When it comes to caste and capitalism in India, The New York Times reads rather like Reason or a house publication of the Cato Institute. Last fall there was Business Class Rises in Ashes of Caste System. Now, Scaling Caste Walls With Capitalism’s Ladders in India:
As the founder of a successful offshore oil-rig engineering company, Mr. Khade is part of a tiny but growing class of millionaires from the Dalit population, the 200 million so-called untouchables who occupy the very lowest rung in Hinduism’s social hierarchy.
“This is a golden period for Dalits,” said Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit activist and researcher who has championed capitalism among the untouchables. “Because of the new market economy, material markers are replacing social markers. Dalits can buy rank in the market economy. India is moving from a caste-based to a class-based society, where if you have all the goodies in life and your bank account is booming, you are acceptable.”
Dalits still lag behind the rest of India, but they have experienced gains as the country’s economy has expanded. A recent analysis of government survey data by economists at the University of British Columbia found that the wage gap between other castes and Dalits has decreased to 21 percent, down from 36 percent in 1983, less than the gap between white male and black male workers in the United States. The education gap has been halved.
Another survey conducted by Indian researchers along with professors from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard showed that the social status of Dalits has risen as well — they are more likely to be invited to non-Dalit weddings, to eat the same foods and wear the same clothes as upper-caste people, and use grooming products like shampoo and bottled hair oil.
For most of India’s history after independence, the government was the only thing that could improve the Dalits’ lot. For nearly all Indians but especially for Dalits, a government job, even a low-level one, was the surest ticket out of poverty, guaranteeing education, housing, a salary and a pension. Few in the socialist government or in India’s generally risk-averse society saw entrepreneurship as an attractive option.