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Drop the term Dalit, stick to SC/ST, RSS tells its workers

Last week, the ministry of social justice and empowerment pointed out that the term Dalit “does not find mention in the Constitution of India or any statute”.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2018 23:48 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Dalit,RSS,Scheduled Castes
Volunteers of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in Mumbai. (REUTERS File)

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants its volunteers to avoid using the word Dalit, which it considers a colonial appendage with derogatory connotations, senior functionaries from the group said.

A senior RSS official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the RSS brass now wants its volunteers and those associated with its many affiliates to opt for the “constitutionally approved terms Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST)” instead.

Alok Kumar, the international working president of RSS offshoot Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), said the Sangh feels the terms SC and ST are more appropriate as it has constitutional sanction.

“SC/ST is a term that has no castigation and is not derogatory,” he said.

Last week, the ministry of social justice and empowerment wrote to all states and government departments, in the wake of a Madhya Pradesh high court verdict, to refrain from using the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ for members of the SC/ST communities.

The ministry pointed out that the term Dalit “does not find mention in the Constitution of India or any statute”.

According to D Shyam Babu, a Dalit academic at the Centre for Policy Research, the word Dalit in Marathi means broken or downtrodden, and its usage was popularised by Dr BR Ambedkar.

The RSS and its affiliate, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are making attempts to mend caste fault lines that they perceive as a threat to the party’s cohesive Hindu vote bank by weaning away the Scheduled Castes, tribes and other backward classes from other political parties. In the wake of cases of atrocities against Dalits in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and the Bhima Koregaon violence in Maharashtra earlier this year, the RSS has already sounded an alarm on the potential electoral costs that caste fractures could inflict on the BJP as its heads into the 2019 elections.

As per Census 2011, the percentage of Scheduled Castes in the country is 16.6% and Scheduled Tribes is 8.6%.

Through its renewed Samajik Samrasta (social harmony) campaigns — having meals and spending a night at the homes of members of the SC/ST communities and pushing for anointment of priests from the communities — which have been emulated by the BJP, the Sangh is trying to prevent the cracks from widening. A few Sangh fucntionaries said a change in nomenclature would help erase the “still prevalent biases”.

But former Rajya Sabha MP Bhalchandra Mungekar of the Congress party, who is also a Dalit, described the move as “politically motivated”, saying the term Dalit denotes the stigma of untouchability, which is now outlawed.

“The term Dalit has been used to denote all socially, economically and educationally exploited and politically backward communities. It is inclusive. This sudden need to drop the term, which is now used internationally, is nothing but an attempt to divide the Dalit movement,” he said.

RSS thinker Rakesh Sinha, however, said the term SC/ST is the “most legitimate term that does not show any radical posturing to a particular community, unlike the term Dalit”.

“With the change of relationship between state power and social forces, a new connotation takes birth and gets a legitimate space. Earlier the marginalised people in Hindu caste system were called untouchables, colonial state addressed it in a more secular manner by calling them depressed classes. Then Mahatma Gandhi changed the narrative with the sociology-spiritual term Harijan that is still used in many parts of rural India. The connotation SC,unlike Dalit, has been approved by the Constituent Assembly headed by none other than Babasahab Ambedkar,” he said.

“The official nomenclature has always been SC/ST, but there have been various terms used, for instance first it was depressed classes then SC/ST, in between there was Harijan. But the word Dalit has been picked by the communities themselves. It is how they identify themselves and take pride in; how can Dalits be stopped from using this word, which they have picked,” said D Shyam Babu.

First Published: Apr 24, 2018 23:34 IST