Ravi Nitesh for BeyondHeadlines
On 11 July 2013, the Allahabad High Court had passed a verdict that there will be no caste-based rallies on the grounds that it disturbs social harmony and violates the constitutional spirit. It was based on a PIL with reference to case no Misc, bench no 5889 of 2013. The main grievance in the appeal was that many political parties had organized caste based rallies and had also decided to hold them in near future. It had also questioned the election commission’s failure to stop the parties to influence the voters on the basis of ‘caste’ and ‘religion’. Further the petitioner had also referred to some cases which involved breach of fundamental rights by majority groups who had the support of political parties.
Hon’ble High court itself accepts in its order that ‘It is a historical fact that the caste system has existed across the religions and throughout the world but it has always introduced the element of schism, and the evils of discrimination apart from inciting group violence in the society.’ It further reads ‘Traditionally, the caste system appeared to contribute to the harmony of society by performing the integrating function of bringing all the occupational groups and even the peripheral groups like tribes, semi-tribes, different religious sects and the immigrants in the common cultural fold and secular framework. It had continued to exist, so long as there was a functional interdependence, and it was recognized as the only institution which could certify the identity of individual and provide social security. It was never designed to exist in the ugly form as we can see it today even in the age of scientific thinking. The traditional caste system was largely an apolitical institution which survived on the basis of mutual respect for each other amongst all four classes of people. Since the traditional social set up was caste based, the political parties now find it profitable to occupy a ready-made political base by identifying themselves with one caste or other while ignoring their political ideologies and the manifestos which served as the basis of their recognition under the law. In their attempt to seek political base in the caste system by means of politicization, it appears that the political parties have seriously disturbed the social fabric and cohesiveness. It has rather resulted in causing social fissions.’
It then came to the final verdict with reference of constitutional articles as well as debating and logical certifications with ‘globalization’ and ‘modern generation’. It states, ‘It would, thus, be contrary to the basic philosophy of our Constitution as contained in its preamble, the fundamental rights and also the fundamental duties enshrined in Article 51-A(c) to permit organising caste-based political rallies and to allow implementation of promises made to majority groups to the disadvantage and heart burning of the minority groups who find themselves ignored in the number game of vote politics. Moreover, with the globalization of economy, there is drastic change in the caste-based thinking and the mindset of modern generation. The globalization has brought them all from different castes, creeds and groups together at one place of work and given birth to a new social and work culture.
In the premises set out herein above, unrestricted freedom to hold caste based rallies, which is to the total disliking and beyond the comprehension of the modern generation and also being contrary to the public interest, cannot be justified. It will rather be an act of negating the rule of law and denying the fundamental rights to citizens. Thus, even though there is no direct and specific prayer, in exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution in terms of the last general prayer, till the Election Commission takes suitable measures after participating in the instant court proceedings, we issue notice to the respondents with direction that there shall be no caste based rallies with political motive throughout the State of U.P. till the next date of hearing.’
The verdict has been welcomed by almost all major political parties and none of them showed any disagreement with the verdict until the 15th July statement by BSP (Bahujan Samajwadi Party) wherein it said that it will continue to organize caste based rallies as it believes that these rallies are for social integration and unity rather than any disintegration. I would agree with them in this matter. The logic made by the petitioner in the grievance and the understanding of hon’ble high court has several loopholes. The verdict may be ‘logical’ but probably not the ‘thoughtful’ one. The verdict presents a narrow and an elite view of the situation in India.
It is true that we live in a globalised world but it is yet the reality that we still live in a caste-based society. The primordial caste system has survived centuries and is unfortunately, still a feature of ‘modern’ India. However much a section of “educated” people in our country would argue that caste is no longer an important factor, the reality is that it exists. We live those caste-based customs, we practice them in our everyday life. The reality is that there exists the “upper caste” and the “lower caste”.
Another unfortunate reality is that a large section of upper-class, privileged and educated people understand caste being synonymous to caste-based reservation, which they despise. A lot can be said about this but what is most relevant a point here is that this reflects their alienation. They fail to understand or imagine the social stigma attached to people of “underprivileged” caste because they are way too ahead or above in the social ladder.
The existence of the caste system and this despise towards efforts for equality is because the democraticisation is not absolute. There is a need for the oppressed to raise their voices, to mobilise support for their issues and for this, caste-based rallies are essential.
These rallies work as a platform for the underprivileged caste to raise their voice, to attract attention of the state and the privileged majority. The High court should not forget this neglected fact of the society. The High court must also not forget the history and the importance of the caste-based revolutions. They were deemed necessary to live the spirit of equality and had the sanction of the constitution. The caste-based mobilization is important for the welfare and empowerment of the oppressed castes. It is also essential as the social status is also interconnected with the economic status in our society.
Also, if the High Court cares about the the ‘disturbance of social harmony’ or if it is worrying about the caste-based vote politics, it should note that there are many caste-based groups like Brahmin Mahasabha, Chhatriya Mahasabha, Kayastha Mahasabha, Vaishya Mahasabha existing in rural as well as urban spaces. On the part of its political utilization, the High court must know that no institution is apolitical. If any caste based institution exists, this itself reveals its political sentiments. Another question that crops up is regarding the need for these groups promoting the interests of the privileged castes. So will this verdict ban these groups? Or is it just for the underprivileged groups?
This verdict is, thus, a narrow understanding of the Indian society. The verdict said that any group that will denounce another caste will be banned. What about the oppressed caste groups, should they not criticise the privileged castes? How else will they then struggle against the social inequality? The verdict works the other way round when a privileged caste group will use a rally or a group to denounce the underprivileged. But otherwise, it makes no sense and challenges the spirit of the Indian constitution that promises equality. On the other hand these caste based gatherings by political parties are not just about number games but also aim for provisions for these communities. In the example of BSP itself, with the ideology of upliftment of underprivileged castes, Dalits and Muslims, it added ‘lower economical groups of upper castes’ later in its vision statement. Also in the second last elections, it tried to bring one of the privileged caste (Brahmin) on its platform and formed a government with support of privileged and underprivileged castes. Is the change in ideology and practice of this party that shifted from total dalit politics to dalit-brahmin politics, not modernization of political change? Apart from their interest for votes, is it not true that those who were with dispute and hate with each other, joined each other for a political change? It is a crystal clear fact that which political group support which caste and at least for Uttar Pradesh, where still illiteracy and per capita income is low, we must not expect from people that they will adopt the ideals of ‘modernization’ as high court thinks. Still without organizing the rallies, everyone knows that for whom they will vote and this is why political party are not in much worry.
The verdict has proposed to limit the very scope of social integration, interaction of communities, formulation of mixed policies, expression of political will of caste-communities and shifting of caste-based politics into all-caste politics. It also somehow violates Article 19 of Indian constitution where everybody has right to meet or gather peacefully.