Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Free riders in the dalit movement

As I have described elsewhere, the dalit movement involves the daily struggle that dalits engage in the schools, colleges, farms, factories, offices, markets, whereby they rebel through excellence in their work to confront the prejudices. This is what the manifesto of the common Ambedkarite specifies as represented in the plethora of Ambedkar statues set up by common Ambedkarites all around the country. Essentially the Ambedkarite revolution involves rebellion through legally compliant excellent work under the constitution laid down by Ambedkar. There is nothing more needed to confront the wrong stereotypes burnt into the minds and hearts of many non-dalit Indians. It is by confronting these stereotypes that lasting social change will happen in India. Else we will merely have Gandhian token change. It is through such Ambedkarite excellence that the wealth of the dalit communities will expand and the inequalities with respect to the non-dalits will reduce. Essentially the common Ambedkarites will legally earn this wealth by growing Indian pie, rather than using non-ethical or violent means, which will be dangerous for India. The glass ceilings will be stressed through each stone (example) hurled at it by the common Ambedkarite with trust and sincerity of effort.

But as I mentioned above, there are free riding dalits, who do not want to engage in the above struggle to redeem the dalit identities in the eyes of remaining Indians, while solving the problems of the dalit community. These come in two varieties.
  • One category use benefits that their dalit identities give them under the Indian constitution, but hides this identity in later life, preventing the direct challenging of stereotypes that can result from the respective excellence that they achieve in their lives. I like to call them the Harijans. Some of  these Harijans do not achieve high stations in their life because they have fallen prey to the stereotypes about dalits, do not believe enough in themselves and do not try to achieve excellence which can cure their feelings of inadequacy which result from these stereotypes which they also believe. Other Harijans achieve high stations in their life, but do not assert their dalit identities in order to avoid creating problems in their respective social lives due to the negative aspects of these identities. This category typically uses "sanskritization" type of upward social mobility and denies any connection to Ambedkar and dalits. They are fanatic about compliance with their sanskritized identity and equally fanatic about rejecting their dalit origin.
  • The second category does not use benefits that their dalit identities give them under the Indian constitution and hide this identity in later life, preventing the direct challenging of stereotypes that can result from the respective excellence that they achieve in their lives. This category also tends to be Harijan and does not identify with Ambedkar.
I call both the above categories as free riders because both are potential beneficiaries of the revolution led by the common Ambedkarites but do not contribute to its success. After all, even if these two categories of dalits do not emphasise their dalit identities, there always are enough people who remain aware of these. These people feel that their sanskritized location in caste hierarchies are acceptable and they don't try to destroy the prejudices that this hierarchy derived on the chance of birth have embedded in Indian minds and hearts. It is the common Ambedkarites who through the manifesto described above will be destroying the prejudices that these caste hierarchies have burnt into Indian heart and minds. When the prejudices vanish, the matrimonial columns will depict this along with various other benefits that will accrue to all dalits (free riders included).

Mancur Olson described how rational choice meant that every social movement will have its share of free riders. Essentially every social movement pursues obtainment of public goods through collective action. But the very nature of public goods is that their benefits accrue even to those who did not participate in the collective action. There is an entire literature describing how individuals make the decision whether to participate in the collective action. My favourite example is Klandermans(1984).

The dalit movement needs to think hard about how to reduce the free riders by increasing the social pressure for solidarity as well as raising the profile of successful common Ambedkarites. As common Ambedkarites show case the ability to not hide their dalit identity and yet succeed significantly against prejudice in education, employment and enterprise, the number of free riders will reduce.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. May his tribe increase... (A la Abou Ben Adam)

Pratap Tambay
A Common Ambedkarite.
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