What’s Wrong With ‘Dalit’? Chandrabhan Prasad Defends The Term

“‘Dalit’ is now associated with ‘Dalit Pride’ – they derive strength from it,” says the well-known Dalit ideologist.

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Quoting a recent judgment of the Bombay High Court, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued an advisory to media institutions not to use the word 'Dalit’.

Although the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court gave this order with regard to central and state governments’ functioning, the court ordered that ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ be used instead of ‘Dalit’ and ’tribals’ in all government documents, since these words did not exist in the Constitution. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is trying to impose this on the media too.

In an exclusive interview with Quint Hindi, well-known Dalit ideologist Chandrabhan Prasad takes the order apart.

What’s the Difference Anyway?

Prasad says that the word ‘Dalit’ is associated with Dalit pride, and that Dalits derive strength from this word – they have accepted and reclaimed the term. The British government in 1935 coined the term 'Scheduled Caste’.

“‘Scheduled caste’ is not a caste, it is a schedule in which all ‘Untouchable’ castes have been added. Why does the government and the court have a problem if Dalits don’t?  It’s the upper-caste society that is unable to accept the word ‘Dalit’. In this way, with the help of the court and the government, they want to unconstitutionalise the weapons which are challenging their power.”

According to Chandrabhan Prasad, the word 'Dalit' is a symbol of the Dalit revolution and that is why there is panic among upper castes. The way the Black Panther movement took place in America in 1960, scaring many racists with its mere name, similarly, upper castes in India get scared of 'Dalit Panther'. 'Dalit Panther’ is not used anymore, but the word ‘Dalit' has become powerful, he says.

How Did the Word 'Dalit' Reclaim Power?

Chandrabhan Prasad says that in 1972, when 'Dalit Panthers' was launched in Maharashtra, it wasn’t very successful, but then Dalit literature rose in Maharashtra, which was new to Dalits – it gave their protests a voice. Dalit literature spread to north India too, emerging in languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Haryana, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati, and Tamil. After this, Dalit politics emerged. That is when Dalit society began assuming the word for its identity, Prasad says.

(This was originally published on Quint Hindi, translated into English by Srishti Tyagi.)

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