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Exhuming the never buried
Sushma Gumpenapalli


Sushma Gumpenapalli

Sushma GumpenapalliIndia is a nation-state infested with ‘the caste system’, a rigid social order peculiar to Indian social geography. It is a land of divisions, strata based on various social affiliations. But caste is a stratification that has become an impediment for integration, collective development of the Indian society. Any blanket term that tried or attempted to unify the oppressed in any form could not be sustained for long. Some of such integrating terms could be “Dalit”, “Bahujan” etc. It is pertinent to ponder over the brahmanical fascist state prevailing in India at this juncture of unrest.

Government, one of the agencies of the state, is resorting to Goebbelsian propaganda to perpetuate castesim in India by segregating the different sections of society and preventing any kind of integration and unification especially of the dissenting victims of myriad oppressions and the voices of defiance. The fascist rule is trying to bring the scission in the secular fabric which was initiated by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. There had been many instances where the respective governments of the fascist state had exhumed something which had never been buried. On fine example of this could be the ceasing or abolishing “reservations” in the private medical colleges which as a matter of fact had never existed in the state of Uttar Pradesh. And now, asking the media and other Chief Secretaries (bureaucracy) to refrain from addressing Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as “Dalits”. There had been no instances where the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were referred to as Dalit in administrative terms ever.

But, if one were to ask what could be the new division and segregation that the brahmanical fascists can bring in, then the possible answer would be that reinforcing the existing imposed casteist social order and further preventing any kind of integration or any step towards annihilating caste. This is exactly how the fascist state is attacking the accumulation of the people to form a countervailing power not just to bargain with the hegemony and domination but also to re-stabilize the distributive Justice at large to establish an egalitarian society. This connivance is at two levels. One, at the level of politically attacking by attempting a scission in the larger masses who wants to integrate against the majoritarian oppressions. Two, at a sociological level by making the word “Dalit” vanish from the ambit of worldwide and regional researches, visibility and the discourse around the question of caste in India.

Uninterrupted Goebbelsian propaganda paves way for promotion of Jingoism

Of late, an increase in use of various forms of media (not speaking about the access of internet) for social gatherings, activism and even to pull crowds for lynching is observed. A recent survey conducted by Broadcast Audience Research Council India (BARC) reveals that Television penetration in South India is 95% and all over India it amounts to 66%. This data draws an important inference that more than half of the population in India is exposed to the contemporary politics in one or the other way for whichever stand they take up. The same media, which has highest reach, needs to be hijacked by the majoritarian world to propagate false propaganda where dissent is portrayed as sedition. And yes, the psycho-analytical techniques of Sigmund Freud are well handled with versatility by the Fascists. So, the Goebbelsian propaganda now can go uninterrupted across the votes (public) at large.

Dalit – Integration of intersectional oppressions and stigmatized identities

All of us should get one thing correct: that Dalit is not an interchangeable term for either Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or both together. This is imperative not just for the sections having hegemonic dominance but also for the victims of such oppression. Stigmatization of certain identities and spreading prejudices based on caste, race, gender, sexuality, class, religion, culture, ethnicity becomes the cause of hate speech and accepted lynching. Dalit is a nomenclature that can catalyze the annihilation of caste, build a society of acceptance towards gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion etc only by accepting the intersectional oppressions faced by the de-humanized identities and the exploited populations. And most prominently, Dalit is capable of being an expression that can call out phallogocentrism in every aspect of social mobilization and liberation including the dialectics around a particular subjugation.

The recent step taken by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Ministry asking that media may “refrain from using the word Dalit” while referring to the Scheduled Castes, is just absurd. Let us take a look at the chain of events that has drained our energies once again over an issue that’s nothing legal and legitimate. The Madhya Pradesh High Court, in the case of “Dr.Manohar Lal v. Union of India”(W.P.NO 20420/2017), in its judgment dated 15-01-2018 stated that “In the case at hand, as the petitioner fails to bring on record any documents issued by the functionaries of Central Government/State Government to use the “Dalit” word as interchangeable with the word “Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes”, we are not inclined to cause any indulgence.” which is the most relevant part that had answered the petition briefly. But, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment chose to stick to the obiter dictum in the same judgment which has no legal binding in principle. The paragraph which was taken very seriously by the Ministry is as follows: “However, we have no manner of doubt 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. The petition is disposed of finally in the above terms.

Let us look at the petition first. The petition seeks the High Court to direct orders to prohibit the “Government/Non- Government organizations and including making of penal provisions” from using the word “Dalit”.  Why this sudden anxiety about the word Dalit among the Sharmas? I think we can easily decipher this anxiety, looking at the political scenario across the country (Indian nation-state). Even a mere spectator with less exposure towards the legal and political fields would say that this was a step to attack the “solidarity” and “integration” of the oppressed from every nook and corner of the country.

A multifaceted state of fascist connivance

But how can one say that this is a Connivance? Is it not too much of an accusation? Not really. The gravity expressed by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to obey the not necessarily legally binding “obiter dictum”, further citing by means of colouring the similar paragraph as an order by the Judiciary and issuing a circular to “the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories” on 15th day of March 2018 is ludicrous. And also the subject of the circular is as follows: “Need to avoid the nomenclature “Dalit” for the members belonging to the Scheduled Castes”. This is a connivance since not just the legal pronouncement is mis-interpreted but it is also colouring the legal pronouncement by the “Central Ministry” itself.  This would render it to be a deliberate, arbirtrary act towards the set legality bringing about an illegality, and of course immorality.

Then comes the Bombay High Court Judgment (Nagpur Bench) on the 6th of June 2018 where the court declared that, “As Central Government has issued necessary directions to its officers, we find that it can also issue suitable directions as per law to the respondent no. 2 and the media to refrain from using same word. Various institutes in the field are not before us and hence, we direct respondent no. 1 to consider the question of issuing such direction to the media and take suitable decision upon it within next six weeks.

In both the judgments, be it Madhya Pradesh or Bombay, there had been no ”question of law”. If one could read both the judgments, one will see that the decisions pronounced by the High Courts are mere answers and not any decision pronounced on the “question of law”. Neither did the parties invoke before the courts the “question of law” nor did the High Courts take up the same for discussion. The last and latest event in this order is the letter sent by the Government of India through Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to all private satellite and TV channels in compliance with the court order advising that the media may refrain from using the nomenclature “Dalit” for the Scheduled Castes in India.

The major concern is that, the word Dalit is nowhere mentioned in the Indian Constitution. The petitioners in the case of Dr. Manohar Lal vs Union of India themselves failed to submit any record or document where the word “Dalit” was/is/had/has been used for any official purposes. Still, the Government of India through its agencies, both administrative and legislative, had resorted to this connivance of defrauding the public at large citing the orders of the Judiciary.

Why is the word Dalit mighty and threatening to the Fascist regime?

To be honest one must not un-heed the success of fascism in terms of being majoritarian. But, this majoritarianism of domination lies in accumulating the populations and binding them together. And this is exactly why the word “Dalit” threatens the hegemony of the Fascists.

Dalit is an identity or expression espoused not by homogenous populations but a liberating potential capable of identifying and integrating the “intersectionalities”. Dalit is a social as well as political identity with a historical evolution with respect to space and time. Unlike fascism, the nomenclature “Dalit” integrates the victims/survivors of oppression and the voices of defiance and dissent. In the words of Prof. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd “this act of the government is only to nurture the Brahmanization as against the Dalitization”.

Censorship of Press – Grave violation of Constitutional Rights

Abiding by the Constitution means to uphold the true spirit of the Constitution and not mis/malinterpretation of the legal texts, Constitution of India. These acts of the Government of India cannot be overlooked but should be seen as an attempt to direct the media to refrain from using the term Dalit is, though the suggestive term “may” was used, needs a greater attention form the public at large. Such attempts and acts of the Government could be termed as unconstitutional and as infringment of the Fundamental Rights guarenteed by the Indian Constitution under and Article 19(1) (a) – Freedom of Press, a subset of Freedom of Speech and Expression which is a corresponding provision of the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Media plays a crucial role in providing information to the public at large and also holds the power to provide a larger visibility to the localized and rather unattended issues. In the case of Printers (Mysore) Ltd vs CTO11, the Supreme Court had stipulated that “Media is the fourth chamber of Democracy.” Upholding the democratic fabric is the true Constitutional spirit. In another judgment, Indian Express Bombay Ltd. vs Union of India, the Judiciary reiterated the pivotal role of media and the utmost need for the freedom of press (any form) in educating the public for a stronger democracy. This unauthorized, arbitrary censorship directed at the media by the Government of India will only disrupt the democratic state. Hence, this censorship qualifies to be unconstitutional and is against the spirit of Constitutional values.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment owes an answer as to why such directions were given to the Chief Secretaries despite there being no evidence provided that “Dalit” was ever used in administrative or Constitutional parlance and documents.

Dalit needs to be an empowered conglomeration that stands against any kind of stigma

It is an established fact that “Dalit” is an unofficial/non- administrative word but an expression that facilitates assertion of an integrating identity. The circular issued by the Ministries curbs the right of Freedom of speech and expression and also censoring such freedom is politically driven motive to isolate the oppressed and push them further to the margins. It is high time that the oppressed make the expression “Dalit” a category of inclusivity of multiple oppressions and break the hegemonies which could annihilate caste, address gender equality, break the class hegemonies to establish an egalitarian society. A strong sense of integration has to emerge among the myriad of oppressions to fight and stand against authoritarian, phallogocentric oppression by liberating themselves. Therefore, the expression “Dalit” is a form of empowerment against the imposed stigmatized identity.



Sushma Gumpenapalli is a Dalit law graduate (2018) from NALSAR University of Law, Telangana. Her mother is from Aadivasi – Koya community and father from Scheduled Caste – Maadiga community. She is interested in analyzing the legal, political and social aspects of today’s pressing issues.

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