‘Not good to ban usage of Dalit in media’: Athawale to move Supreme Court

Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment Ramdas Athawale said the Republican Party of India (RPI) will approach the Supreme Court against a Union information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry directive to media organisations, advising them to refrain from using the term ‘Dalit’ when referring to members of the Scheduled Castes (SC).

Athawale, who is also the president of RPI, said while he was not opposed to switching from ‘Dalit’ to the legally approved ‘Scheduled Castes’ for official purposes, he saw no merit in banning its usage in the media or otherwise.

“We are going to the Supreme Court; it is not good to ban the usage of the term ‘Dalit’. There was opposition to the use of the word ‘Harijan’, as some people objected to it, but there is no such opposition to the use of Dalit as it is not derogatory,” he said.

Incidentally, in March, Athawale’s ministry had written to other central ministries and state governments, advising them to avoid using the term ‘Dalit’ and instead use ‘person belonging to Scheduled Castes’ in all official communications.

Athawale defended the ministry’s circular by pointing out that it only limited the usage to official purposes.

In June, the Bombay high court had asked the I&B ministry to consider issuing a directive to the media to stop using the word ‘Dalit’. Accordingly, the ministry issued the advisory to all private television channels.

The decision evoked mixed reactions from members of the Scheduled Castes community. While a section called the advisory an “overreach” on the government’s part, another was of the view that the term ‘Scheduled Castes’ was “constitutionally accepted” and “not derogatory”.

The government has supported the move, saying that the nomenclature ‘Dalit’ did not find mention in the Constitution of India or any statute.

Member of Parliament and president of the BJP’s SC Morcha Vinod Sonkar supported the decision, saying, “Those who say the term ‘Dalit’ should be used are neither aware of the Constitution nor of Baba Saheb (Bhim Rao) Ambedkar’s sentiments.”

Congress MP Kumari Selja was also of the view that the sentiments of those who consider the term ‘Dalit’ derogatory should be “considered”. Party spokesperson Manish Tewari, however, said the term was commonly used in the public discourse.

The term Dalit, according to experts, in Marathi language means broken or downtrodden.

“Scheduled Castes is the legal term; but there can be an occasion when the term Dalit or formerly untouchables or formerly excluded castes can be used in an academic context…,” said former chairperson of University Grants Commission, Sukhdeo Thorat.

D Shyam Babu, a Dalit academic at the Centre for Policy Research, said every community has the right to determine how it wants to be addressed.

First Published: Sep 05, 2018 22:28 IST

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