The word “Dalit”, Appropriate or Not


 Adv. Dr. Suresh Mane

(Bahujan Republican Socialist Party)



220px-Dr Suresh mane

 (This piece was first published in Dainik Lokmat's editorial section, Nagpur edition on 11th September 2018. http://www.lokmat.com/editorial/words-dalit-are-incorrect-or-inappropriate/)

 After the decisions delivered by the Bombay High Court’s Nagpur Bench and Madhya Pradesh High court prohibiting the usage of ‘Dalit’ word in government proceedings; subsequently the central government on March 15, 2018 issued an order to its various departments and the state governments to avoid using ‘Dalit’ word or reference, and also recently in the last month the government has banned the electronic media, there have been various opinions developing around the usage of ‘Dalit” word and has given rise to a new dispute. On one side the union minister for social justice Thawarchand Gehlot considers the High courts’ decision as rightful; the state minister of his department, Ramdas Athavle has however disapproved this decision of banning the usage and has expressed to move to the Apex court for against this resolution of the government. 

Apart from such differences between the Ministers of the central government, many political thinkers, leaders, and scholars have endorsed the usage of the word ‘Dalit’, citing various references from the era of Mahatma Phule to this present period. They have argued that the word ‘Dalit’ does not have any caste connotations but, is a concept consolidating the proletariat exploited classes, a concept that has perpetuated the deep feeling of class struggle amongst all the oppressed communities. 

This government order has created trouble for the media and is in a state of dilemma, as such usage would mean contempt of the order and the courts at large. But, a nuance in this matter is that these directives were given only to the electronic media (TV Channels) and nothing of which has been served to the print media. Such debates have been going around lately.

In such a backdrop, one needs to see how the word “Dalit” or any such concepts are constructed, and how with the times the concepts become dormant, or how the connotations and the contexts of such concepts change in different periods, of which we have several instances and examples.

It can be said that by ascertaining the origins of the ‘Adi Hindu’, ‘Adi Dravida’, “Adi Dharmi” or “Nama Shudra’ in the beginning of the 20th century, in different regions of the country, clears the reason for the conceiving the word ‘Dalit’.

There are government documents and literature that explicitly mention, how the different names allied to Dalits in different regions of the country and in different periods of history have originated and how those have changed with times.

As in our country, it has been a ritualistic practice to use certain prohibited words commonly, we find many of the politicians, scholars, and intellectuals, often using “Hindustan” instead of “India” or “Bharat”, specifically mentioned in the article 1 of the Indian Constitution. Similarly, different castes and communities have been called with unconstitutional names in rhetoric, like the ‘Adivasis’ as “Vanwasis’, “Kolis’ as “Sagarputra”, or calling some groups as “Dhartiputras’,’ Dasiputras’, ‘Raje-Maharajas’ or ‘ Shrimanta’. Also, illegal nouns like “Harijan”, coined by Mahatma Gandhi (for the scheduled castes) and “Girijans’ or’ Vanwasis’ for Adivasi are commonly referred to as, and which give rise to newer concepts and contexts. Against such new concepts, the ruling class conspires to build counter concepts, that sometimes get social backing and often legal support too.

And therefore we see that it is but natural for the New Buddhists (Nav Bouddha) of Maharashtra, who for themselves are in quest for these concepts of Buddhists or Neo Buddhists, and who have completely disowned the “ Dalitpan” (Dalitness), to move out of the ‘Stigma’ associated with the name concept ‘dalit’. But this is not applicable to others, they may not relate to the word in such a way. So, the dispute around the usage of the word ‘Dalit’, whether right or inappropriate, cannot be understood by restricting it to the legal framework alone. 


Translation: Subodh Minto

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