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Dalits and Adivasis in Business

Homo Heirarchicus and Liberalisation

Dalits and Adivasis in India’s Business Economy: Three Essays and an Atlas by Barabara Harriss-White with Elisabetta Basile, Anita Dixit, Pinaki Joddar, Aseem Prakash, and Kaushal Vidyarthee, Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, 2014; pp 189, Rs 1,300.

The book under review is a remarkable compendium of empirical research and painstaking analysis of India’s post-liberalised matrix of social stratification and political economy. It comes as a sequel to Barbara Harris White’s earlier work India Working, and “makes amends,” by the author’s own admission, of her previous thesis on Dalit corporatism. The present work investigates the impact of liberalisation on India’s Dalits and Adivasis in order to find out whether laissez-faire has socio-economically empowered these subaltern classes. The outcome of such explorations reveals that the ideology of the market “has done little to break down India’s caste based social order, and in some ways even reinforces it” (p 7), as it is manipulated by the upper class to serve their own interests. Drawing on data provided by governmental agencies, the book looks into questions of inclusive growth and citizenship vis-à-vis Dalits and Adivasis. It reiterates that even after six decades of independence, a quarter of India’s population is still victim to poverty and social discrimination on the basis of caste, which continues to constitute the structure of Indian society.

The recent controversy over Arundhati Roy’s book-length introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste brings to the fore the issue of caste and class in Indian society, and shows how annihilation of the caste system still looks improbable. Ambedkar’s forebodings about the impossibility of social revolution in India because of its rigid caste stratifications have proved to be absolutely true and appears more relevant today than ever. This book comes as a great eye-opener, and ably debunks the hegemonic narratives of India’s progress. It demonstrates how the paradigm of Homo Hierarchicus perfectly converges with the ethos of Homo Economicus or to rephrase it, how the market mandarins (read the upper castes), instead of abolishing caste hierarchy in the operation of the market in particular, and in Indian society in general, have actually bolstered it in multiple ways.

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