An equal reality

Anurodh Lalit Jain | Updated on January 20, 2018

BR Ambedkar

The best way to celebrate Ambedkar

As we celebrate BR Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, it is important to remember that his vision of economic equality for dalits is still a distant dream. He had told the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949: “We are entering an era of political equality. But economically and socially we remain a deeply unequal society. Unless we resolve this contradiction, inequality will destroy our democracy.”

Today, almost 38 per cent of the SC community lives below the poverty line, only 43 per cent own permanent homes, and only 17.7 per cent own homes in rural areaa. According to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census Data 2011, less than 1 per cent of the SC community in rural areas had a member earning more than ₹10,000 a month.

Affirming opportunities

At Independence, the Constitution provided a ‘protective discrimination policy’ — reservation of government jobs. The socialist policy led to the expansion of public sector units. It was expected that the PSUs would play a major role in India’s economic growth. Hence, job reservation in the government sector seemed like a suitable opportunity.

However, with rapid disinvestment and the downscaling of PSUs, the private sector has become a major employer. But the representation of dalits in this sector remains low. The economic survey of private enterprise in 2005 revealed that the share of the SC community in total private enterprise was a mere 6 per cent in urban areas and 10 per cent in rural areas, far lower than their population. It is important, then, that the Government looks at bringing the policy of affirmative action in the private sector.

In this context, it is useful to remember what former US president Lyndon Johnson said in 1965: “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.” The UPA government in 2006 urged the private sector to take affirmative action in education, employment opportunities and employment for weaker sections.

Dalit capitalism

The 2005 Economic Census shows that dalits in India own just 9 per cent of enterprises despite constituting 16 per cent of the population; a majority of these are small, single-person businesses. Dalit capitalism or the promotion of dalit entrepreneurs is certainly a way forward using tools such as supplier diversity programmes. This could be a business programme encouraging dalit business vendors as suppliers.

The Madhya Pradesh government in 2002 mandated State department and public sector enterprises to purchase 30 per cent of their small value purchases from SC and ST entrepreneurs. The PWD reserved 30 per cent of works up to ₹2 lakh for the SC and ST community. This programme worked well and looked promising but after the change of government it was slowly diluted. Nonetheless such programmes in government enterprises must be started; private enterprises must also be encouraged to adopt them. Most top fortune companies based in the US have a supplier diversity programme which encourages the purchase of goods and services from certified small businesses as well as enterprises owned by minorities, women, veterans and disabled persons.

The writer is a social healthcare analyst

Published on April 13, 2016

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