The recent incident of a 17-year-old Dalit boy being shot dead for entering a temple at a village in UP is not an isolated occurrence, but is in fact one in a long list of atrocities inflicted on Dalits in the country everyday. It is the inevitable result of a deep-rooted system of caste hierarchy that has always been a part of the organized Hindu religion. Even though the practice of ‘Untouchability’ has no legal mandate in India, and was abolished by an Act of the Government in 1955, Dalits are still socially ostracized and discriminated against. Caste is still considered a yardstick in terms of jobs, education and social life in general. Reservation and literacy have tried to bridge this gap, but have failed in changing much.
The word, ‘Dalit’ comes from the Hindi word, ‘dalan’, meaning oppressed or broken. It is the name that members of the group gave themselves in the 1930s in the aftermath of the Poona Pact that led to the beginning of Dalit political representation.
Therefore, in present times, ‘Dalit’ is not so much a caste identity, as it is a political identity which has been created to put up a strong front against the systemic oppression of the community. In fact, Dalit is not a caste that one is born into, but a constructed identity assigned to several communities that have been subjected to political and social discrimination by the Hindu social hierarchy. It has been appropriated as a mark of revolution, empowering the community at large and giving rise to voices from beyond the mainstream discourse.
The rise of Dalit entrepreneurship post the economic liberalisation of 1991 is one of the many instances in which we see the inception of Dalit empowerment, leading to an emergence of Dalit voices in the industrial sector. However, entrepreneurial initiatives by Dalits in the space of creative industries have been few and far between.
We have curated a list of eminent Dalit personalities who have broken away from the norm, and graced the creative industries space with their entrepreneurial spirit.
I. Chandra Prasad Bhan
He is widely regarded as the most importane Dalit thinker and political commentator in India today. He is the editor of Dalit Enterprise, India’s first ever magazine exclusively for Dalit entrepreneurs. It is a Delhi-based digital magazine that features Dalit entrepreneurs who rose above the vicious clutches of caste discrimination in order to make a mark in the business world. The monthly English magazine features as many as 12 to16 Dalit business magnates in an edition and narrates their story of success in an attempt to inspire Dalits to enter the cutthroat world of business.
“I personally know many Dalit and Adivasi youth wasting their formative years trying to get into government service. I am not saying that it is wrong, all I want to tell them is that they do have alternative career options. Through this, we want to inspire other Dalits to become entrepreneurs and let them know how others have successfully grown from small manufacturers to big ones,” says Chandra Bhan. Chandra Bhan eventually hopes to turn the magazine into a platform to carry out policy reforms and advocacy.
Mr. Prasad is a research affiliate on CASI’s Dalit research program and serves as a key advisor to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI). He was the first Dalit to gain a regular space in a nationally circulating Indian newspaper, more than fifty years after India’s independence, quickly attracting national attention and widespread readership. His weekly Dalit Diary has been a regular feature of the Delhi-based English language newspaper, The Pioneer since 1999, and is routinely translated into numerous other major Indian languages.. Prasad studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, where he completed his M.A. and M.Phil.
II. Sudheer Rajbhar
He is a Bombay-born artist and activist, whose creative enterprise, the Chamar Studio, is leading the revolution for social change through the medium of fashion. Hailing from the slums of Kandivali, Mumbai, Sudheer Rajbhar grew up very close to leather artisans, which enabled him to establish a rapport with the community over the years. He eventually started collaborating with them, teaching them to stitch together black rubber bags and other accessories. He showcased them at Clark House Initiative in Colaba, Mumbai, leading to the creation of Chamar Studio. Rajbhar provided the artisans with cotton, latex, recycled thin rubber tyre sheets and canvas, and taught them how to use those for making bags. The products made by Chamar Studio range anywhere between INR 700 and INR 9,000, thus providing a source of livelihood for the community.
In 2017, he participated in a show at Jehangir Art Gallery, where he showcased his work, Dark Homes.
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