The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court recently held that one’s surname could not be a factor to decide or deduce a person’s caste. The HC also said that just because one does not follow the culture of a particular reserved category community, s/he cannot be denied caste certificate on these grounds.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Gangapurwalla and Shivkumar Dige was hearing a petition filed by one Sourabh Nikam, 28, challenging the decision of the district caste scrutiny committee for refusing to validate his caste certificate which stated that he belonged to the Thakur community, which has been categorised under Scheduled Tribes.
Nikam argued that the scrutiny committee had overlooked documentary evidence since 1337, which showed the social status of his family. The vigilance cell officers, he claimed, intentionally did not collect the proper evidence, which showed that he belonged to the Thakur scheduled tribe.
“The scrutiny committee has discarded the evidentiary value of the validity certificates issued to my real brother, my cousins and other relatives (in all 33). These certificates of validities have been granted by this court, that too after considering all aspects but it was not considered by the scrutiny committee,” Nikam argued before the judges.
The bench noted that the scrutiny committee had, in its orders, observed that the ‘education background’ of Nikam’s family showed that he belonged to the upper caste Thakur community. It further took into account the observation of the committee that the surnames of Nikam’s relatives did not match with those of the Thakur community.
“It is significant to note that 33 caste validities have been issued to Nikam’s close blood relatives, considering all aspects, including the surnames,” the bench said, adding, “moreover, surname cannot depict any one’s caste, so in our view, the observations of the scrutiny committee that the
surnames of his blood relatives do not establish ‘Thakur’ caste, is erroneous.”
Notably, the scrutiny committee had also observed that the dialect of the Thakur community was different, whereas Nikam’s family members spoke ‘impure’ Marathi. It had also stated that his family celebrated Hindu festivals whereas the festivals of the Thakur community were different and also that his family performed marriages as per the Hindu tradition, which is again different from the Thakur community.
“It is also observed that his family is not aware about the custom and usages of ‘Thakur’ community,” the judges noted further.
The bench, accordingly said, “In our view, if any one claims he belongs to particular caste, one cannot expect that such person should use the traditions and traits of that community in his day-to-day life, as due to modernisation, the present lifestyle of a particular community may not match with the traditional characteristics of their tribal community.”
The judges further held that the ‘affinity test’ in such cases is not a litmus test and accordingly cited a Supreme Court judgment stating “that a cautious approach has to be adopted, and with the migrations, modernisation and contact with other communities, these communities tend to develop and adopt new traits, which may not essentially match with the traditional characteristics of the tribe.”
Accordingly, the judges took into account the documents shown by Nikam, which were ‘pre-constitutional’ and prepared as far back as 1927, 1957 and 1958. “These entries are genuine ones. At the time of putting the entry of ‘Thakur’ in school records, Nikam’s ancestors were not aware about the benefits going to their next generation, but said caste was recorded in their school records, so it has more probative value.”
“Considering these three old entries, as well as 33 caste validities of the ‘Thakur’ scheduled tribe issued to close blood relatives of Nikam establishes that he belongs to the ‘Thakur’ caste. We are of the view that the finding of the scrutiny committee in respect of the affinity test is improper and erroneous,” the bench said, while quashing the decision.
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