Government Circular Attacks Dalit Identity In India
Bangalore/Delhi: 4 September 2018 5:25 pm
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s circular to television news channels to refrain from using the term ‘Dalit’ and use the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ instead, will impede the Dalit rights movement from asserting itself against caste-based oppression, Amnesty International India said today.
The circular which was issued to the News Broadcasters Association (a private association of different news television broadcasters in India) on 7 August, advised that “media may refrain from using the nomenclature “Dalit” while referring to members belonging to Scheduled Caste in compliance with the directions of the Hon’ble Bombay High court and the Constitutional term ‘Scheduled Caste’ in English, and it’s appropriate translation in other national languages, should alone be used”.
“Progressive social groups adopted the term ‘Dalit’ in the 1970s to assert their identity in their fight against caste-based oppression. The term ‘Dalit’ is much more than just a word, it is a shared identity that recognizes the historic discrimination faced by the community in India. The government has no business telling the media to not use the term ‘Dalit’. Government should respect the right of Dalit groups to identify themselves in the manner they choose,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India.
Amnesty International India spoke to two private news channels who have confirmed that they have received the circular. It is unclear though whether newspapers and magazines have also received the circular. The Ministry so far has not specified whether the circular was binding and did not list any action if TV news channels do not comply.
Speaking to Amnesty International India, Paul Diwakar, General Secretary of National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) said “If the media is gagged from upholding the values of fundamental rights, then this would affect the right to dignity and the right to life for those who are fighting against caste-based oppression. This will affect the identity of not only this generation but also for future generations”.
This is not the first time where the Central Government is insisting that the term ‘Dalit’ not be used. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on 15 March 2018, in a letter to the Chief Secretaries of state governments and Union Territories said, “…that the Central government/state government and its functionaries would refrain from using the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ for the members belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as the same does not find mentioned in the Constitution of India or any statute.”
In June 2018, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court while hearing a public interest litigation seeking the removal of the word ‘Dalit’ from all government documents and communication asked the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to consider issuing a direction to media to stop using the word ‘Dalit’, following the March 2018 circular advising government officials against using the word.
Speaking to Amnesty International India, journalist and writer, Sudipto Mondal said, “The term ‘Dalit’ is a larger term of self-identification. Scheduled Caste is not descriptive. There are various interpretations of the term ‘Dalit’, it is growing in significance and is now including various other groups who are being oppressed. It is a useful prism to use where caste has not been explored properly. What I would want to know is who is the government to decide on this? The government is an appointed agency, what is their locus standi here?”.