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Dalit or Scheduled Caste

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

07 July, 2012

A committee headed by Prof S.K.Thorat , former Chairman of University Grants Commission has recommended to use term Scheduled Castes instead of Dalits in the NCERT text books. The committee was formed by the government after an uproar in the parliament over the cartoons depicting Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar in a very distasteful way. The Members of Parliament wanted the government to take action on it and remove all the cartoons. The Minister for Human Resource Development Mr Kapil Sibal announced formation of the committee under Prof Thorat and asked it to finish its report with in a month. The six member committee recommended removal of 21 cartoons from the text books of NCERT in social sciences and political sciences from class VI till XIth. The committee said that a majority of these cartoons were politically sensitive and hence educationally inappropriate to be included in the curriculum. According to some experts, India is a hugely diverse country and hence that diversity must be reflected in our text books. Ofcourse, in the name of diversity, we cannot promote views in the textbooks which support caste system, untouchability, discrimination against women and so on. In fact, all the text related to mythologies must be removed from classes so that our children develop critical attitude towards life and do not fall prey to false priests and saints in the name of culture and traditions.

The committee did not stop with removal of cartoons but also suggested to the NCERT board and other governmental agencies not to use term ‘ Dalit’ in the text books. Instead, it said, our text books should promote the usage of the word ‘scheduled castes’, as referred in the constitution of India for the Dalits and scheduled tribes for the Aadivasis. Since, education in India is under government control hence everything that it wishes become the law in the text books. Actually, the cartoon issue has come handy for the political elites of the country who wanted to get rid of them. While there is no doubt that Cartoon on Baba Saheb Ambedkar and framing of constitution was in bad taste and does not reflect what it want to convey yet under the garb, it has removed all other cartoons made on Mrs Indira Gandhi and her actions during emergency.

One can debate on merit and demerits of the removal of these texts but time has come when we need to take education out of the control of the government. It does not mean way to privatization of education as envisaged by many. Government should be the provider of hardware for education which is like infrastructure etc, but the software of it must not be with the government but in hands of a committee or board duly constituted by it but accountable to parliament. The authorities always fear an autonomous committee to develop curriculum. At least it should not be under government controlled babaus and academics. Let there be diverse groups in that but it is not a contract handed over to people to represent communities. It is important that representation must be there but that is not the sole criteria. The curriculum must compel students to think and question even the text books. The problem arises when we are made to question everything which is not made by ‘us’ or ‘our’ academics. This will never take towards any solutions as the fight is among the elite of all communities to take government freebees and become part of the structure. With the mandate of the Parliament, the committee looked into six text books and nearly 150 cartoons and finally reached the conclusion that not all of them should be part of our curricula.

An argument is being given that cartoons can be part of our newspapers but should not be part of our curriculum as it can influence their thinking. Point is what kind of education we want to impart to our children. Do we want them to think what is good for them or is it better to make them think and decide as what is good or what is bad? There are arguments that the expert committee is not representative and each community person should be there in the committee. Representation of communities must be there in each segment but where does it stop. The same people who want to get represented in the name of Dalits actually oppose sub quota for the communities which are lagging behind, as a brahmanical conspiracy. Perhaps, that is why government and likeminded people never feel comfortable with the word Dalits which is a resistance against the brahmanical hegemony and challenges it with keeping its head high. Term Dalit is now synonymous of revolt against the caste based varna dharma and proud of its icons, their efforts to get an alternative life style, openness and resistance. Dr Ambedkar has not used this word as he mostly confined to calling them as ‘untouchables’ or Depressed Classes or Scheduled Castes. But the fact is that Dalit word got power and identity in the 1970s when the Dalit panthers actually raised the banner of revolt against the existing system. Hence, Dalit is quintessentially Ambedkarism with radical left thoughts of challenging the caste, god, religion and everything which is against equality and based on discrimination.

I do not claim to have read the textbooks but will look into them but as per Indian Express report, Thorat committee has asked the government to remove the related word apartheid with untouchability and caste discrimination. It means that the committee really worked harder to make the text books really of the government of India so that it does not lend into trouble. Not many years back, the government of India was determined to foil every effort of the civil society organizations at the International forums to make caste discrimination issue international and related to apartheid. Perhaps that was the reason when the government of India send Omar Abdullah to Durban to deny everything that caste discrimination and untouchability exists in India. His foreign ministry officials presented India’s constitution and marked that untouchability was abolished in 1950s in the constitution of India.

None can deny importance of representation of identities in developing curriculum and administration but the issues will never settle that easily unless we put international standards in these. Education as political agenda will only serve the purpose of power elite who do not want to be questioned. The power elite can always bring diverse people to settle score with any change. Those who insist only identity matter must not forget that to defeat Dr Ambedkar, Congress brought another Dalit from Bhandara constituency and finally Ambedkar had to be brought from Muslim dominated constituency of Bengal. It is not for nothing that Prof Thorat was appointed the chairman of this committee to review the textbooks of NCERT as in India at the moment if you have to thwart any change play the Dalit card. Now, the committee has come out openly with recommendations and not just with removal of cartoons but also the word Dalit itself which is symbol of protest against the caste based hierarchical brahmanical system. Now, the committee want Dalits to be converted into the sarkari Dalits called scheduled castes who do not raise any issues of violation of their rights but only remain helpless in their government services only which most of the upper caste would call contemptuously as ‘quota-wallahs’. The Dalit is therefore an assertion against this culture of domination and patronization by the caste Hindus. For a Dalit, reservation is the constitutional right granted by the constitution, that Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar framed so laboriously and not mercy of the caste Hindus.

The debate on who should be part of curriculum and who not will continue as long as power elite think education to push their political agenda and convert children into those frame work which we want them to be. It is a dangerous precedent. It is time, we place the social reality in our text books and also those who fought against it and who are more than relevant in today’s situation. Make our children capable to handle their situation and not push them to the prejudiced prisons of past. Let us prepare them for future on secular democratic principles where rigidities are not imposed in the name of culture and education system does not become study of farcical philosophies in the name of culture and history. It is time we learn to analyse our history and political sciences critically only then we will make a strong foundation of our students to deal with the complicated issues that society face today. The software of education therefore must be delinked with the government and handed over to a much more democratized and decentralized body of educationists who have respect for international human rights laws and who are secular democratic in their view point so that our society respect democratic values and change for the better.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com


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