Indian entrepreneur sells ‘untouchable’ foods to challenge caste bias

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A former rebel fighter and member of India’s “untouchable” caste is taking on caste-based discrimination with packaged foods that would have been regarded as impure just decades ago.

Chandra Bhan Prasad, 58, was born into the Dalit Pasi community of pig rearers in North India, considered untouchable in the ancient Hindu social hierarchy. Prasad and his wife recently launched Dalit Foods online to sell spices, pickles and grains.

“I was born impure, but I have the right to sell pure,” Prasad said by phone from his office in New Delhi.

“I grew up with segregation and untouchability, but India has changed. I want to see how those who are born pure respond to my offering,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

India banned caste-based discrimination in 1955, but centuries-old attitudes persist and lower-caste groups, including Dalits, are among the most marginalized communities.

Dalits were barred from public places including temples and water tanks frequented by higher-caste Hindus. Many higher-caste Hindus considered food cooked or served by Dalits to be impure.

It is this custom at which Prasad is taking aim.

Dalit Foods sells a small range of spices and grains, including chilli powder, turmeric powder, mango pickle, barley flour and lentils. More products will be added, Prasad said.

For three years, Prasad was a fighter with India’s Maoist insurgency that claims to fight for the rights of poor farmers and landless indigenous people. He became a Dalit campaigner and a champion of economic empowerment to end caste bias.