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‘Dalit’ is unconstitutional! Go ahead, sue us!
The term ‘Dalit’ is unconstitutional as per Article 341. But the usage can still be seen across the country. Legal/political intervention is a must!

Words, depending on their context, have the power to capture the imagination of millions and precede paradigms that can be make civilizations proud, or put them to shame. There have been words that have caused massive rebellions and friction between communities. Be it the way Whites used the term Negro, Nigger, Black, and apartheid or the way Hitler and Mussolini used Nazism and fascism respectively, some words have stayed on to simmer deep rooted suspicion between civilizations. These words have in some cases, brought with them a feeling of discrimination and subjugation of the entire community.

To place the term ‘Dalit’ along with the examples quoted above might seem extreme – well, nobody in India seems to be having a problem currently – but the reality is that its’ about time the society is educated on and understands how pejorative this particular term could be. And history has seen too many such previously accepted terms being socially ostracised in one swift move – from ‘mentally retarded’ to ‘socially challenged’, from ‘deaf and dumb’ to ‘physically disabled’, from ‘beggars, mendicants and slum dwellers’ to ‘economically disadvantaged’, from ‘queer, faggot, gay and homo’ to ‘LGBT and MSM’, the examples are innumerable.

On the same benchmarks, if the usage of the term Dalit doesn’t get your goatee, and you’re mighty surprised on this proposition of ours being presented, then allow us to affirm, that you in all definiteness are yourself not a Dalit.

For the uninitiated, the Dalit term was originally used as a simile for ‘lower caste people’ considered to be ‘untouchables’ by the so-called ‘higher caste people’ in India. Somewhere down the line, social intellectuals, media sources and political commentators forgot the untouchability metaphor and adopted the usage of the term, disregarding the utter destituteness of the usage. But the discontent amongst the addressed classes had never vanished and in fact had grown, despite not getting an organised collective forum.

To a point in 2008 in Chhattisgarh, when finally the state government ordered the district collectors and its departments to immediately stop the usage of the Dalit term in their documents. This was done after an elongated series of requests made by the National Commission for Backward Classes. The reference point for this request is irrefutable and even shocking. The Commission proved that the usage of the term Dalit was unconstitutional. The Constitution defines this specific class (of Dalits, if we may) under the well documented Scheduled Caste (SC) category; this is as per Article 341 of the Constitution. Only the President of India, as per Constitution, can include any new term to address the SC category. In short, the term Dalit does not exist in the Constitution; and for specific reasons we have mentioned.

Post Chhattisgarh government’s move, the Dakshina Kannada district police officials in Mangalore also decided to avoid the usage of such a clearly pejorative term. Mangalore, which had been particularly infamous for its discrimination, showed this rare understanding that went against the convention.

Now, a similar course is being experienced by the term ‘Harijan’. As recently as in August 2010, the Parliamentary Committee asked the government to stop the use of the Harijan term – which has been alternatively used for Dalits; and in fact was introduced by Mahatma Gandhi himself. The committee argued that the term is deprecating the status of the underprivileged sections of society. As per the committee, the ministry had previously issued a circular in 1982 asking the state governments and Union Territory administrations to issue instructions to the concerned authorities not to use the word Harijan in scheduled caste certificates.
However, given current blatant usage of both the terms – Dalit and Harijan – across India, these examples are aberrations at best. American constitutional laws, re-modelled during the reconstruction period after the Civil War, had provisions to protect freed black American slaves. The US government has also previously banned the Negro term, and made the usage of the term a punishable offence (of course, till the time Obama identified himself comfortably as being a Negro).

Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) declared discrimination based on the caste system as a human-rights abuse. But surprisingly, the Indian government is trying to get the word ‘caste’ removed from this UN draft. To the contrary, the UNHRC is now even considering ratifying a draft recognizing the persecution of Dalits worldwide.

In this scenario where political will is found wanting, the legal will needs to be strengthened. The Supreme Court should declare the usage of the term Dalit a nationwide offence. Closing this dark chapter of history is critically important; and it has already been delayed by a long and painful 63 years since Independence.

By:- Sray Agarwal

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