Sunday, August 31, 2008

Uplifting words of an outcaste

In case you missed it, Saturday’s New York Times carries this interview of Chandra Bhan Prasad, a reporter for an English language newspaper in India. It is about the positive effects India’s liberalized economy have had in breaking down India’s caste system. Prasad is a Dalit, the caste formerly referred to as untouchables, and he is leading the charge to eliminate discrimination based on caste. It is an uplifting story.

His latest crusade is to argue that India’s economic liberalization is about to do the unthinkable: destroy the caste system. The last 17 years of new capitalism have already allowed his people, or Dalits, as they call themselves, to “escape hunger and humiliation,” he says, if not residual prejudice.

His take on government’s current efforts to address the problem is interesting and reflects current differences in the US of addressing our racial problems.

Mr. Prasad is a contrarian. He calls government welfare programs patronizing. He dismisses the countryside as a cesspool. Affirmative action is fine, in his view, but only to advance a small slice into the middle class, who can then act as role models. He calls English “the Dalit goddess,” able to liberate Dalits.

This one gave me a chuckle. I am surprised it got by the Times’ editors.

Along with India’s economic policies, once grounded in socialist ideals, Mr. Prasad has moved to the right. He is openly and mischievously contemptuous of leftists. “They have a hatred for those who are happy,” he said.

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