21st August 2013
A law to abolish reference to caste: Let’s make it an offence to refer to someone’s “caste” in ANY textbook/advertisement
I've been thinking about this.
Yes, there should be no role for government in social reform. I hold that as a basic principle.
However, there is a signalling issue involved somewhere in such matters. The very fact that something is ILLEGAL makes people think ten times about doing it. Over time, that habit then dies out. Making sati illegal has seriously reduced it. When it does take place today (yes, it STILL does happen periodically), it is largely driven underground. Clandestine. People know it is criminal.
One of the fastest ways to land a BLOW (perhaps not fatal) on the caste system would be to enact a law whereby any reference to ANYONE'S "caste" in a textbook/advertisement is cause for a fine of, say, Rs.10,000.
"whenever there is a reference to Mahatma Gandhi, it is mentioned that he was born in a Gujarati Baniya family" [Source]
So Congress DEFENDS caste. But BJP fortunately protested that:
"The March issue of 'Congress Sandesh' describes Bhagat Singh as a freedom fighter "born in a Jat Sikh family" and Rajuguru as one "who belonged to the Deshastha Brahmin community." [Source]
I'm VERY PLEASED that BJP is now consistently OPPOSING caste. That's quite different to the RSS's previous approach of supporting Manusmriti.
So this is the right time to take things to the next level by passing a law to PROHIBIT mention of anyone's "caste" in any school textbook or advertisement (e.g. matrimonial).
I'm loathe to recommend an intervention by government in a social matter, but from my extensive interactions on FB with a number of people over the past month, it is clear that there are a LOT of people in India who are not going to give up the caste system through simple persuasion.
I think both social reform and a DIRECT approach to crush India's fascination with caste are needed.
Classical liberals have driven social reforms through the legal system for 100s of years. Abolition of slavery, abolition of sati, and now, abolition of caste.
Would this violate freedom of speech? No, for there is no freedom to call someone a slave, for instance. Caste is a similar thing. To classify someone by caste is equivalent to binding them in some way (either demeaning them or elevating them excessively without their own merit). Caste may well be 'interpreted' through last names, but at least we can forbid its use in textbooks. That way when children grow up in India, they will see Gandhi as Gandhi, and Ambedkar as Ambedkar. When the happens, they will be liberated in their mind from the cancer of caste.
What about the "Scheduled Castes"?
Well, this will necessarily have an effect on the reservation system. When you can't refer to someone's caste, you can't possibly give 'caste certificates'. When you can't give 'caste certificates' there can be no reservation.
This law could phase in a non-punitive manner initially, with a cut-off date when reservations are abolished AND any reference to caste made an offence.
Of course, at the same time, there would need to be equal opportunity (in terms of high quality schools) for all children.
We need to create a package that will involve ABOLITION of caste AND abolition of "caste" reservations.