Nation of Beancounters

The Dalit Labour Cartel?

Posted in Third World Instituitions by Navin Kumar on April 29, 2012

From, of all places, Reason Magazine:

When Maya got married at the age of 16, her father-in-law paid another dalit $20 for her wedding gift:  the “rights” to service 10 houses in our neighborhood, including ours. Maya has no formal deed to these “rights” and no court would ever enforce them. Yet they are more inviolable than holy writ. Maya’s fellow dalits, who own the “rights” to other houses, can’t work in hers, just as she can’t work in theirs.

Doing so, Maya insists, would be tantamount to theft that would invite a well-deserved beating and ostracism by the dalit community. No one would lift a finger to help a “poacher” in distress or attend her family functions like births, weddings, or funerals. She would become a pariah among pariahs.

This arrangement has given Maya a guaranteed monthly income of about $100 that, along with her husband’s job as a “gofer” at a government lab, has helped her raise three children and build a modest house with a private bathroom, a prized feature among India’s poor, in one of New Delhi’s slums. But Maya’s monopoly doesn’t give her just money. It also hands her— and her fellow jamadarnis or sweepers— clout to resist the upper caste power structure, not always for noble reasons.

It can’t last:

Upon retirement, she had planned to either pass her “business” to her children or sell it to another dalitfor about $1,000. But about six months ago, local municipal authorities started dispatching vans, Western-style, to pick up trash from neighborhoods—the one service that had protected Maya from obsolescence in an age of sophisticated home-cleaning gadgetry.

Maya and her fellow dalits held demonstrations outside the municipal commissioner’s office to stop the vans. The commissioner finally agreed to a compromise that lets Maya and her pals collect trash from individual homes and deposit it at one central spot from where the vans take it for disposal. But Maya realizes that this is a stopgap measure that won’t last. “I got branded as polluted and became unfit for other jobs, for what?” she wept. “To build a business that has now turned to dust?

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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