The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is only the messenger boy. The order to media to stop using ‘Dalit’ for people categorised as scheduled castes came from a high court. The British had coined ‘scheduled castes’ in 1935 to sum up a bunch of humankind born on the subcontinent and punished for breathing the same air the ‘higher humans’ inhaled.
The British summation actually highlighted the divisions percolating down to the lowest caste in the Hindu hierarchy. These are people, ironically, also branded ‘caste-less’. In short, the enlightened and liberal English, with the only thing fair about them their fair skin, were hardly of any help; but couldn’t have expected much from a nation of shopkeepers, anyway.
Do we have the right to call the Mahatma ‘divisive’? If Bapu was alive today, he would have been trolled endlessly for being just that. Gandhi sticks on in memory only because of his policy of ‘nonviolence’, a notion that stands defeated today. Anger is at the tip of every man’s nose these days and neither Jignesh Mevani nor a Brahmin loose will sit in peace and sort out fracas.
Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’ for the SC was patronising; who in Hades wanted to be Krishna’s people? Krishna reminded the Kshatriya his duty but left the Brahmin to his wiles, that was sentence enough for the ‘Harijan’. Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’ was not liberated. The term kept him tied to his lot in the Hindu hierarchy — a pretty pathetic lot, at that. Gandhi forgot that some people wanted emancipation in this life, not in the next.
Gandhi offered no solution. He was too focused on freeing India rather than in freeing a bunch of humanity from crap they were assigned to carry from birth. Getting thrown off a train should have taught a lesson, but that was racist. The closer to home reality of untouchables was given the miss. In the India of then, there were people whose very presence was seen as a curse, his shadow an insult. Blame it on the sun!
Coming to the here and now, who should have the right to name? The people who are being given a nomenclature themselves, a judge or a government? Clearly, those who are being saddled with a term, they have the first right to reject. And they have rejected every other term and chose ‘Dalit’. BR Ambedkar went for ‘broken man’ and ‘depressed classes’ for a time but those fell to ‘Dalit’ in the early 1970s.
The term Dalit, say many a Dalit, sums them up perfectly — a one-size-fits-all garb, neither cotton nor silk but chainmail! Fit accessory to the lance and the sword, the aggression that notes the so-called Scheduled Castes these days of the Mevani and Chandrashekhar — Bhima Koregaon! “Keep your SC to yourself, we will rather be Dalit,” is the overwhelming feeling and vote.
In a desert of divisions, Dalit is the big tent under which to strategise, to plan the annihilation of castes, not post a timeless schedule to group people in varied colours of defeat. ‘Dalit Pride’ sounds great, it lifts the spirit and if it gives ‘Hindutva’ the feeling that a new religion could be born, no big deal. Valmiki couldn’t have asked for more.
The “timing” of the court ruling and the government’s advisory has come in the wake of massive Dalit protests against the various atrocities committed on the Dalit and in the backdrop of the Supreme Court ruling “diluting” the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
In common parlance, ‘Dalit’ has gained ascendance. Now to say, to get fresh posters printed and new hoardings erected is a waste of money, time and effort, all of which are in short supply. Besides, the fight for equality in the eyes of man is centuries old and God is highly undependable, lacking the guts to show his face — his voice lost in the chant.
To sum up, ‘Dalit’ it will be and if the government has any objections, it can sue, go to court. Nothing much will be attained except court trouble. As for the media, who can stop journalists from picking a word from the dictionary — Oxford, Collins and Cambridge — and giving it its proper place in the sentence? The sentence is not to hang.
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.