Disrupting Dalit Destinies Through Inclusive Innovation


The history of injustice with Dalit communities has not always subdued their spirit. There are many instances  when some of them have come out of low self-image, low self-deprecating belief systems and decided to break out of culture of subjugation, learned-helplessness both involuntary and also voluntary. Extreme events some times are a historical necessity to break the institutionalised inertia, even if they impose huge pain and inflict completely avoidable shame on the affected people. Most constructive outcome of the Una incident and similar incidents in various parts of the country, be it Bihar, UP, Maharashtra or Karnataka etc., is the resolve of the dalit community to abjure the processing of animal carcass and other such menial tasks. Till we put a stop to such practices, technological innovations will not emerge adding dignity and efficiency to these tasks. So many safai karmcharis (sanitation workers) still clean human excrete manually and carry it on head despite ostensible ban on such practices. Likewise, the sewage workers who die while clearing our muck and get no insurance or other compensation is too well known to merit repetition. No amount of condemnation will mask the pain of those who were affected by the persistent negligence of their working conditions. This neglect is not a result of last few years. But that doesn’t make the pain suffered by victims any lesser.

One way is to struggle for restoration of the rights of Dalits to process carcass or pursue other such menial profession safely and with dignity. I don’t agree with that approach. I think time has come to empower these communities to make a clean departure from such activities involving high drudgery, health risks and social stigma.  If higher castes want to take up such tasks, they are welcome to pursue reverse –sanskritization.  I know when a NGO advertised  positions for such workers saying preference will be given to high caste workers, there was a furore. But why should certain tasks be considered reserved for certain communities only. Look at London airport, when passengers arrive, they see Indian/Asian sanitation workers cleaning airport. In Europe, one will find workers from Asia doing all kind of tasks which is just fine. But I think we need to set up small scale hygienic, high value adding flaying and carcass processing units. Attractive challenge innovation award should be announced urgently to invite innovators from all over the world to submit entries. Gandhiji had done that in 1929 when he wanted new design of charkha to be evolved reducing drudgery and improving quality and affordability and productivity. Current value of that award will be approximately Rs ten crores today. Atal Innovation Mission should come forward and announce call for both manual and  powered machines for the purpose.  Special incubators need to be set up for virtual in situ  and physical incubation of enterprises by Dalit and other disadvantaged  sc/st youth.

There are several other things that we all can do. We should stop giving our caste names to our children. Sadhana and I decided this about our children about 38 years ago. We had no idea About how our life would shape up. But we were clear that our children should not get any advantage, if at all, because of their association with us or our surname. I hope more young people will come forward and stop flaunting their caste identity. Look at the matrimonial sites and pages, one will notice that India has not moved a great deal forward in shunning caste identities. Why go far, most appointments on political positions and allotment fo seats in election is still done on caste equations and combinations thereof. I am sure inclusive, Innovative and entrepreneurial India will get out of these narrow identities and choose to identify with bigger and more pervasive identities. Dalits deserve dignified opportunities to make quantum jump in their social and economic aspirations. We are all collectively responsible for their plight.  We will all have to join the struggle for their liberation from the demeaning destiny assigned to them for centuries.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place