If you ask someone whether casteism is still practiced in India the answer, depending on who or where you are asking, will probably be a no. But this cannot be any further from reality. Living in a big city, in our comfortable houses, we never really bother to find out what it's like to live in the more remote areas. There the life of people, specially those who belong to the 'lower-caste', is highly affected by caste bias. From not being able to use the common modes of transportation to being able to draw water from the common well, life is a constant struggle for them.
- Last year in November, around 100 children from Karnataka left school, refusing to eat the meal. The reason? It was prepared by a Dalit cook.
- In January this year, some villagers in Madhya Pradesh refused to eat sweets served at the Republic Day function because 'it was contaminated by a Dalit kid touching them.'
Even after being progressive and modern, unfortunately, our country has still not managed to free itself from the shackles of casteism. While this is really heartbreaking, there are people out there who are working towards success despite the barriers put up by their immediate environment.
Meet Chandrabhan Prasad, a Dalit entrepreneur, who has started an e-commerce website called Dalit Foods to test the waters when it comes people letting go of their caste biases.
While there are many Dalit entrepreneurs in India, yet, the food industry has been one area which they've not been able to break into. If you're searching for reason behind this, just read the first para once again. Caste oppression exists in India, no matter how hard apologists try to deny it. However, Prasad, an adviser to the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes that this social division can be erased and starting a food-based e-commerce site is a step to bridge this social divide.
Many successful Dalit-owned businesses even brand themselves under some neutral name to ensure their business doesn't suffer. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's kind of sad in a way.
In this scenario, when every where people are trying to paint India as a progressive country despite the opposite being true, the work of Chandrabhan Prasad is not only unique but revolutionary in nature.
Some people may term this act of his as unnecessarily fanning a controversy but in reality it's much needed. Because if an openly Dalit brand can break the glass ceiling in the food industry, it'll be major win for the good guys.
When asked about the choice of the business name, Dalit Foods, Prasad told Livemint -
“So far, Dalit manufacturers remained nameless while their products were branded and sold by others as their own. Now, we are branding Dalit products, and according them direct market access.”
Even after years of development, ours is still a caste-biased society where so much of our prejudice is enacted through food. But Prasad believes that it's time for Dalits to openly declare their identity. He says -
“Why do we hide our identity? It is time we integrate with the society in a real sense.”
Due to money constraints, e-commerce was a viable option for Prasad, who has invested Rs 5 lakh in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry, a lobby group.
For the moment, the business is limited to Delhi and is expected to grow upon customer response.
The website lists mango pickle, turmeric, flax seeds, coriander and red chilli among the products it sells. These are everyday products which can be found in any Indian kitchen. The idea is to include the foods Dalits eat and their cuisine to the mainstream.
Talking about the products, Prasad said -
“We have a 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.”
So the next time you're buying any spices or pickles, may be you can give this website a try.