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‘Dalit Foods’: Entrepreneur Chandra Bhan Prasad’s Initiative to fight Casteism in India

Chandra Bhan Prasad's 'Dalit Foods' is an effort that seeks Dalit empowerment via creating acceptability and ensuring inclusivity in the society

  • Chandra Bhan Prasad started ‘Dalit Foods’ in a bid to foray into food-processing industry, which still is difficult for a Dalit
  • The business is limited to Delhi for now, the expansion will be based on customers’ response
  • The website is basic one and lists mango pickle, turmeric, flax seeds, coriander and red chilli among other products

When in 1942, at All India-Depressed Class Conference, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar envisioned his “battle for freedom” and proclaimed, “with justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle,” little did he know that even after 72 long years of struggle, his dream of realising social and economic equality for the marginalised will remain a far-fetched one.

Be it the very recent Rohith Vemula suicide case or the incident where 100 children left the school premises in Karnataka, refusing to eat food ‘contaminated’ by a Dalit cook in November 2015, the caste system continues to haunt the country.

India Today quoted a 2010 report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) brought to surface that a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. Every day, on an average- 3 Dalit women are raped, 2 Dalits are murdered, and 2 Dalit houses are burnt.

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In the light of these shocking revelations, any effort aimed at mending the already incurred damage appears to be a huge step.

The Dalit Studies Conference. Image source: casi.sas.upenn.edu
The Dalit Studies Conference. Image source: casi.sas.upenn.edu

In one such effort, Indian journalist and political commentator, Chandra Bhan Prasad, has launched an e-commerce food business under the name ‘Dalit Foods’, which will test and challenge the age-old connection between caste and occupation as Dalits still find it extremely difficult to endeavour into the food and food-processing industries.

Speaking to Live Mint, Prasad who is also a Dalit entrepreneur and adviser to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, termed the venture to be a “social experiment.”

According to him it is a risk taken to find out “whether there are any takers for Dalit food in India and if India has really transformed from a country where people thoroughly cleaned the kitchen if a Dalit even stepped into it to one in which people would buy food items knowing they are manufactured by Dalits.”

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Prasad also pointed out that the name ‘Dalit Foods’ holds a special significance and is “equivalent to making a political statement in a country where the Dalit has emerged as a political category.”

Prasad believes that though Dalits have come out and have engaged themselves with other communities, it is time for them to assert their identity openly and added that it was time the Dalits integrate with the society in a real sense.

While the business is limited to Delhi for now, the expansion will be based on customers’ response.

Started off as an e-commerce owing to the financial constraints, the website is a very simple one. It enlists mango pickle, turmeric, flax seeds, coriander and red chilli among the other products it sells, which serve as staples in any Indian kitchen.

“We have special turmeric which is grown in water-deficient Wardha district of Maharashtra. The coriander is from Bundelkhand. The red chilli is from Mathania in Rajasthan,” said Prasad.

He added, “The mango pickle I am selling is not like any other pickle. We don’t use any acid as a preservative. In my community too, there are some who are very poor and have thick chapatis with only red chilli and salt. Those who are relatively better-off use achar (pickle). So, achar for us, is made in a way that it becomes as good as a sabzi (curry).”

The business has been started with an investment of five lakh and is in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry, a lobby group.

While the venture is small-scaled for now, it intends to achieve big by seeking acceptance and inclusivity for the Dalits.

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