Continued from: "Caste, Democracy and Market: The Boiling Cauldron"
Globalisation is based on the principle of unrestrained functioning of the free market-economy. In the paradigm of globalisation, state is reduced into a sort of security mechanism to protect its citizens from internal disruption and external threats. State is not supposed to care for the social and economic interests of its citizens. It is argued that the social and material interests of the citizens would be better served if they were left free to flourish in the market ‘prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services’. The Neo-liberal argument goes further by highlighting the point that the interests of the individuals are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. Thus globalisation robs the state of its welfare functions. On the contrary, the principle of social democracy calls upon state to play a positive role for the protection as well as promotion of the interests of the downtrodden. It expects that state need not be confined solely to law and order system; it is expected to function as a harbinger of social and economic justice as well. It is in this context that the extended contractarian tradition of the welfare state comes into head-on-collision with the forces of neo-liberal market-economy in the contemporary domain of globalisation.
Globalisation, thus, poses a serious challenge to the formation of social democracy in India. It is often paraded as a custodian of enormous ‘opportunities’. But such ‘opportunities’ are and whom they benefit is a question that directly concerns the Dalits. In an existential asymmetrical world, where we actually live, such opportunities open many doors to the haves. But the interests of the have-nots, a large majority of whom happen to be low castes, socially excluded, tribal, women, and other vulnerable sections of the society, are often neglected. The socially excluded sections of the society are the worst victims of much-hyped Special Economic Zones [SEZs] and the resultant consequent process of forced displacement (Ahlawat 2008; Palit 2008; Partha 2008; Kumar 2007; Gill 2007; Shankar 2007; Shankar 2008; Sampat 2008; Sharma 2009; and Sarma 2007). This has led to further perpetuation and deepening of the social and economic inequities, which in turn seriously diminish the values and principle of social justice in the society. In other words, it deepens the perennial evil of social exclusion through its much advertised project of new economic reforms, which in effect is less about ‘reforms, and more about ‘exclusion’. It has led to the closure of various industrial units in the public sector that “played havoc with the employment scenario of the populace as a whole and of the Dalits in particular” (Puniyani 2002) This, in turn, has increased unemployment and poverty on the one hand, and widened the hiatus between the rich/upper castes and the poor/lower castes on the other. In the first decade of the new economic reforms in India, the ratio of both unemployment and poverty increased from 28 per cent in 1989 to 48 per cent in 1992.
Marginalisation of the Marginalised
Since Dalits constitute the bulk of the poor and unemployed, they have suffered the most. Their chances of acquiring jobs in the high-tech industry at home as well as in the multinational corporations have been getting curtailed since the beginning of the process of globalisation in India. The system of primary and elementary education in the rural and urban settings has been subverted almost totally. Since, majority of the rich upper caste send their wards to the private/convent/public schools, government schools have been reduced into dysfunctional centres of learning for the poor Dalits. It is simply out of the reach of the matriculates of such neglected government schools, where hardly any infrastructure and teachers are available, to be able to compete for admission in the prestigious Information Technology (IT) or management schools. Moreover, since the background of a majority of Dalit undergraduates is in Arts and Humanities, it becomes difficult for them to meet the job requirements of the multinational corporations. Even if some of the Dalits aspire to compete in the technology driven new job market, it would be, perhaps, out of their reach to acquire the requisite qualifications at exorbitant rates from various engineering and management institutes. It is precisely due to these reasons that Dalits are rarely to be found in the prestigious management schools all over the country.
Dalits happened to be the beneficiaries of state’s affirmative action before India entered into the realm of neo-liberal free market-economy. The Indian state had brought some improvements in the lives of Dalits by making special provisions to provide them education, employment, respectable wages, access to land, water, health, housing and other resources. But the welfarist stance of the Indian state gave way to a new system of free market-economy in 1990s. One of the main tasks of this new paradigm is to force the roll back process of the welfare state and to allow the market forces to operate in an unrestrained manner. The pro-market stance of globalisation has led to the widening of the gap between the privileged few and the large mass of the marginalized sections of the society. It further led to marginalisation of the already marginalized people, thus widening the gulf of inequity in the society (Kumar 2007). Dalit labourers, daily wage workers and workers in the informal sector among them suffer the most. In other words, globalisation process severely affects some categories of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who are deprived of jobs, and face great difficulties in accessing housing, drinking water, food, healthcare, education, and employment. Thus the way globalisation affects the life of a Scheduled Caste worker differs significantly from that of the non-Scheduled Caste one.
In a caste-based hierarchical and graded social setup where lower social status and economic backwardness seems to be coterminous, social rank plays an important role in determining one's economic status. Globalisation further aggravates this vicious interrelationship between social and economic backwardness. The logic of economic globalisation favours the rich, who can invest and multiply capital. The favoured rich are mostly found among the so-called traditional ‘upper castes’ that have monopolised land and other economic resources in the country. It has made them prominent in the newly carved out vast private space of the open market. In other words, capital and caste have joined hands against labour and the principle of state social welfare it has led to an alliance between the forces of the market and the upper castes – much to the disadvantage of the marginalised and the lower castes.
Another way through which the process of globalisation has been affecting the lives of the Dalits rather more severely is the transformation of their traditional hereditary occupations into lucrative profit seeking competitive avenues where they find themselves incapable of competing with the so called upper castes who until very recently used to consider such professions as polluting. In other words, when the occupations of sewage disposal, scavenging and raw hides were performed in the Jajmani (hereditary system of asymmetrical reciprocity and patronage between landlords and occupational experts) set up, bereft of profit incentive, Dalits were forced to take them up. But when these same occupations became profit-generating businesses, Dalits find themselves at odd in their own tested fields. It is in this context that the process of globalisation perpetuates the system of caste and inequality albeit in a new form. Instead of liberating them, it further pins them down. Earlier they were excluded and were condemned as shudras because of their closeness to the sewages, now it excludes them by way of defeating them in the profit oriented open market system of the neo-liberal economy. In fact, this market is open only for those who have the capital to play the profit game on the chessboard of its unrestrained competition. In this new profit driven game of the process of globalisation, Dalits – normally starved of capital – stand disqualified.
Yet another way through which the process of globalisation severely affects the lives of the Dalits is the accentuation of the phenomenon of their exclusion from land. Significant parts of the vast majority of them who live in villages are landless labourers. Only a small number of them are cultivators with marginal holdings. The large-scale landlessness on the part of the Dalits led to their dependence on the upper caste land owning communities, which in turn deepened the caste based inequalities with the additional burden of asymmetrical class structures. The neo-liberal economic policies adopted under the regimes of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation widen already existing caste and class divisions between the Dalits and the dominant castes, and further minimises the chances of the emergence of a sense of solidarity among different communities.
Moreover, atrocities against Dalits (social boycott, kidnapping, murder, abduction, bonded labour, intimidation, rape, honour killings and residential segregation) have also increased many folds during the economic reforms measures. Tapan Basu in his engaging review of Anand Teltumbde’s latest book on Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop writes, “[t]he paradox of Indian modernity is that it instigates Dalits to fight for social justice, even as more and more social injustices are heaped upon them every day” (Hindu, December 7, 2008). It is this heightened amount of Dalit atrocities wrapped in a double foil of chronic poverty and emerging Dalit assertion that has in fact come to challenge the much hyped neo-liberal market-economy model and the promise that it flags for the deepening of democracy in India. There has been about a three-fold rise in cases of crime against Dalits such as murders, grievous hurt, rape, social boycott etc during the last decade and half (Puniyani 2002). Late Suraj Bhan, the then Chairman of the National Sc and ST Commission, while speaking in a seminar on Reservation In Privatisation organised by the Ambedkar Trust (Jalandhar), commented that more than 45,000 cases of atrocities against Dalits and downtrodden have been registered in India during the past one year alone. However, if the numbers of those cases, which were either suppressed or went unnoticed, are included, the total figure could easily go up to one hundred thousand (The Tribune September 5, 2005). During 2003-05 the number of such atrocities against Dalits was 69,216 (Mungekar 2006).
Talhan, Meham, Dulina, Gohana, Saalwan, Chakwada, Khairlanji, Khandamal and Mirchpur are some of the recent instances of atrocities against Dalits in India. Atrocities against Dalits thus continue to exist even today, despite constitutional safeguards, and various legislative measures. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in its report on the Prevention of Atrocities on Scheduled Castes released in 2002 pointed out that there was “virtually no monitoring of the implementation of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act at any level” (Narrain 2006). This clearly shows how vulnerable Dalits are in the wake of globalisation. In the opinion of Christine Moliner, a French anthropologist who visited the 4th World Social Forum (WSF) in Mumbai in January 2004, “[t]he Indian state has in recent years often proved itself unable or unwilling to protect Dalit; indeed, state representatives – police especially – are frequently accused of active participation in anti-Dalit violence” (Moliner 2004: 2; see also Mungekar 2006:2). How can the Indian state save the socially excluded if its own security agencies remain immersed in the pre-modern institution of caste?
Sharpening the Contradictions
Dalits constitute a significant proportion of the total population of India. How can India surge upward if it fails to care for the interest of the total 16.23 per cent Scheduled Castes population (Census of India 2001), which can promptly swell further if clubbed with the population of different categories of Backward and Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Tribes? No doubt the Indian constitution contains many provisions, thanks to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, but how much the Indian state has actually done for the uplift of those on the socio-political margins is open to debate. To quote Dr Ambedkar:
…that political power in this country has too long been the monopoly of a few and the many are not only beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey. This monopoly has not merely deprived them of their chance of betterment, it has sapped them of what may be called the significance of life. These down-trodden classes are tired of being governed, they are impatient to govern themselves. This urge for self-realization in the down-trodden classes must not be allowed to develop into a class of struggle or class war. It would lead to a division of the house. That would indeed be a day of disaster (Three Historical Addresses 1999: 55).
Even after 60 years when Dr Ambedkar echoed these words, majority of the Scheduled Castes are still landless. No systematic efforts have been made for the implementation of land reforms. A large majority of Dalit population remains landless. Even the provisions of minimum wages were never adhered to (Chopra 2008b: 2).
Globalisation has further sharpened the already existing contradictions between political equality on the one hand and social and economic inequality on the other. It has deprived Dalits of whatever little they have in the name of so-called fast development under the model of free market-economy. There exists no space for them at all in the glamorous showrooms of no-liberal market-economy –-Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These fabulous zones are yet to be tamed to accommodate the ever-increasing vast multitudes of downtrodden section of the society who could no longer be denied any more of their due share in the varied structures of power.
Downtrodden, in fact, are tired of being ‘governed’ for centuries, and are impatient to take control of their own destinies. However, whatever little space was available to them to dream the possibility of their betterment seems to have been grabbed by the forces of neo-liberal market-economy in the name of quick development. Their patience and ‘urge for self-realization’ can no longer be tested. Articulating the urge of the downtrodden for self-realization during his famous address on the completion of the Draft Constitution on 25 November 1949, Dr. Ambedkar cautioned that:
… the sooner room is made for the realization of their aspiration, the better for the few, the better for the country, the better for the maintenance of its independence and better for the continuance of its democratic structure. This can be done by the establishment of equality and fraternity in all spheres of life … (Three Historical Addresses 1999:55).
Similar views were expressed after 50 years by K. R. Narayanan, the President of India, in his address to the nation on January 25, 2000: “Beware of the fury of the patient and long suffering people” (as quoted in Puri 2006: 7). In a similar vein, Pratibha Patil, President of India, in her Republic Day-eve address reiterated that the disadvantaged:
too should find a place to enjoy the sunshine of the country’s growth and development… Our efforts and our commitment, while pursuing the goal of high growth rates, should be to ensure that all people of our country benefit from it. Our pledge will remain unfulfilled until, as Gandhi had said, ‘we have wiped every tear in every eye’ ” (as cited in Iyer 2008).
The benefits of globalisation are yet to reach these ‘patient and long suffering people’ who never shirk from toiling labour. But the free market-economy driven forces advocate the concerns of the rich and resourceful only. This widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The widening gap coupled with the rolling back of the state has led to further resentment and alienation among the downtrodden, thus jeopardising the democratic set up in the country. It is in this overarching context of social democracy that the responsibility and the task of safeguarding the developmental character of the Indian state, especially with regard to the empowerment of Dalits, become very crucial.
The benefits of globalisation are yet to reach these ‘patient and long suffering people’ who never shirk from hard work and toiling labour. But the free market economy driven forces advocate the concerns of the rich and resourceful only. This widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The widening gap coupled with the rolling back of the state lead to further resentment and alienation among the downtrodden that in turn put pressure on the practice of democracy in the country (Singh 2006). Baba Sahib Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was very well aware, much in advance, about the serious implications of the lopsided development for the growth of social democracy in a caste ridden country like India. He therefore underlined the inclusion of the downtrodden into the governmental set-up of the country. For that he emphasised that the safe route goes via total annihilation of caste and in that the role of the state is of utmost importance. If globalisation implies pushing the state out, then the future of the project of social democracy seems to be very bleak. It is in this context that the responsibility and the task of safeguarding the developmental character of the Indian state becomes very crucial more so for the empowerment of Dalits in particular and strengthening the forces of social democracy in India in general.
Though a lot has already been said about the desired human and humane face of globalisation based on global governance, such claims sound rather hollow for the marginalised sections of the society. The free market-economy has not only failed to liberate them, it has rather further pinned them down. Downtrodden are not welcomed in the sphere of market as equal partners of profit. In other words, the market too practices ‘untouchability’, albeit in a different form. They feel alienated in the very world that promises to empower them. Howsoever strong and robust the free market-economy might appear to be, in long run it will not survive until and unless the question of the marginalised sections is addressed sincerely. In fact, the question of equitable distribution of resources is closely related with the issue of the immediate and amicable redressal of the causes of marginalization and exclusion of the Dalits from the mainstream. The marginalized are to be provided not only with low price wheat, rice and pulses as has been popularly done in some Indian states. What is equally essential is to empower them, to enhance their buying capacity in the real sense of the term by dismantling the structures of economic and social dominations. As warned by George Tong-Boon Yeo, Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister, at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Partnership Summit in Bangalore:
If we are not concerned of the stresses of globalisation, ideological counter-currents will emerge. Globalisation is not a bed of roses. There is a need to be watchful, always, (The Hindu, March 19, 2007).
In other words, a balance needs to be created between the forces of market and the principles of social justice. It is in this context that Baba Sahib Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s warning, as referred to in the beginning of the paper, assumed critical importance. The globalisation process has been compelling India to bind up as early as possible its most sought after projects of social and economic justice aiming at empowering the Dalits. In other words, before social democracy could take firm roots in India, the state started rolling back from its commitment to facilitate the process of emancipation and empowerment of the downtrodden classes.
Dalits are now no longer confined within the rural settings and patron-client relationship. Some of them have been able to move into mainstream sectors of non-polluting professions and a few of them ventured abroad. Now the relatively better off Dalits come forward to articulate the interests of their brethren and to some extant they have been successful in providing them with an alternative leadership. Dalits who have once tasted the fruit of political equality can no longer be denied further any more their long overdue social and economic rights. Nothing short of structural transformation including the free market based system of economic domination on the one hand and the traditional Varna system of four-fold occupational division based on graded social hierarchy on the other could provide them their long denied basic human rights. In fact, in India the problem of Dalits is not just linked to the economic forces emanating from the spheres of the free market economy. It has equally been made complex by the all-pervasive caste ridden social order. It seems that market and caste have joined hands to pose a most serious challenge to the nascent institution of social democracy in India.
There is a general impression that some of the Dalits have been able to strengthen their economic position through sheer hard work and enterprise. Although the constitutional affirmative action played an important role in the uplift of the Dalits in general, their individual efforts to wriggle out of the abyss of social exclusion through the mechanism of localised social struggles armed with Dalit-Bahujan ideology, along with their ventures abroad, has turned out to be of crucial importance. Some of them have established their own small-scale servicing units such as carpentry, barber, blacksmith shops etc thus saying good bye to their low rank hereditary occupations (for details see: Ram 2010; Ram 2004a: 5-7). In addition, they have also been politicized to a large extent by the socio-political activities of the various regional Dalit movements and the consequent emergence of distinct ‘Dalit counter-public’ in the form of an alternative religious sphere, popularly known as Dalit deras (Ram 2008; Ram 2009a; Ram 2009b). Their improved economic status has not only liberated them from the subordination of the upper castes but also encourage them to aspire for a commensurate social status. The upsurge of a consciousness among Dalits to aspire for dignity and social justice seem to bring them in direct confrontation with the new forces unleashed by the free market-economy. Since free market-economy is premised on the withdrawal of state from the economic-welfare domain, it leads, consequently, to the demise of the institution of social democracy based as it was on the social welfare pillars of the state.
Economic liberalisation regimes in India can no longer ignore the stark realities of unequal and discriminatory patterns of its social life and chronic poverty. Any attempt to work out the economy in isolation of the hard-core social realities would have serious and far-reaching implication not only for Indian polity and society but also for its economy in the long run. It is in this context that the project of economic liberalisation needs to be understood, in consonance with the complex ‘social’ and ‘political’ of the Indian economy. To get rid of centuries-old caste-based social discriminations, exclusion and chronic poverty of millions of downtrodden in India, the ambitious project of economic liberalisation, perhaps, needs to be clubbed together with another equally ambitious project aiming at total transformation of the entire gamut of Hindu social order; thoroughly cleaning its long accumulated muck of hereditary occupation and repulsion. Can economic liberalisation alone help generate new avenues for rapid economic growth and equal opportunities (‘growth with redistribution’ or ‘capitalism with a human face’) for all in a society like India marked by rampant social hierarchies and inequalities? This is an urgent and critical issue that needs serious attention. That is what Dr. Ambedkar strongly pleaded for in his capacity as a Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution for Independent India and also as an organic leader of millions of downtrodden. Can economic liberalisation alone help generate new avenues for rapid economic growth and equal opportunities (‘growth with redistribution’ or ‘capitalism with a human face’) for all in a society like India dotted with rampant social hierarchies and inequalities? This is an urgent and uphill task that needs serious attention. And it is in this context that social democratic vision of Dr Ambedkar assumes critical importance. Failure to engage with this vision is likely to result in further perpetuation of chronic poverty and inequalities leading to social unrest and political violence, with the downtrodden and the marginalized becoming the worst victims.