A caste rises through education, trade

Southern India’s lower-caste Nadars, once only a step above untouchables, are now well-educated business leaders, reports the New York Times.

. . .  southern India has rocketed far ahead of much of the rest of the country on virtually every score — people here earn more money, are better educated, live longer lives and have fewer children.

Why? Southern India’s lower castes concentrated on education and business, while northern India’s castes worked for “political power and its spoils.”

Charismatic leaders in the north from lower castes have used caste identity as a way to mobilize voters, winning control over several large north Indian states.

Lower castes in southern India began fighting upper-caste domination a century ago, before independence from the British. Gaining political power wasn’t an option, so the Nadars focused on “dignity, education and self-reliance.”

Nadars created business associations to provide entrepreneurs with credit they could not get from banks. They started charities to pay for education for poor children. They built their own temples and marriage halls to avoid upper caste discrimination.

“Our community focused on education, not politics,” said R. Chandramogan, a Nadar entrepreneur who built India’s largest privately owned dairy company. “We knew that with education, we could accomplish anything.”

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