Milind Kamble, chairman of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), speaks to The Indian Express about caste conflict and opportunities for Dalits and tribals to become self-reliant
The Information and Broadcasting ministry has issued an advisory to replace the word Dalit with Scheduled Caste. What do you make of this advisory?
There is no question of dropping the word Dalit from the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI). While I am not going into the merits and demerits of the order, I would like to emphasise on individual freedom. Yes, I respect the order. But having said that, I would like to mention that the collective sentiments of Dalits cannot be overlooked. Therefore, without attributing any motive, all I would like to state is, the word Dalit is here to stay in DICCI. The reason is, this is one term which has deep emotions. The strong sentiments connect the community across east, west, north and south. It is an emotional bond. It cannot be so easily discarded against the wishes of people.
Today, Dalits are resorting to violent protests on the streets. What, according to you, is the cause of this unrest?
The agitation against social discrimination or oppression is going to be a continuous process with Dalits and tribals asserting their rights through various medium on the streets. But I would like to state that participation of Dalits and tribals in violent agitations is miniscule; would not exceed 2 to 5 per cent. The current agitation is an outcome of political aspirations. And I believe this does not reflect the real story of Dalits or tribals.
Does the political unrest impact the economic empowerment of Dalits?
My answer is no. As DICCI president, I can state with absolute certainty that aspirations among Dalits for economic empowerment is huge and potential plenty, which will not allow them to deviate from their stated larger goals, irrespective of the governments at the Centre or states. The problem is, even today, people continue to hold old images of Dalits and tribals. They are stereotyped in an ancient frame of someone vulnerable. Gone are the days when Dalits could be taken for granted. No longer now. Therefore, I say from my work and experience that majority of Dalit youths are busy building their careers. They are not going to be easily drawn into mindless violence or ploy of politicians. Those who are associated with political parties or agenda may take to the streets.
What is the DICCI aiming to do now in the current context?
DICCI is playing a significant role in policy interventions to promote the larger welfare of SCs and STs. Our organisation plays the role of ‘hand-holding’ to groom new entrepreneurs and business leadership among Dalits and tribals. If we take into consideration all small, medium and major self-entrepreneurs and businesses, SCs and STs account for 3.5 crore in the country. By 2025, this statistic will cross 5 crore. Today, we have almost 100 Dalit entrepreneurs, whose annual turnover is more than Rs 100 crore. DICCI has its base in the US, UK, UAE, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands, Malay-sia, France, Germany and Japan.
Won’t this political unrest impact economic growth and DICCI’s aims?
To the contrary, I would say this is the best phase to avail the opportunities for developing self-entrepreneurship among Dalits and tribals. The Mudra Yojana loan component may average
Rs 50 lakh but it does make a difference to this category. I pledge by Startup and Stand-Up policies, which has provided the ecosystem, providing market, money and mentoring. Under Mudra Yojana, there are 12 crore beneficiaries, of which 2.75 crore belong to SC-ST category. Of the total Rs 6 lakh crore direct lending from various banks under Mudra Yojana, Rs 1 lakh crore has been availed by Scs, STs. I believe this is one of the biggest financially inclusive programmes for SCs, STs.
But why is the transformation not seen on the ground?
I’m sure you have heard the name of Gaddar (revolutionary poet and balladeer from Telan-gana). Now, his daughter, son and son-in-law are all associated with DICCI. Responding to DICCI’s work, his daughter approached us for mentoring. Even Gaddar came on a DICCI platform wearing a coat. I can give hundreds of such examples of silent transformation under way across states. In Raigad district, I have 500 tribal youths being mentored for self-employment. The point I’m making here is, Generation Next’s hunger for economic empowerment and determination to attain the objective cannot be undermined. It is beyond our comprehension.
How will caste conflict arising out of reservation impact Dalits and tribals?
Today, Generation Next Dalits and tribals know that the only way to beat caste is capital. A Dalit cannot drive away deep caste prejudices by talking of Marx or Manu. All these work at a certain intellectual level. The ground reality is different. But when the same Dalit drives a Mercedes, the caste barriers drop automatically. The point I want to make is, after the long-drawn political struggle, youths have realised social ostracism can be overcome with economic well-being. Today, there are 100 Dalit industrialists who employ people from all caste and communities. So, things are changing.
Are you confident?
Yes. Let me give a personal example. As DICCI president, I was the chief guest at Maratha Chamber of Commerce and Industries to give away awards this week. Now, there was not a single Maratha entreprenuer who refused to accept the award from me or shunned my company.
How will you fight the anti-reservation battle?
In DICCI, we have reconciled to the fact that reservation is not the only route to individual growth and development. For every one post reserved for Dalits, there are 100 eligible candidates. So, what happens to the remaining 99. Economic empowerment and development of Dalits or tribals are exploring better options outside the government.
How do you see the role of the private sector in the empowerment of Dalits?
In an open economy where markets drive growth, the private sector is a powerful medium for Dalits and tribals’ development. If we look at job profiles, we can see a sizeable population from Dalits and tribals employed in the private sector. As I said, the government quota is restricted to just 15 per cent (SCs) and 7 per cent (Sts), making it a total 22 per cent.