New Delhi: If there’s one thing that can cause a casteist society to lose its mind, it’s seeing Dalits dress well, says Chandra Bhan Prasad — a Dalit ideologue.
“Manu Dharma restricts Dalits from wearing good clothes. This is precisely why Dalits should consciously dress very well to defy the Manu Smriti,” he tells ThePrint.
Prasad has long held the belief that Dalit wealth and prosperity is a sure-shot way of fighting casteism in the country. With this in mind, he has designed his e-commerce venture ‘Bydalits.com’ — a portal that provides Dalit manufacturers with a platform — and wishes to help Dalit brands increase their reach.
‘Dress elegantly like Ambedkar’
Prasad was born into the Pasi community, an ‘untouchable’ caste according to the Hindu caste hierarchy and believes the Dalit middle class today should make it a point to “dress elegantly,” just like Ambedkar.
“Wear leather coats, wear leather hats [and] buy all-season coats. The Dalit middle class should dress very elegantly just like Ambedkar used to dress on public forums. There shouldn’t be any excuse,” says Prasad.
According to him, the stereotype that Dalits should only be seen wearing certain clothes — which aren’t expensive or fashionable — still exists.
He cites an incident from earlier this month, when an Uttar Pradesh district magistrate made a casteist remark against Bahujan Samaj Party leader Madan Ram. Ram was trying to investigate a case of discrimination against Dalit children in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh, but District Magistrate Bhawani Singh Khangarot dismissed the complaint and said since Ram “traveled in expensive cars and wore expensive clothes”, he should not be complaining of caste discrimination.
His statement provoked a visceral response on social media and the hashtag #ShoesForTheDM began trending after Dalits began sharing pictures of their costly shoes.
— Dushyant Yadav (Veeru) (@iyadavdushyant) August 31, 2019
— dvinder (@davinder_ladi) August 31, 2019
“The district magistrate was very unsettled to see a Dalit dressed well because society continues to believe that Dalits should not dress well. So dressing well is also a way of playing with the mind of a casteist society,” says Prasad.
Prasad’s Dalit capitalism
Inspired by the entrepreneurial drive of the Blacks in America, Prasad says ‘Dalit capitalism’ is what will fight casteism in India.
His visits to the United States opened him up to what he terms “the Black economy”.
According to a report, Black consumers had an “unprecedented impact” in the US market in 2015 as an “increasingly educated, affluent, and tech-savvy black consumer base” has come into being.
According to him, the Dalit middle class in India today has immense buying power as “there are 30 Lakh Dalit government employees in India, these 30 lakh earn more than 50 billion USD every year.” His website has an entire page dedicated to “Dalits’ Buying Power.”
While some might consider the products on his site slightly on the higher side, Prasad says there are options available for everyone. “Even a primary school teacher gets Rs 2000 per day. So, I don’t see how these clothes are expensive. And there are cheaper options available too.”
Prasad also uses his social media to share pictures of Dalits dressed well, and owning big cars, to encourage others to do the same. He was inspired by the awareness campaigns of Black social reformers.
West Delhi, Just happening, meeting Mohan Kumar Shinde-38- manufacturer of Denim Pants, Jackets, Shirts, employs over 100, drives Mercedes, Fortuner… pic.twitter.com/5sADinr2FJ
— Chandra Bhan Prasad (@cbhanp) September 26, 2019
Dalit Entrepreneur Mr KP Singh, his two Cars – a Merc, and a Jaguar. In the background, Endeavor and other 12 Cars have been removed for a better view… pic.twitter.com/o4NzGfnxMC
— Chandra Bhan Prasad (@cbhanp) September 27, 2019
‘Hindutva forces threatening Dalit rights’
Prasad talks about how the Hindutva forces are eroding the Poona Pact. He says ‘The Poona Pact’ was the first known event in the history of India when caste Hindus embraced Dalits.
The agreement was signed between B. R. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi in 1932, on behalf of ‘depressed classes’ and upper-caste Hindu leaders, reserving electoral seats for the Schedule Castes in the parliament.
“Following the Poona Pact, mechanisms like affirmative action led to the formation of a Dalit middle class. But now, with the rise of Hindutva forces, upper caste Hindus are going back on their promise to Ambedkar,” says Prasad.
“Dalits rights are in danger today. When the Upper Caste Hindus should have cheered the fact that there is a Dalit middle class, the society seems to have become envious of Dalits,” he adds.
To fight this threat, Prasad says platforms like bydalits.com will go a long way in building a Dalit economy and giving Dalit brands a voice.