<SiteLock

Dalit or Scheduled Caste: A Terminological Choice

Gail Omvedt

(Posted yesterday on her blog, 'seeking begumpura')


bhag__53

The Thorat Committee has recommended that the term "dalit" used in textbooks should be expunged and replaced by the legalistic terminology "scheduled caste." The reasoning for this is not clear. "Dalit" has become partly a controversial term, and it is true that not all who fall under the category of "scheduled castes" will accept it for themselves. Their reasons may differ – for some, it is a negative term, and they have moved into a space where they want a positive identity. This is true, for example, of many Buddhists. For others, the traditional caste name is preferable.

However, it is undeniable that the term "dalit" has a militant history. It first came into use in the 1930s simply as a Hindi (or Marathi) translation for the term "depressed classes." "Dalit" of course means downtrodden, or crushed. But when in the early 1970s the Dalit Panthers emerged, the word took on the connotations of militancy. The Panthers defined "Dalit" very broadly in their manifesto – to include all the class and caste oppressed, including workers and agricultural laborers as well as Scheduled Castes. It kept this connotation of militancy, of revolt, of refusal to accept the bitter realities of the caste hierarchy. Indeed, it can be argued that a word which shows the social reality – the ex-untouchables are "downtrodden" and oppressed – is more valid than one which tries to smooth this over. For this reason, the word "Harijan" has been almost universally rejected, as a term which tried to ignore and paper over the harsh reality.

"Scheduled caste" is a legal term. As such it is neutral. That may be acceptable, even at points preferable for textbooks. But for movements, for action, those who suffer the realities of caste oppression need a stronger and more assertive identity, something the cold and form "scheduled caste" terminology cannot provide. This is provided, on the other hand, by the word "Dalit," with its connotations of resistance and revolt.

[Courtesy: seeking begumpura, July 8, 2012] 

Image courtesy: Nikhil Sablania.

Other Related Articles

A Tribute to a liberated AdiDravida Christian
Tuesday, 19 October 2021
 D. Albert, S.J. [JC Anthony was born in colonial India into an impoverished AdiDravida family. His father was a cook in the British cantonment. He worked in the Indian Air Force of independent... Read More...
Rosa Parks: How It all Started
Monday, 18 October 2021
  Rosa Parks & Jim Haskins (Excerpt from the book 'Rosa Parks: My Story')  One evening in early December 1955 I was sitting in the front seat of the colored section of a bus in... Read More...
Buddha and caste system
Wednesday, 13 October 2021
  Bhikku U. Dhammaratana There are some writers who try to depict the Buddha, the Enlightened One, as the teacher of Nibbana who had nothing to do with the affairs of the contemporary society.... Read More...
How mainstream feminism has failed Dalit women
Tuesday, 12 October 2021
  Anamika Kumari As long as there is casteism in this country, no other '-ism' would ever stand a chance to flourish. This country follows the rule of 'brahminism' and thus follows every other... Read More...
The many shades of Saheb Kanshiram
Saturday, 09 October 2021
  Gurinder Azad Once Kanshi Ram Saheb was going somewhere with his colleagues in a car. His health was a bit bad. A colleague, probably wanting to please Saheb, asked 'Saheb, tell me, what do... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Casteism in City Colleges and Classrooms
Saturday, 29 May 2021
Aarushi Punia It is a common myth perpetrated by upper caste faculty, students, politicians, and media that caste superiority and casteism is exercised amongst uneducated people in the villages, and... Read More...
Govt. of India should send One Lakh SC ST youths abroad for Higher Education
Monday, 21 June 2021
  Anshul Kumar Men sitting on the pinnacle of the palace "So, I went one day to Linlithgow and said, concerning the expense of education, "If you will not get angry, I want to ask a question. I... Read More...
Conceiving a New Public: Ambedkar on Universities
Saturday, 26 June 2021
Asha Singh & Nidhin Donald Dr. B.R. Ambedkar conceptualizes education as a ‘vital need’ which helps us fight notions of ‘inescapable fate’ or ‘ascriptions of caste or religion’. He... Read More...
Outlook magazine's duplicity
Saturday, 22 May 2021
JS Vinay Recently, there was a controversy when the Outlook magazine released an issue with a cover story on “50 Dalits remaking India”. [1] Many anti-caste activists raised questions about the... Read More...
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - From Denunciation of the Vedas to the Negation of Karl Marx and Surrender to Nāstika Buddhism
Sunday, 16 May 2021
Dr Aniruddha Babar “Buddha would never allow violence, but the communists do. No doubt the communists get quick results because when you adopt the means of annihilating a man, they do not remain to... Read More...