The report of the S.K.Thorat committee appointed to review NCERT text books has recommended not using the word Dalit in the text books. When it gives its general recommendations it has mentioned that “The word Dalit should not be used. In that place SC should be used or it should be verified whether the replacement is legally fine” (APPENDIX 1 Class IX Democratic Politics) . I do not see any valid reason in this recommendation.
I am giving below an exchange occurred between me and Mr K.Narayanan, the former Readers’ Editor of The Hindu Newspaper, in 2008.
Dear Mr. Ravikumar,
I would like to have your comments on this.
The Readers' Editor,
859 -- 860 Anna Salai,
Chennai 600 002
Ph: +91-44-28418297 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday)
-----Forwarded by Readers Editor/CHEN-THED/ksl on 06/09/2008 03:59PM -----
From: "hemant kumar" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 05/13/2008 12:04PM
Subject: FOR KIND ATTENTION OF HON'BLE READERS EDITOR PLEASE
RESPECTED R/EDITOR SIR,
WITH DUE RESPECT AND REGARD, IT IS HUMBLY BROUGHT TO YOUR KIND NOTICE THAT MANY A TIMES YOUR ESTEEMED NEWSPAPER CARRIES NEWS REPORTS ABOUT DALIT ATROCITIES AND OTHER INCIDENTS REGARDING THEM. ALTHOUGH IT WAS INSTRUCTED BY THE NATIONAL COMMISSION OF SCHEDULED CASTED WAY BACK IN JANUARY 2008 THAT THE WORD "DALIT" SHOULD NOT BE USED AS IT IS NEITHER CONSTITUTIONAL NOR IT FINDS MENTION IN ANY STATUTE. AFTER THIS DIRECTIVE, VARIOUS STATE GOVERNMENTS INCLUDING HARYANA AS WELL AS UT ADMN INSTRUCTED AGAINST USE OF THE WORK DALIT IN OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS/COMMUNICATIONS ETC.
THE QUESTION I WANT TO ASK IS WHETHER THE PRESS SHOULD CONTINUE USING THE WORK "DALIT". I THINK THE PRESS COUNCIL SHOULD HAVE A THOROUGH DEBATE OVER THIS. I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR YOUR REPUTED PAPER'S VIEW ON THE SUBJECT.
# 414 SECTOR 7
Dear Shri Narayanan
Sorry for the inordinate delay.Please see below my response
'Dalit' and SC commission
It is true that the National SC/ST commission has suggested that the word Dalit not be used in official communication and a few state governments have acted on this. The commission's view is that the term is 'unconstitutional'. What we must realize is that the Constitution is not a lexicon. It cannot delimit social and cultural usage. In the US, the term negro was used for a long time to refer to blacks. Today, African American is used by every one. In India, the bureaucracy and administration have to keep pace with the times. The use of the official term Scheduled Castes does not in any way clash with the social/ academic/ literary/ media use of the term Dalit. The two are independent. Some observations in this context.
1. Statutes are enacted to maintain law and order not to interfere in the affairs of language. So looking at the statutes to decide the fate of a word is incorrect.
2. The SC/ST commission's directive is only meant for 'the official documents' not for the media or literature or rest of society.
3. Dalit leaders have used many words to call themselves. Pandit Iyothee Thass(1845-1914) a leader of Tamil dalits had used "casteless Dravidians" and "Original Buddhists". He criticized the usage of the word 'Depressed Class' in his writings.
4. Ambedkar used several words -- Depressed Class, Untouchables and Minorities, and also on a few occasions the term 'Dalit'.
5. A well known scholar of the Dalit movement and literature Eleanor Zelliot has stated in her introduction to Vasant Moon's autobiography 'Growing up Untouchable in India': "The most recent nomenclature for ex-untouchables is 'dalit'; a term meaning downtrodden or broken down but used with pride as self-chosen name that reflects no idea of pollution and can include all who identify themselves as oppressed by the caste system.' Dalit' came into currency in the 1970s in movements that took names such as Dalit Panthers and Dalit literature and now is the preferred name for those (such as Vasant Moon) who want to free themselves from the concept of pollution and from the patronage of Gandhian ideology". So the etymological meaning of the word 'Dalit' is not important here as much as its functional meaning.
6. It is a 'subjectivity' chosen by those who want to annihilate caste system; it is not an 'identity'. Choosing subjectivity is a conscious act. But the Hindu caste system wants to reduce the subjectivity into an identity by making the word as a mere replacement for Scheduled Caste or Untouchable.
7. So we have to restrict the instruction of the SC commission to official documents of the central/state governments.
8. We must oppose any attempt to ban the word 'Dalit'.
9. At a time when the Australian prime minister apologized to the nation for the atrocities perpetrated on the aborigines, and at a time when in Canada the state has apologized for the oppressive policies Native Americans (First Nation people) were subjected to till as late as the 1970s, we in India seem to be involved to be quibbling over non-substantive issues.
*Ravikumar is the author of ‘Venomous Touch- Notes on Caste,Culture and Politics ( Samya, 2009)General Secretary of Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi(VCK) and former MLA of Tamilnadu .