Capitalism versus caste: A new order based on the market can sweep away centuries of caste discrimination CHANDRA BHAN PRASAD & Milind Kamble "Ho to tum Dilli se saheb, per soch badi chhoti hai" (You might be from Delhi, but you are narrow-minded), jeers Prashant Patil. Aged 28, Prashant is upset about being asked what makes a Patil woman work on dalit farmland. "Caste ka chashma utar kar dunia dekho" (See the world without the blinkers of caste), he counsels. In district Sangli of Maharashtra, a new kind of social narrative is at work. It is this village in Sangli where legendary dalit industrialist Ashok Khade was born. Ashok's mother was a farm worker and father, a cobbler â€” both illiterate. Once it had rained for three days in a row, and Ashok's father couldn`t open the shoe repair shop that he ran under the open sky. The next day was Ashok's board examination. "Mother controlled her tears, but i sobbed," recalls Ashok. He went to write his maths exam on an empty stomach. "I remember the day because i scored 100 out of 100." Despite such aptitude for maths sprouting within him, poverty pushed young Ashok out of the classroom. Once out of school, Ashok migrated to Mumbai and joined Mazagaon Dock in 1975. He excelled in his job, including a year-long stint in Germany â€” but his entrepreneurial skills would not be denied. He quit his job to launch DAS Offshore Engineers Pvt Ltd in 1992. With 4,500 workers today, including 152 engineering graduates, Ashok is the largest dalit employer. Driven by a passion to give back to society, Ashok returned to his village to transform it. "Wanted to farm on DAS Offshore lines," recalls Ashok. By DAS Offshore lines, Ashok meant corporate farming on 80 acres of farmland that he had acquired. "Corporate farming can turn soil into gold," he reasons. Completely mechanised, Ashok`s farms produce mangoes, grapes, bananas and turmeric in virtually an assembly line manner. "We have the highest yield per acre in the area," says manager P Shendge. "Isn`t it betraying your caste honour that you work on dalit farmland?" Meenakshi`s res-ponse is cool but prompt: "Kar-khana ki kya jati" (What caste does work have). She is a Patil; her mother-in-law lived in purdah for most of her life. Aged 89, G B Joshi did his SSC in 1952 but didn`t take up a job. Revered by fellow villagers and with an encyclopedic knowledge of local society, Joshi praises Ashok for renovating the village temple. "In childhood, i prayed standing outside the temple," recalls Ashok in turn. Joshi opens up after some probing. "Ab bhautikvaad ka bol-bala hai. Tulsi ki jagah TV ne le li hai" (Now materialism holds sway. Television has replaced the Tulsi). To the traditional part of India, the Tulsi is a deity that is worshipped. But materialism is changing all that. The new social mood demands that Meenakshi install a dish antenna on her rooftop. Thirty-five kilometres east of Sangli, dalit entrepreneur Devanand Londhe is authoring a new social contract in his village. Born into a hut, Londhe couldn`t afford shoes when he joined the government polytechnic at Kolhapur in 1987. Seniors would rag him for not following the dress code. Aged 43, and a multi-millionaire, Londhe`s Payod Industries set up in 2008 produces three lakh pairs of high quality cotton gloves a month. "That`s for export," says Londhe. The Mumbai plant produces another six lakh gloves a month for the domestic market. Of the 150 workers that Londhe employs in his village, over 100 are women from the upper castes. "Paisa ab jati se bada ho gaya hai" (Money matters more than caste now), argues Anita Paigonda. A Jain, Anita praises Londhe for being a good paymaster. "People think i have become a doctor," explains Alka. A Patil, she points to the white cotton coat she is wearing. "Has caste begun to end in this village?" Answers vary. "Jati to hai par jativaad kam ho gaya hai" (Caste exists but casteism is on the decline), reasons A G Pawar. A retired schoolteacher, Pawar manages the library that Londhe has set up. Twenty-five kilometres west of Sangli town, Anand D Daware runs a bottled water plant. Raised on Mumbai streets, and now a multi-millionaire, Daware returned to his village to set up the plant. "Production cost is much cheaper here," he explains. "I was given water from a distance," Daware recalls about his childhood. "Now he gives everyone water," Milee Poojari cracks a joke. Herself a Brahmin, Poojari manages the plant. "Caste cannot be bigger than career," insists Sangram D Bhosle who is a microbiologist at the plant. The Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, is engaged in profiling dalit entrepreneurs nationally. The researchers have identified 17 dalit entrepreneurs in Sangli district alone who are big enough to employ even upper castes. Sangli`s lessons for the rest of India? Corporate farming boosts yield and neutralises the caste order. Mechanisation of farming creates caste-neutral jobs that dismantle occupational hierarchy â€” the backbone of the caste order. The assembly line can be the greatest social equaliser. Bhautikvaad or materialism triggers consumerism â€” not just in towns but in the countryside as well. Consumerism boosts industrialisation that produces classes to replace caste. With material markers overwhelming social markers, dalits can shop for rank in society the way dalit industrialists in Sangli have shown. Chandra Bhan Prasad writes on dalit issues. Milind Kamble is chairman, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry. Capitalism versus caste: A new order based on the market can sweep away centuries of caste discrimination - The Times of India ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ This is an article written by two DALIT activists and who are doing well themselves. This article contains the success stories of totally deprived Dalits, who have made their niche as millionaires and are employing many caste Hindus And the best part is that they have done so on their own steam and not getting alms from the Govt in the form of reservations in every aspect of their breathing life! . In fact. one is making bottled water that is being used by many Indians, high caste, or different religions! Imagine that at one time, Dalits were not allowed to drink from the same source! This is a reminder to all those who wail, rant and rave about not getting a lions share of the govt goodies gratis, by the way of reservations in every aspect of life, that if you have the merit, and ambition one cannot keep a good man down!