New Delhi: Why is the Modi government asking private news channels not to use the word ‘Dalit’? What was missed out by the news channels is that in January this year, a ‘petitioner’ had approached the Gwalior High court, and received an order banning government agencies from using the word Dalit on the grounds that it did not appear in the Constitution.
[The timing is significant. Remember ‘Dalit’ and ‘January 8’ and the recent arrest of ‘urban naxals’]
Now, the Centre has cited a court ruling and “advised” the electronic media not to use the word “Dalit”. Ambedkarite activists strongly critiqued the move and stressed that the Scheduled Castes had coined the term ‘Dalit’ themselves, and hence it wasn’t offensive in any way.
The I&B ministry on August 7 wrote to the News Broadcasters Association and the Indian Broadcasting Foundation – bodies of TV channels – conveying a June 6 directive from the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court asking the government to direct the media not to use the word “Dalit”.
“Media may refrain from using the nomenclature ‘Dalit’… and the constitutional term ‘Scheduled Caste’ in English and its appropriate translation in other national languages should alone be used,” said the letter from Amit Katoch, ministry director.
The two associations are still “examining” the letter and have not conveyed the directive to the TV channels. It’s not clear whether or when the Centre will send a similar advisory to the print media.
In 1982, the Centre had asked the states not to use the word “Harijan”, which the Scheduled Castes found condescending or even outright offensive.
But Delhi University philosophy professor Kesav Kumar stressed that the Dalits had themselves coined the term “Dalit” to mark their “condemned” lifestyle and culture and to assert themselves against their oppressors. “Dalit” means “trampled-on” or “downtrodden”.
“People invent language to describe themselves. For most Dalits, the word is not objectionable. It means a celebration of the Dalit lifestyle. Some Brahminised Dalits may have problems (but) this is the language of liberation,” Kumar said.
The court order came after a petitioner cited the Gwalior bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court’s January order banning governments from using “Dalit” since it “does not find mention in the Constitution of India or any statute”.
There are several other words in common use that are not in the Constitution of India, rather offensive ones, not enabling ones like ‘Dalit’. What about them?
By trying to get the privately owned media to drop using the word Dalit, is the Modi I&B ministry trying to squash what has emerged as a strong Dalit identity and unity among the depressed and discriminated against classes? Will the use of the term Dalit soon be banned? Will those who use the word on their websites be shut down.
And what about the term ‘Mahadalit’ used by the Bihar Government? Is that a ‘legal’ term or not?