Indian Consulate holds talk on Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurship

NEW YORK CITY (TIP): The Consulate General of India here hosted its Ninth Media India Lecture Series with Professor Devesh Kapur on ‘The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurship’ on Thursday, November 20, 2014. Consul General Ambassador Dnyaneshwar M Mulay opened the discussion with introductory remarks, and welcomed constructive dialogue between intellectuals, the private sector and the government for comprehensive and inclusive social and political change.

Professor Kapur is the Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India and an Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania. His latest book, Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs (coauthored with D Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad), was published in July 2014 by Random House India, and outlines the success stories of 21 Dalit entrepreneurs. The hour long discussion and key note address was moderated by Laxman Narasimhan, CEO of PepsiCo.


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Prof. Devesh Kapur said, “Dalits are more invested in a brighter future, rather than lamenting the past. Given this positive attitude, and increased confidence, Dalit entrepreneurs can benefit from institutional economic changes that support their business.”


Professor Kapur and his co-authors conducted a survey of 20,000 Dalit households in Uttar Pradesh to compile the most comprehensive data set about the status of economic and social growth in the Dalit community in independent India. The authors began their research by asking a simple, yet symbolic, question about commensality — who you eat with and who sits at your table. Caste based segregation and discrimination has been deeply rooted in Indian lifestyles and behavior, and in the past there were very few instances of where the upper caste would dine with members of the Dalit community.

The Indian government and its laws can prevent such discrimination, but Professor Kapur argues that instead on emphasizing on reinforcing laws that prevent such private discrimination, the attention needs to be shifted on economic empowerment, which will gradually contribute to political and social changes. Professor Kapur asserted that income inequality alone does not capture the day – to- day struggle of the Dalit community. Questions like how a member of the Dalit community reacts when they come across someone of an upper caste on the same village pathway reveal more about the status of the marginalized community.

Keeping this in mind, the authors set out to search for successful Dalit entrepreneurs, and Defying the Odds (Random House 2014) is a book about 21 Dalit entrepreneurs. In discussion with the audience, Professor Kapur outlined several examples of the change in attitudes of the Dalit community — there was a distinct absence of bitterness about the injustices done to them in the past; they had a great willingness to live and let live; and were pro-active donors for infrastructural maintenance in their local communities. Dalits, Professor Kapur said, are more invested in a brighter future, rather than lamenting the past.

Given this positive attitude, and increased confidence, Dalit entrepreneurs can benefit from institutional economic changes that support their business. Mr. Narasimhan closed the discussion asking Professor Kapur if the media was racist, and if in fact being a Dalit was the equivalent of being part of a segregated community in the USA. Professor Kapur concluded that discrimination in practice was still prevalent, and being labeled as a Dalit was still seen as a disadvantage in business, but the increasing numbers of Dalit millionaires is expected to soon change that mindset.

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