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Court Bans Caste Rallies….:BUT POLITICIANS PATRONISE THEM, By Dr S.Saraswathi, 24 July, 2013 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 24 July 2013

Court Bans Caste Rallies….


By Dr S.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow Bench banned with “immediate effect” caste-based rallies in Uttar Pradesh last month. Notices were issued to the Central State Governments, Election Commission and to four Parties active in the State, Samajwadi, BSP, BJP and Congress. 


The verdict was the result of a PIL seeking a ban on caste rallies as they create enmity along caste lines, worse it pointed out that these gatherings are not only increasing but also against the spirit of the Constitution.


However, reportedly BSP supremo Mayawati wants to continue holding caste rallies to bring all castes together. Moreover, she demanded a ban on the VHP and RSS.


It is no secret that both Samajwadi and BSP are busy wooing the Brahmin community vigorously and holding meetings. Instead of relying on the core constituency, Backward Classes and Dalits respectively.


On their part, the Congress and BJP while pursuing their own brand of politics are posturing an anti-caste-based political line of the SP and BSP.  But they have no objection to aligning with caste-based parties for fighting elections and forming Governments.


Importantly, even as the Constitution has abolished “untouchability” and its practice in any form under Article 17 whereby enforcement of any disability arising out of “untouchability” is an offence punishable in accordance with law. It has not abolished caste and its practice and nowhere does it speaks of a casteless society. 


The Preamble of the Constitution resolves to secure to all citizens “justice (social, economic, and political), liberty, equality, and fraternity”.  These cannot be ensured in a caste-ridden society practising discriminatory caste politics. Thus, public display of unequal caste distinctions is abolished indirectly.


Alongside, the Fundamental Rights prohibits all discriminations on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, and place of birth.


At the same time, the State is allowed to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes and for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  Additionally, caste as a criterion in determining backwardness has been approved, and this has given legitimacy to the persistence of caste in public life.


Undoubtedly, all citizens enjoy the Constitutional right to form associations or unions, and to assemble peaceably and without arms as their fundamental rights which can be enforced by courts.  Restrictions on these rights can be justified only on grounds of protecting the sovereignty and integrity of the country, public order or morality.  Clearly, these rights guarantee right to exist and to form associations of any interest group including castes.


True, several treatises can be written on the role of caste in politics in the last 100 years.  Of these some developments are relevant today and some are not.   Presently, we are concerned about the contradictions in politics and public life with regard to the place of caste. Therefore, a blanket ban on caste rallies is not consistent with law and any restrictions enforced must be reasonable and justifiable.


Pertinently, we are in a strange situation of living a double life in more than one sense vis-à-vis caste. Whereby, most people publicly decry the caste system yet privately live a caste-laden life. Indeed, those in public life pretend to be caste-neutral, but form their caste alliances of all descriptions to benefit their politics.   


Recall, after a great deal of deliberations, the Government reopened caste census in 2011 which was stopped as a policy in 1951. The operation labeled as “Socio-economic and Caste-based Census (SECC)”, is carried out by various State Governments.


Besides, facilitating identification of BPL families, the caste census is aimed at getting “authentic information” on caste-wise population in the country, and on the socio-economic condition and educational status of various castes and sections of the populace.


Undeniably, the Government needs such detailed data caste-wise even as individuals per se might not care for their caste and could have come out of their caste shell. But for reasons best known to it, the Administration seems to be pushing the people towards this most narrow and parochial bondage.


Consequently, the census clock has been put backward by 65 years. Not only this. One is no wiser about the authenticity of the information furnished and recorded. A matter for sociologists to survey.  Given that this information is going to form the basis for a number of caste-targeted Government schemes. 


Notably, the Indian version of inclusive development believes in narrow ethnic and caste identities of the people.  


More shocking, several Parties often seek caste-wise break up of public servants and assume a posture of self-appointed champions of castes not represented in public service. 


The reports of some of the Backward Classes Commissions appointed by State Governments since Independence contain one volume exclusively devoted to caste-wise presentation of the number of persons holding various positions from the Secretary to sweepers.  


Such information promotes ideas of inter-caste comparisons, and demands for proportionate share in public offices in relation to caste strength.  Hence the SECC will further aggravate competition among castes, of course only among the forwards within the backwards and not the really backward who lack awareness.


Without a doubt, these official exercises in gathering caste data serve to mobilize people on caste lines similar to mobilization of specific caste members for rallies.  There is no difference between them as long as they are conducted peacefully.


Notably, caste rallies will die a natural death if there is no public use for caste affiliations. The villain is the official recognition of caste for public purpose and creation of elaborate data base on castes. 


Unquestionably, the Government and our political class do not want to see the end of the caste system.  They are its patrons.  Will they agree to ban caste rallies?


Recall, even though the practice of “unsociability” is abolished by the Constitution and law, its persistence in various forms are constantly reported.  Walls of separation continue; public roads, temples, tanks and wells are still beyond their reach in many places; and all kinds of ill-treatment are reported. 


Inter-caste marriage of a Dalit boy or girl still makes sensational news in 21st Century India and even leads to violent clashes often instigated by a Party.  Arguably, do we live in a civilized society? Do laws exist and is there police to enforce these laws and establish the rule of law?


In this connection, we cannot forget the emergence of caste and khap panchayats meting out justice inconsistent with the law of the land.  Why are these panchayats allowed and not banned? Again conclusively proving the political clout of castes.


We need to accept that not only are caste rallies outdated but also the practice of “untouchability”, caste and khap panchayats, caste census and numerous forms of caste-based schemes and programmes.  All in all, caste rallies will have no place if caste is officially de-recognized for all purposes. -----INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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