DALITS: Where's the cream? (Chandrabhan Prasad)

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Were there Dalit royals, zamidars and tallukdars who negotiated land rents with the British, lived on surpluses and sent their children to study in England? Were there Dalit/Tribal ICS officers, judges and kotwals reporting to the British officials and building mansions for their children? Were there Dalits trading in salt, running textile mills and breeding horses for the British Army? Are there Dalit businessmen? Are there Dalit/Tribal owned company traded publicly? Are there Dalit corporate houses congratulating the Prime Minister for the soaring Sensex? If the answer is in the negative, then, where is a Dalit/Tribal creamy layer?

The CII-ASSOCHAM's Task Force on Affirmative Action for SC/STs has however, fictionalised the personality of Dalit mass when it threatens: "The proposed programme shall not be applicable for the so-called 'creamy layer' of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Castes."

As we have been hailing the Action Plan of the CII-ASSOCHAM as a historic move in the right direction, this one liner has become a cut lemon in a barrel of milk.

If at all there could be a creamy layer from within SC/STs, it would the class of them employed in Group A Services of the State. But, does that become a layer? To become a layer, there must a substantial amount of cream to form in order to float on the surface of the larger milk mass. How big is that number which can form a layer?

According to a report of the National Commission for SC/STs (1997-'98), the total number of Dalits/Tribal officers in Group A service was just 67,079, which also includes officers from nationalised banks, and public sector enterprises. Dalits/Tribals are over 250 millions, from whom, 67, 079 have got into Group A services. Does this number become big enough to form a layer- creamy or otherwise, in the huge mass of Dalit/Tribal populace?

The other section of Dalits/Tribals which can be accused of being cream, are MP/MLAs the community possess. Some of them have made their fortunes, a truth no doubt.

But, how big is that number - 121 odd MPs, and few hundred MLAs. Do they become big enough to form a layer. Also, in most societies, politicians are often considered dust of the society. If that being the truth, how can Dalit/Tribal politicians be treated as cream?

In the CII-ASSOCHAM report, there is a contradiction. The plan promises to "provide for more executive positions through appointments/promotions from SC/STs."

Now, the question is: will CII/ASSOCHAM outsource Dalit/Tribals for executive positions? To become an executive, a candidate must be a graduate in engineering or management, preferably comfortable in English. Must these candidates belong to the middle class with resources and modern educational facilities?

The CII-ASSOCHAM report has misunderstood the Dalit/Tribal mass completely. The more enlightened Dalits are asking for a creamy layer from within to evolve, and hence, the slogan of Dalit capitalism. Because there is no such layer the Dalit/Tribals mass are in no talking terms with the larger society. Creamy layer in any society plays the role of a moderator. Since that class hasn't as yet evolved, there are many problems.

A Tribal/Dalit speaking in his organic dialect would be considered an ideal Tribal/Dalit. Should the same set of Tribal/Dalit speak in an accent, they are despised - "look that guy, he speaks in that accent, and yet claims a Dalit/Tribal status."

In the extended wisdom of the larger society, Dalit/Tribals should be instantly recognisable.

That's a problem, and the problem belongs to the caste India. The caste India is not used to seeing modern Dalits. But why should industry bodies like CII-ASSOCHAM undergoing change, fall victims to the age old repressive wisdom of the caste India?

The way the America's White bourgeoisie is creating a Black bourgeoisie, the CII-ASSOCHAM too should think of creating a Dalit/Tribal bourgeoisie.