Caste markers in schools abhorrent

The controversy over the wearing of colour-coded caste armbands by students in some schools in Tamil Nadu shows not only the continuing hold of caste sentiments in society but also the support it receives from the leaders of society, political parties and even the government.

The controversy over the wearing of colour-coded caste armbands by students in some schools in Tamil Nadu shows not only the continuing hold of caste sentiments in society but also the support it receives from the leaders of society, political parties and even the government. Students were made to wear armbands that identified their caste and to sport tilaks on their foreheads or rings as caste markers. For example, in some southern districts a red band stands for the Thevar community and blue for the Scheduled Castes. The director of school education recently issued a circular banning the practice, but the minister for school education KA Senkottaiyan said that it was issued without his knowledge and would not be implemented. He said “whatever existed before the circular will continue’’, but promised that action would be taken if there was any complaint of caste discrimination. He, however, admitted that the practice existed in some schools.

The confusion and the contradictions over the circular and the practice only reveal its prevalence and the support it has in many quarters. Officials have maintained that the circular is still valid, and the state teachers’ association has criticised the minister. It is ironic that the practice is followed and has received support in a state like Tamil Nadu which has a tradition of social and political movements against casteism. The minister’s party, the AIADMK, claims the legacy of that movement. His announcement came in the wake of the criticism of the circular by leaders of the BJP, with whom the AIADMK is allied. BJP leader H Raja claimed that the wrist bands and tilaks were religious symbols and a ban on them was an ‘anti-Hindu’ act. He wants the circular to be withdrawn and action taken against the official who issued it. 

Caste marks are not religious symbols and their flaunting and the support for them can only create and aggravate caste feelings. A strange justification made in support of the practice is that it created caste pride among students. Is caste pride a good quality to be instilled in students when the need is to eliminate casteism and divisions and discrimination based on it? Separation of students on the basis of caste leads to discrimination. There are also reports of students from lower castes being made to sit on the back benches or forced to clean toilets. Caste prejudices should not be injected into young minds, and students should be taught, in theory and practice, the idea of the equality of all citizens. What is needed is an end to the abhorrent practice and action against the authorities of schools which impose it on their students. 

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