Accepted Paper:

Activism & business ownership: where Dalits stand  


Kaushal Vidyarthee (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the emergence of business enterprises owned by Dalits in contemporary India and how this emergence is shaping the Dalit activism and in turn being shaped by it.

Paper long abstract:

The Dalit activism which has taken recently a development turn is excessively concerned with the access to social and economic opportunities in terms of ownership of common property, land rights, fair wages, job markets, and educational institutes. Yet, there is another very important type of access which is the ownership of business enterprises. This becomes even more relevant in the context of the inclusive development agenda of the state and the enterprise driven growth in India since economic reforms in 1990s. As expected, the ownership of enterprises by Dalits has been minimal especially in the sectors driving economic growth such as trade, IT, finance, communications, transport etc. The few Dalits who have been successful entrepreneurs have realised the importance of ownership of business enterprises for socio-economic development of Dalits. They in turn have further advocated for advancing the business interests of other Dalits. Their mobilization has led to the formation of the first ever Dalit business owners' association called- Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) and its various chapters. Policy makers have also recently made favourable policies such as fixed procurements from Dalit firms, subsidized credit support for the establishment of firms, and training programmes for Dalit entrepreneurs. The paper explores how such activism and mobilization by Dalit community to demand greater ownership of business enterprises is shaping the policy process in India. My data consists of more than forty in-depth interviews with Dalit entrepreneurs in Uttar Pradesh, members from DICCI, and policy makers.

Panel W067
The developmental turn in Dalit activism: disquieting caste and capitalism in contemporary India