THE MINISTRY of Information and Broadcasting has told the media to “refrain from using the nomenclature Dalit” and, instead, use only the Constitutional term, ‘Scheduled Caste’.
Dalit rights groups have opposed the I&B ministry’s order, asserting that the term holds political significance and a sense of identity.
In March, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment issued similar orders to all state governments, stating that only the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ should be used in all official communication, adding that the term ‘Dalit’ does not find mention in the Constitution or any statute.
In its order issued on August 7, the I&B ministry cited a June order by the Bombay High Court (Nagpur bench), directing the Union government “to consider the question of issuing such direction to the media and take suitable decision upon it within next six weeks”. The petitioner had said that following the social justice ministry’s circular, the media too should be asked to stop using the word ‘Dalit’.
“It is accordingly advised that media may refrain from using the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ while referring to members belonging to Scheduled Castes, in compliance with the directions of the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, and the Constitutional term ‘Scheduled Caste’ in English and its appropriate translation in other national languages should alone be used for all official transaction,” the I&B order said.
The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had also cited a court order (Madhya Pradesh High Court, Gwalior bench), in the matter of Dr Mohanlal Mahor Vs. Union of India.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Union Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale, who has been associated with the Dalit Panther movement in Maharashtra which popularised the use of the term as a political identity, said the word ‘Dalit’ “denotes a sense of pride”.
“The petition has been filed by a Buddhist. It is fine to say that government records should use the term Scheduled Castes, but we see no reason why the media cannot use the term ‘Dalit’. Most Dalit groups don’t have a problem with the usage and don’t think it to be insulting in any way. It is, in fact, a word that instilled a sense of militancy in Ambedkarites — the need to be krantikaris when faced with injustice,” he said.
Professor Sukhadeo Thorat, former chairman of the University Grants Commission, said ‘Dalit’ in Marathi means oppressed and excluded, and was originally a broader term that included both class and caste. “There is nothing derogatory in the use of the word ‘Dalit’. It gained currency in the sixties and seventies with Dalit literature and Dalit Panther,” he said.
Asha Kowtal, who is part of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights — the national coalition of Dalit academicians and activists — said the term signifies “collective identity”, and banning it is akin to denial of the hard-won identity. “It marks the shift from brokenness to strength and power. We see this as part of the larger scheme of what the government is doing to the community, the anti-reservation discourse, the attempt to erase our identity little by little. We will file a PIL against the move in the Supreme Court if need be,” she said.