New Book Chronicles Indian Entrepreneurs’ Fight for Equality

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The story of the Dalits, traditionally regarded as “untouchable” in India, is often marked by an unwinnable struggle for identity, rights, and equality. But a new book, Defying the Odds, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, chronicles a different set of narratives.

The book profiles the phenomenal rise of 21 Dalit entrepreneurs who broke through social barriers with a combination of grit, ambition, drive, and some luck. The authors—Devesh Kapur, D. Shyam Babu, and Chandra Bhan Prasad—show how these individuals turned adversity into an energy that helped them work their way up from the bottom. “Capitalism’s role in erasing this stain on Indian society is comparable to the contribution it made to curtailing slavery, serfdom, feudalism, and patriarchy in the west,” Kapur explains in an article published by the Financial Times. Kapur is director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI), the first research institution in the United States dedicated to the study of contemporary India.

An inspiring online excerpt from Defying the Odds features the story of Mannam Madhusudan Rao, who began life as a construction worker and now owns his own construction company, having fought the stigma of caste. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, describes the book as “a profoundly important account of what the struggle for social and economic mobility means in India.”