1. Intro – signifying capitalism is emancipating caste.
  2. Present arguments how market economy has been helping Dalits.
  3. Conclusion highlighting measures for caste emancipation.

Chandra Bhan Prasad, an influential Dalit thinker and writer, says, “Capitalism is beginning to break the caste system”. Also, a study by Centre for Advanced Study of India on 20,000 Dalit households in Uttar Pradesh, has yielded evidence of economic progress among Dalits supported by the country’s rapid economic growth.

The market-driven economy and the investment & growth that it has spurred, have created a pathway to progress for more Dalits. Migration to cities is one key aspect of this process, which is giving access to urban opportunities. This can potentially destroy the basis of caste itself, since Dalits in cities can reshape their identities through education, participating in stronger social networks and eventually climbing the economic ladder. M.N. Srinivas observed this phenomenon of identity shift in many lower castes, which he termed “Sanskritization”. He writes, “Sanskritization is a process by which a lower caste or tribe or any other group changes its customs, rituals, ideology and way of life in the direction of a higher or more often twice-born caste.” Thus, capitalism may be facilitating the upward-mobility for many Dalits.

Liberalisation & rapid growth have changed the functional outlook of castes. For e.g., a software firm cares for the candidate’s programming skills and not caste, as to compete in global markets.

However, capitalism is not a guaranteed destroyer of social discrimination. But capitalism matched by some degree of social democracy can prove effective. Democratic politics, giving weight to numbers, can solidify the gains. As Prasad claims, “Economic expansion will neutralise caste in 50 years, if not end caste”.

Economic expansion with good public policy is required, which is shaped by judicious use of market incentives. Accepting the value of capitalist dynamics for the caste pyramid, policies should focus not just on rural development, but faster development of India’s towns & cities. Regional towns can become growth poles with the right infrastructure, taking pressure off the metropolitan areas. Job creation for the unskilled & semi-skilled, requiring labour market reforms, and other interventions in small & medium enterprises, are now policy imperatives. A process of ‘creative destruction’, setting aside inefficient social systems & outmoded production modes, must be speedily initiated, not perpetuating struggles over quotas.

Neutralizing caste is good, as Caste will remain, but without being a basis for oppression.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish May 10, 2023