21 June, 2021

The Soul-Sapping Climb From Below

Even in an area of industrialisation, a social inertia-like force pulls Dalits down. The vicissitudes of life often proved to be their downfall.

Three generations
In recent years, Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu have seen some upward mobility, driven by rising aspirations and opportunities
The Soul-Sapping Climb From Below

Here, we take a step back from stories of individual success. The viewfinder is set to a wider landscape—to the infrastructural ground, the social and economic relations that determine Dalit mobility. Enabling it, or as often is the case, still thwarting it. Dr Judith Heyer, a development economist, has done a study on Dalit communities around Tiruppur and Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, for over three decades, since 1981. It has been a time of economic surge, but in terms of its emancipatory potential, the results were partly disappointing. Here, she records her views through a series of pen-portraits.

The Coimbatore/Tiruppur region is known for its dynamic industrial development and strong agriculture. It is a region in which Dalits have done surprisingly badly. Very small numbers of Dalits own agricultural land. Dalits have been late-comers to education, are poorly represented in white-collar jobs and in business, large and small. This despite strong social policy, reservations and affirmative action. The villages that I have been researching, and on which this...

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