Social hierarchy, or the caste system, may have been a necessary evil in the British Raj to enable some sort of control over the people. People were born into a caste and, by no good deed or otherwise, could ever leave or change their caste. Each caste had specified professions, a degree of purity, and could not mingle with another caste – though exceptions were made sometimes. However, this benefit was not extended to the lowest class who were considered “impure” and “untouchable”. They were completely excluded from society, and the mere thought of touching people from this class was unthinkable. This seems like an absurd sentence to start life with, doesn’t it?
Though casteism was abolished a long time ago, one can still see traces of it in our ‘modern’ society. As a social experiment to see if India has really transformed and to see if people are willing to overcome their biases and customs, Chandra Bhan Prasad, former rebel fighter and a member of India’s “untouchable” caste, and his wife recently launched ‘Dalit Foods’.
‘Dalit Foods’ as the name suggests is an e-comerce food business, with operations currently limited to New Delhi, that sells pure, unprocessed food ranging from spices, and grains to pickles, flax seed and barley flour. It’s a bold step that he has taken as Dalits still find it extremely difficult to endeavour in the food and food-processing industries.
Choosing a name such as ‘Dalit Foods’ is a daring step as it is equivalent to making a political statement in a country where Dalits were considered the lowest of the low and hence the term has emerged as a political category of it’s own.
Chandra Bhan Prasad has taken this risk to find out how those “born pure” respond to his offering – “(I want) 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, into one in which people are willing to buy food items knowing they are manufactured by Dalits.”
In a country that might not be totally comfortable knowing they are interacting with Dalits on a day to day basis, Chandra believes that it is time for the Dalits to assert their identity openly and integrate with the society in a real sense.