Dalits for FDI in retail

Divya Trivedi | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on December 16, 2011

The original inhabitants of the land — Scheduled Castes, erstwhile untouchables or Dalits — feel that foreign investment in the retail sector has tremendous socially-liberating potential. Dalit leader and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, has opposed the approval of foreign direct investment in retail, as mooted by the UPA Government at the Centre. “Mayawati's stand is political, mine is social,” says Mr Chandrabhan Prasad, political commentator and columnist, who supports the introduction of FDI. Even as the move to allow FDI in retail has been stymied for now, intellectual leaders of the Dalit community feel that FDI can remove untouchability in buying and selling.

The Dalits, more than a fifth of India's population, have, for centuries, been relegated to jobs considered ‘impure' by upper castes. By establishing a purely economic relationship in business, and delinking it from political and other forms of domination, FDI will be a boon to the socially and economically-backward communities, says Dalit scholar Mr Chittibabu Padavala. “While the negative consequences of FDI in retail to the economy are real, it has socially-liberating potential,” he says. Local business interests control the lives of the local population through a hold on the social, economic, political, cultural as well as educational aspirations of the people.

Mr Padavala points out that while the income of small businesses may not be adversely affected with the entry of foreign players, their overwhelming hold on society will get blunted. “Foreign capital uses local capital as its subordinate or broker, and the big capitalists work in tandem with local forces,” he says. At such a time, when the entry of foreign investment has the potential to open up several spaces for progressive forces in society, if the Left continues to represent local capital instead of grabbing these opportunities, it will be disastrous, says Mr Padavala. Public intellectual Mr Chandrabhan Prasad welcomes the plaza culture and asserts that unless culture breaks, caste cannot break.


Notions of cleaning and sweeping, which were historically relegated to the domain of the lower castes, have undergone a transformation in plazas. A Brahmin boy works in the housekeeping department, Delhi University students work in restaurants doing odd jobs. While the taboos associated with cleaning have ended in plazas, they flourish on the streets of Delhi, he says. Political thinker, Professor Kancha Ilaiah, points out that if a Dalit sets up a shop in a village, nobody will buy from him, but if he is a manager in a plaza, then nobody will trouble him. Both Prof Ilaiah and Mr Prasad assert that FDI will be good for the economy and help break the monopoly of the bania community on the circulation of money.

Foreign businesses will purchase from small manufacturers, regardless of their castes. “To give an example, in villages, the kayasthas and banias are buyers and they don't purchase oil from the dalit producers as it is used in temples,” explains Prof Ilaiah. Dalits, who have historically been artisans, have great skill sets, but nobody invests in them. If foreign retailers buy and sell from them, it will boost their income, by however little.

Published on December 16, 2011
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