S lavoj Zizek while discussing his new work at LSE recently, emphatically un derlines the ‘Universalism of Capitalism’ and further states that at the level of economy ‘capitalism has triumphed worldwide’ in contemporary times. For Zizek ‘the mask of cultural diversity today is sustained by the actual universalism of global capital’. It is clear that in today’s India there is a growing acceptance of Neoliberalism* as the only viable framework of economic progress. This global model of financial capitalism under the rubric of neoliberal philosophy was unleashed in the Indian economy by the Rajiv Gandhi Government in early 1990s; rigorously pushed by the Manmohan Singh Government since 2004 and has now found an almost invincible patron under the Narendra Modi Government since June 2014. Today we are witnessing a Hindu Right Government—riding high on the promise of development—which of course is neoliberal in nature; openly embracing the capitalist class and by the same logic—unabashed capitalism. Barring a few university classrooms and seminars, there is not even the slightest hint of debating neoliberalism in India today. The politics of neoliberal hegemony is now near complete and it is this universalism as unceremoniously pointed out by Zizek and an uncritical acceptance of the same which is dangerous not only for the country as a whole, but counterproductive to the dalit movement as well.
Dalits in Neoliberal India: Mobility or Marginalisation? edited by Clarinda Still, as its title suggests, helps in understanding the process of neoliberalism within the context of rising inequalities in Indian society—a society which is deeply embedded in social inequalities to begin with. This book where young scholars along with seasoned academics are both present with their critical analysis and inputs, was duly awaited. That is not to say that there is a complete absence of critical work being done on neoliberal economy in India. There is of course a vast literature available today which scrutinizes the current status of the Indian economy and exposes the ugly consequences of the same which has further pushed the multitudes to the brink of poverty. However, this work stands unique in the sense that it gives multifaceted understanding on the lives of millions of dalits and where do they rest on the spectrum of economic growth or how dalits have progressed in the middle of this neoliberal churning. How does the withdrawal of the state under aggressive neoliberalism affect dalits, as they are the very people who need the constitutionally guided state protection all the more? But then again, the argument put forth by the votaries of neoliberalism is that, that it is due to precisely this decline in the public sector services and other measures of affirmative action, that we need to push for other avenues, and then right there you have the espousal of the neoliberal cause as the only and nonetheless ‘emancipatory’ model to adopt. There is ample research available today which highlights such tensions within dalits and also exhibits the further deepening of the socioeconomic inequalities among them as the consequence of more than two decades since India had taken the neoliberal turn. Clarinda Still puts things in perspective within the broader framework of the dalit movement.
In her introductory essay, Still comprehensively explores the sociopolitical mobility/marginalization among dalits in neoliberal India. Her essay gives an informed account of the current literature which engages dalits on several aspects of their lives. From Sudha Pai’s rigorous scrutiny of ‘Supplier Diversity’ policy in Madhya Pradesh since the ‘Bhopal Declaration’ to Sumeet Mhaskar’s meticulous research on Bombay’s dalit ex mill workers and their current occupational status and how social institutions like caste and religion still shape the same, these eight essays put forth a range of issues affecting dalits lives today. Kaushal Vidyarthee’s exhaustive statistical essay covers a wide trajectory of how dalits are being integrated into the neoliberal economy and explains how despite aggressive liberalization and modernization the exclusionary practices of economic importance have remained intact in the traditional caste system. Both Mhaskar and Vidyarthee’s works together give an account of how deep the decay is in Indian society and how the caste system remains completely unchanged and unscathed which adapts with every new step of the upper castes. After all, it wasn’t for nothing that Ambedkar termed brahmanism and capitalism as the twin enemies for dalits.
Even though I don’t quite agree with Judith Heyer’s article, it is quite an interesting and insightful piece of research on the concept of housewives and dalit women and requires an attentive read. Jules Naudet’s fascinating work captures the ever pervasive tension among the upwardly mobile dalits. Through several interviews, Naudet brings out the complex web of an emotional crisis which young and educated dalits go through and how they continue to fight it at a very personal level and thereby linking this struggle of their own self to the larger politics. This essay is an important part of this book and should be given careful reading.
What this work perhaps lacks is an analysis on the lack of any concrete analysis on neoliberalism in the dalit movement today. The increasing influence of neo-liberal economic policies in India, celebrated by the successive central governments since the 1990s and the corresponding weakening of progressive movements for bringing the economic betterment and social transformation in the lives of dalits have only made matters worse. The recent beating received by Maywati in UP at the hands of BJP in the 2014 general elections, if nothing else, is a strong statement for the same reasons. How has ‘Hindutva’ faring so well on the rhetorical front of economic growth and also aggressively working to bring the dalits into its fold brought about this revival of BJP that happened in UP, at the cost of dalit politics, when the forces of Hindutva have been weakened in the same region to begin with? Such questions need a further probe. This work goes a long way in strengthening our ways of understanding the myriad aspects of politics in India and gives a fresh perspective on its intersection with caste, gender and economy.
*Due to paucity of space it is difficult to separate neoliberal philosophy from that of Capitalism, and hence I shall be using both the word interchangeably.
Moggallan Bharti is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Gargi College, Delhi University, Delhi.