-Bridge the Gap Bring the Change

Dalit entrepreneurship, Ferguson and Javkhede


We should not abandon our collective quest for equality and justice in the wake of recent events.

Ferguson, a relatively unknown city recently generated outburst on the issue of justice system in the U.S. The same should have happened about Javkhede in India, but our society is inexplicably silent. Does this indicate that we are skipping issues of justice and equality today?

In Ferguson an unarmed black youth Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Sadly, most of the black community did not expect justice. When the grand jury actually refused to indict the officer, violence flared up in Ferguson. The National Guard was pressed in service. Nationwide protests erupted. Once again old wounds were in the open. The history of slavery and deep layers of injustice came in focus.

In October 2014 three members of a Dalit family in Maharashtra’s Javkhede village were killed and chopped body parts were thrown around farm and a nearby well. No arrests have been made so far. Dalit and social organizations held protests but it did not shake up the State (or the conscience of the nation) and the news barely received any space in the national media.

Justice system of US and democracy of India haven’t helped tackle blight of injustice and discrimination. In US despite the country’s superpower status, numerous laws, black and white people live in segregated areas. Inequality breeds further stereotyping and discrimination. In India the explosion of social media and the rise of literate middle class of millions have failed to create a movement that highlights and prevents such savage acts.

Compare this with our strong positive response to the Nribhaya case. Does it mean even in matters of atrocity society is selective or that the urbanites are so apathetic that they fail to grasp the gravity of these incidents? Maharashtra has seen repeated incidents of such brutality. Khairlanjee and Sonai village come to mind.

Neither the U.S. nor in India we are likely to see an end to these incidents anytime soon. Under the leadership of Ambedkarin 1950, India bestowed voting rights for all and reservations for the underprivileged . The U.S. accepted enfranchisement of racial minorities only in 1965 after the civil rights unrest.

The reactions in both the countries are also different. In the U.S. there is stronger outrage at the incidents. President Obama issued a statement, called a meeting of his cabinet and consulted think tanks and community leaders. Both TV and print media were awash with articles. The police officer resigned even though he was not indicted. In Javkhede the Chief Minister assured early action and matter rests there. This does not mean nothing is changing. I attended a unique heart warming event at the Indian Consulate in New York where the ‘rise of Dalit entrepreneurs’ was a topic of discourse. It focused on comprehensive and inclusive social and political change happening in India right now.

Professor Devesh Kapur’s latest book, ‘Defying the Odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs’ , co-authored with D. Shyam Babu and Chandra Bhan Prasad is a gem based on a survey of 20,000 Dalit households in Uttar Pradesh. It is the most comprehensive data about the status of economic and social growth in the Dalit community in independent India. Kapur argued that attention needs to be shifted to economic empowerment, which will contribute to real change. Keeping this in mind this book examines the exemplary rise of 21 Dalit entrepreneurs and describes their success. Prof. Kapur asserted that Dalits are more invested in a brighter future, rather than lamenting the past. Kapur concluded that discrimination in practice was still prevalent, but the increasing numbers of Dalit millionaires is expected to soon change that mindset.

As I close the article, two fresh developments hit the headlines. In a similar case that happened in July 2014 in Staten Island, where a black man was killed by a white police officer during choke-hold, the jury has decided to let go the officer scot-free. Another round of protests has erupted. In Javkhede, meanwhile, the brother of the victim was arrested for the alleged murders.

Ironic this may sound but all such stories of ghastly human behaviour have their own life. What matters is that our collective quest for equality and justice and is not abandoned on any pretext.

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