could not be taller than upper castes/landlords houses. Dresses, jewellery caste markers have all disappeared. Dalits into skinning of animals have stopped that. Dalit girls are not working in their own farms. A Dalit school teacher told me that Dalit hamlets face this peculiar problem of parking during weddings because there are typically not less than 20 cars! This means Dalits have got cash now, because of industrial townships and cities. We are writing a book on the findings.

Q: What’s the latest study that you have done?

A. We have done a study on 1,000 Dalit entrepreneurs with turnovers of Rs 10 lakh and above. Their combined value is Rs 15 billion. Globalisation has helped create more Dalit entrepreneurs.

[email protected]; @ skjsumankjha

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