'We can't get rid of caste with mere tokenism'

Those who oppose it argue that it will be divisive; it will rekindle and strengthen caste consciousness which is supposedly getting forgotten otherwise. However, isn’t the opposition to caste consciousness and caste prejudices largely ritualistic, at best mere tokenism?

Can deep-rooted caste feelings be wished away by processions and fiery speeches? If the opponents of the caste census are genuinely interested in helping in dilution, if not total elimination of caste prejudices, they should embrace the following ‘Ten Commandments.’ This would mean going beyond tokenism and doing something concrete rather than merely indulging in semantic debates.

Matrimonial advertisements: Most English dailies and other regional language newspapers earn more from matrimonial ads than from their subscriptions. The ads carried by them clearly highlight the irrepressible desire for finding suitable brides and grooms of various castes. Mind you, this search is by millions of highly educated, well-employed and professionally trained individuals. The opponents of the caste-based census should, through an PIL in the supreme court, demand a ban on such divisive ads.

They should also urge the publishers of these newspapers to refuse to carry such caste-based advertisements even if it meant considerable loss of revenue. Inter-caste marriages: Our elected representatives, from the panchayat up to parliament, are supposed to be the protectors and custodians of democracy.

They must set examples of a society free from caste prejudice. Ask them and all the ministers and governors to take a vow that they will strive to see, at least, one daughter in the family is married to a groom from a lower caste. There will most probably be coldness and awkwardness initially but if not in the lifetime of the couples so married, in the lives of the offsprings of such mixed marriages, filial feelings and emotional bonding will result in weakening of caste prejudices if not their complete disappearance.

Deal sternly with untouchability: Untouchability was legally abolished decades ago, but it is alive and kicking in thousands of villages, practiced most brazenly under the eyes of official machinery with total impunity. Demand strict action against the practitioners of untouchability under the Anti Untouchabliity Act. It is a shame that more than 60 years after Independence millions of lower caste Hindus can’t draw water from the common well and their entry in temples can still trigger blood bath.

Severe punishment for atrocities: Governments come and go; only their names may be different. In this incredible country, more than 30,000 officially registered attacks of various descriptions take place against lower castes each year. (This was admitted by the home minister last fortnight in parliament while speaking on continuing atrocities against the SCs/STs).

Anyone familiar with rural India will vouch that out of four crimes committed, only one gets officially registered. Demand a time bound trial of such cases in special courts and exemplary punishment to perpetrators of such crimes to deter repetition of such attacks.

End humiliation of dalit students: It is a known fact that dalit students in hostels of universities/ medical and engineering colleges are routinely harassed and humiliated; demand an immediate end to these despicable practices. Put an end to parading: Every week national dailies carry news of some dalit woman having been stripped of her clothes and paraded naked and unashamed bystanders like the Pandavas of Mahabharat remaining impotent and dehumanised spectators of such humiliations. Demand life imprisonment to perpetrators of such crimes and dismissal of officials turning a blind eye to such incidents.

Demand transparency in promotions: An orchestrated and deliberate perception is created by castiest authorities that most of the officers belonging to lower castes entering through affirmative action are generally inefficient and incompetent. This creates a negative image about them and rules them out from getting assigned to crucial posts. Demand total transparency in matters of promotions and deployment and exemplary punishment to those who routinely betray caste prejudices.

Remove stereotype images: So little is known about the reformist leaders from lower castes who fought against all odds for getting justice, fairness and dignity for their brethren. Demand of the electronic media to provide opportunities to lower caste leaders/artistes/authors/sports and film personalities/achievers to express their views on the television. This will over a period of time change the stereotype image of the lower castes and generate more acceptability and lowering of poisonous bitterness.

Demand capacity building: Schemes like NREGA, though providing just 100 days employment, do provide means to survive amidst abject poverty. But it isn’t enough; it keeps them alive but doesn’t lead to capacity building. Lead countrywide campaign for eradication of poverty as prejudices persist directly in proportion to the extent of poverty. Power and prosperity have no caste; people, willy nilly accept the reality and swallow caste prejudices.

Boycott parties: Boycott political parties which distribute tickets based on caste considerations and don’t vote for candidates exhorting support on account of their castes. Alas, an honest implementation of this principle might result in empty parliament!
These steps might seem impractical and even Utopian. But even their partial success will produce much better concrete results than placards and processions at Jantar Mantar and scoring of brownie points in TV debates!

(The writer is a former secretary, ministry of external affairs and dean, Foreign Services Institute)

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