TALKING POINT DICCI chief on how caste groupings come in the way of Dalit entrepreneurship
The recent launch of the Karnataka Chapter of the Dalit Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) has generated interest not just among industry watchers but also among entrepreneurs from traditionally marginalised communities.
Raja Nayak, president of DICCI-Karnataka, speaks to The Hindu about the fledgling trade body’s aims and challenges.
Q. How do you plan to promote Dalit capitalists in the State?
A. Karnataka is the 18th State where a DICCI unit has been set up. Our first objective is to have district-level units.
We will be starting one in Mysore within one month. Belgaum and Gulbarga will follow. Dalit entrepreneurs are very excited; we have been getting several enquiries.
Our slogan is, ‘Become job givers not jobseekers’. Most Dalits continue to depend on the government for jobs: we want them to come out of that mentality.
We plan to create awareness about the many Union and State government schemes for promotion of Dalit entrepreneurship. Hundreds of crores of rupees worth of government schemes for Dalits are not availed of.
What sectors have Dalits in Karnataka managed to succeed?
Of the few Dalit businessmen there are, most are in the garment and leather processing sectors. In Gulbarga and Bijapur, there are many Dalits in the dry fruits business. But they all lack proper networks and facilities. Most often they are exploited by middlemen and agents. There is a small population of entrepreneurs in the IT and ITeS sector.
It is well established that some castes among Dalits are more backward and have faced greater injustices. Which castes and sub-castes do the State’s Dalit entrepreneurs mostly come from?
We have some broad ideas about the backgrounds of Dalits in business. But we are planning to conduct studies to understand these dynamics better. The study will also give us statistics about which Scheduled Castes have managed to succeed in trade and commerce.
Several trades continue to be ferociously guarded by certain castes, clans and communities. How tough is it for Dalits to make inroads?
The toughest sector for Dalits to enter is hospitality and hotels. People are still conscious about the caste of the person cooking their food. In fact, most Dalits find it extremely hard to penetrate the food and food processing industries. Agricultural produce marketing also has an apartheid-like system. Most traditional sectors of trade and manufacturing are out of bounds for Dalits as they are protected by certain dominant caste groupings. Modern industries, such as IT, are far more welcoming.
Is that why you embrace neo-liberalism?
Yes, global and modern industries are caste-blind. Neo-liberalism has the potential to reform an outdated, semi-feudal economy that revolves around caste. What we really want is supplies diversity in the procurement process. Large corporations should actively seek out Dalit suppliers. The Tatas have already pledged that 20 per cent of all their procurements will be from Dalit suppliers.
We want the government to relax tender norms. When a government agency says that only a firm with Rs. 100 crore turnover can participate in a tender, it immediately alienates several Dalit businessmen. We want relaxation of certain criteria, not reservation.
And there need not be any compromise on the quality of deliverables.
The main problem for aspiring Dalit entrepreneurs continues to be seed capital and networks.
We are working in that regard. We will soon have a venture capital arm within the DICCI. We also hope to pressure Union and State governments to come forward and fund Dalit ventures.