Centre tells states to avoid word ‘Dalit’ in official docs
New Delhi: The NDA government has asked state and Central departments to avoid the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ when describing members belonging to Scheduled Castes for all official transactions. The directive was issued just days before the matter related to certain provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes came up in the Supreme Court on 20 March. The apex court ruling had triggered massive protests across the country by Dalit organizations and Monday’s Bharat Bandh ended in violent clashes that saw nine people killed. In a letter to the chief secretaries of state governments and Union Territories, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on 15 March, 2018 said that they should use ‘Scheduled Caste’ and its translation in other languages.
The letter reviewed by Firstpost said: “All the state governments/UT administrations are requested that for all official transactions, matters, dealings, certificates etc, the constitutional term, ‘Scheduled Caste’ in English, and its appropriate translation in other national languages should alone be used for denoting the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes notified in the Presidential Orders issued under Article 341 of the Constitution of India.”
The letter, that has been marked to Central ministries, the Union Public Service Commission, Election Commission of India, cited an order passed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court, Gwalior bench. The court, in its order dated 15 January 2018 in the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Mohanlal Mahor, had said that ‘Dalit’ is mentioned in the Constitution.
“…that the Central government/state government and its functionaries would refrain from using the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ for the members belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as the same does not find mentioned in the Constitution of India or any statute.”
The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment also argued that Ministry of Home Affairs on 10 February 1982 had shot off a missive to the states to issue instructions to the authorities empowered to issue Scheduled Castes certificates, not to insert the word ‘Harijan’, but to only mention the caste to which the person belonged and which had been recognised as a Scheduled Caste under the Presidential Orders. Two years later on 18 August 1990, the Ministry of Welfare (now Social Justice and Empowerment) had requested the state governments to use ‘Scheduled Caste’ and its translation.
Article 341 of the Constitution says, “(T)he President may with respect to any state or Union Territory, and where it is a state, after consultation with the governor thereof, by public notification, specify the castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes in relation to that state or Union Territory, as the case may be.”
“Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Castes specified in a notification issued under clause (1) any caste, race or tribe or part of or group within any caste, race or tribe, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.”
According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, “Dalit” refers to one’s caste rather than class; it applies to members of those menial castes, which have born the stigma of “untouchability” because of the extreme impurity and pollution connected with their traditional occupations. The organization also said that Dalits represent a community of 170 million in India, constituting 17 percent of the population.
Eminent Dalit thinker Chandra Bhan Prasad told Firstpost, “The word ‘Dalit’ triggers some kind of fear in the government. People don’t want to call themselves Scheduled Castes, but ‘Chamar’ and ‘Dalit’. The government argument that it does not find mentioned in the Constitution is misleading. The term ‘Dalit’ symbolizes uprising against wrong policies. By erasing this nomenclature, the government is trying to suppress the angry voices from depressed classes.”