The Rajya Sabha MP, a prominent Dalit voice, is arguing for an end to the practice of using surnames.
Image credit: Narendra Jadhav/Facebook
At a time when the country has just witnessed a big Dalit uprising
in the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled state of Gujarat against
atrocities, the conversation is rife about the ways in which the country
On this front Rajya Sabha's nominated Member of Parliament Narendra
Jadhav has emerged as a prominent Dalit voice who has been advocating
for his proposed bill that seeks to eliminate the practice of caste
Jadhav is also an economist and an
erstwhile member of the Planning Commission and he has given multiple
policy inputs in making sure that India's financial decision making is
just and fair to the most unprivileged sections of society. Scroll.in
sat down with Jadhav for a discussion about the current Dalit movement
and its antecedents in the history where he described how there's a
silent revolution going on in the country that nobody has yet taken note
of. Edited excerpts from the interview follow:
turmoil across the social fabric of India as minorities feel threatened
and there’s cow vigilantism on the rise which has resulted into attacks
on Dalits. Is there some sort of caste conflict undercurrent here which
is fuelling these incidents and the pushback from the Dalit community?
is happening right now in Gujarat and elsewhere is really a reaction to
the most unfortunate incident that happened in the recent past. The
truth is that atrocities against the Dalits all across the country are
getting a lot of media coverage. These atrocities have been taking place
for years but there’s now a sizeable increase in the number.
Una incident is a typical point of departure for this movement. After
this incident, there has been a lot of discussion about Dalit atrocities
in the media already. And as a reaction to the Una incident – which was
of course, a heinous crime against humanity – Dalits are refusing to
undertake the activities which were conventionally entrusted to them.
fact, they went to the extent of putting cow carcasses in front of the
collector’s office. But this should be seen as a reaction rather than a
provocative action in itself. So, we are not talking about an anti-caste
revolution. Dalits are coming up and responding to the violence of
recent Dalit rally in Una announced that Dalits of the state will stand
together against atrocities and won’t do the job of cleaning up
carcasses. There’s a long history of Dalit struggle but this time,
there’s a sense of a united uprising. Do you think that Ambedkar’s dream
is finally going to come true with these push-backs?
should they be doing these things at all? It is a baggage of the caste
system that we carry. We divided the society into four varnas – Brahmin,
Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and there’s an underbelly below Shudras
which has thousands of castes who are clubbed as untouchables. So this
four-fold stratification is further divided into caste system which has
more than 4,000 castes and sub-castes and sub-sub-castes.
this regard, Dr. BR Ambedkar correctly described the Indian social
system as a system of graded inequality in the ascending order of
reverence and descending order of contempt. In the hierarchy of the
caste system, jobs were earlier allocated depending on the caste in
which one was born.
There was a big debate regarding
this between no less than Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar about whether this
system is division of labour. Gandhi defended the system by giving
examples of UK and USA claiming that it’s simple division of labour.
Ambedkar’s response to this assertion was phenomenal. He said that what
we have is not really a division of labour, super-imposed on the
division of labour is the division of labourers.
of labour has happened across the world but India is the only country
where there’s a superimposed division of labourers. This was completely
dependent on the accident of birth. So whether you become a scholar or a
scavenger didn’t depend on your intrinsic talent or abilities, it
depended on the caste you were born into.
the conflict is not going to go away any time soon and as more Dalits
realise the extent of atrocities, they are going to rise up and question
the unchecked power and privilege of the upper caste communities.
Should those who have monopolised much of the resources for the so
called high born now be scared?
Ambedkar who made Dalits realise that it is because of the connivance of
the so-called high-born, that they have perpetuated the system using
the law of karma. The law of karma said you have to carry human excreta
because you had done wrong things in your previous birth. This is
something which was fed to us for generations.
sincerely believe that the caste system in India is the most brilliantly
administered scam in the history of human society. It is so intricate
and well-designed that it has continued for ages.
is happening now is a part of the response but it is not happening now.
Ambedkar exhorted his followers to think about their position in society
and question themselves about their human rights. The current struggle
is a sign that those in power are very keen to perpetuate the
traditional order of things while young Dalits are coming up and
questioning this power. They have received education, at least a lot of
them are now literate and they are asking for their human rights.
a silent revolution going on in the country. Today, whichever way you
look, you will find Dalits asserting themselves. Be it painting,
sculpture or neurology, you will find a young boy or a girl trying to
carve out a space for himself/herself. The political vacuum continues
for them but Dalits are following Ambedkar’s call to educate, organise
In this process, there’s an implicit
conflict involved. These people are challenging the traditional order of
society and those who want the traditional order continue to find it
uncomfortable to deal with challenges coming from the underprivileged
quarters. This is why there has been an increase in atrocities and
violence against Dalits.
just said that Dalits are slowly rising the ranks in fields like
neurology and architecture which is a good sign. But there hasn’t been
any report of upper caste people, for instance, joining the workforce
for manual scavenging or cleaning sewers? Are Dalits forever going to be
appropriated for the tasks that are considered ‘menial’?
is very strange and surprising that so called high-born are asking or
punishing Dalits for not doing their jobs. In 1929, Ambedkar gave a call
in Maharashtra to stop taking the caracasses. The basic division was
that the Mahar community was assigned the job of taking away the dead
cattle. Ambedkar also belonged to this community. So it was the job of
Mahars to skin and take the flush. The skin would be given to Chamars
who would process it and make footwear and so on.
was then that Dr. Ambedkar had made that appeal and it was followed by
Dalits. In many villages, there were riots and social boycott of Dalits
because they were not doing the menial jobs entrusted to them. The
Dalits simply refused to do the dirty work for the upper-castes.
current power-struggle is bringing out these reactions from the Dalit
community and it is going to continue for a long time till we achieve
achieve that end you have also proposed introducing a bill that aims to
put an end to the practice of people using surnames in India. How do
you think removal of surnames can end caste-based discrimination?
propose to bring a private member’s bill in Rajya Sabha which will
focus on dropping or deleting caste implying surname. I don’t think it
will solve all the problems, it won’t. But it will be a giant leap
forward. In all these years, the form of caste-discrimination has
undergone a massive change.
Less than 100 years ago, in
Maharashtra, Dalits had to carry an earthen pot around their neck to
prevent their spit from falling on the ground. They also had to tie
brooms to their waists to prevent their shadows from touching the
ground. That kind of obvious form is gone now.
will be foolish to believe that the caste-system is gone. This has now
acquired a sophisticated form and it resides in the minds of the people.
It doesn’t show up in the raw and blood form anymore but it is always
there. In this form, I believe, it is more pernicious than the earlier
In the US, there was an experiment conducted
where they sent identical resumes for some job opening. The resume was
ideal and perfect but it was sent under different names. There were two
groups of the names – the white sounding names and the black sounding
The proportion of people among blacks who got
invited was miniscule while most of the white people were invited. This
is how the mindset works. Similar studies have also happened in India
for upper-castes and Dalits on a smaller scale and the results were no
In India, if you compare the conviction
rates, the rate is much higher for general population while conviction
rate for atrocities against Dalits is only 22% and that again varies
from state to it. That is because a lot of people in judicial as well as
the bureaucracy carry the caste bias they have to their duty.
my mind, a very effective way to delete the surnames which indicate the
caste. It is not the first time that this has been spoken about.
Everyone from Periyar to Jagjivan Ram have spoken about this.
But nothing ever happened on that front…
is why I am trying to introduce a bill to change the situation. In
southern India, people actually drop their surnames and suffix the name
of the place they come from or simply choose a different name. What is
the caste of Rajnikanth?
Earlier, in many parts, caste
was the surname. Suresh Gopi, the great actor in Malayalam and Tamil
films has dropped Nair from his name. There are umpteen examples of
people dropping their surnames.
Even in the north, if
you remember, after the Jaiprakash Narayan movement, lots of people
dropped their surnames and chose neutral surnames like Kumar. Narayan
advocated that actively. What we are talking about is dropping the
Did Mahatma Gandhi and Ambedkar ever discuss or debate this idea?
course they did but they were talking about opposite things. While
Gandhi was asking his followers to go back to villages since he saw
villages as a self-contained region based on self-reliance. Ambedkar
called villages “cesspots” and he exhorted his followers to the leave
the village and go to the city. Why?
Because, in a
village you will always be identified by your caste. What you can do or
cannot do will depend on the caste that villagers already know but
cities afford you anonymity since people didn’t know these migrants and
hence, their caste was hidden from the larger population.
going to be a massive urbanisation in the next 20 years. With this
urbanisation, one effective way is to drop the caste-based surnames. In
one generation, we can relegate this discrimination to the past.
you also support the caste-system for its diversity, if I am right? How
does that fit in with this vision of having a casteless society?
understand that I am not against caste systems per se. Each caste has
its own culture and traditions. That is a part of our rich diversity. I
am not against that. The problem comes when you arrange that as a graded
inequality and you force people to do things based on the accident of
their birth rather than their capabilities.
It is not
just in the society’s interest that we need to move beyond this
discrimination but it is also in our country’s economic interests.
How do you think we can improve our economic situation by removing caste-based discrimination?
imagine how many Einsteins would have been born if everyone got the
same access and opportunity to education. For a very long time, only
about 3% of the people had access to education and if the British had
not come, this would have persisted for even longer.
3% made the laws and exercised the laws and everyone else was kept out.
In the shastras, there’s a punishment for shudras for listening to the
vedas which is that molten lead should be poured in their ears. And if
they have the temerity of studying vedas, their tongues should be cut.
No wonder, Ambedkar said that to annihilate the caste system you have to
put dynamite to the dharma-shastras.
But how did the British help make education more inclusive?
am not here to talk about the good and bad they had done. Whatever
their motivations may be, they did a very good thing by making education
free and compulsory for the children of those enrolled in the British
military. That is how Dr Ambedkar got his primary education because his
father was enrolled in the British Army and as a part of that, Ambedkar
got a chance to study.
Everyone blames Macaulay for
many things but I am grateful to him. He was the first person to take
education outside the confines of a temple and he kept it outside. His
motives may be any, I don’t care about it. What I know is that a large
part of the society which could not enter temples and were deprived of
education suddenly started receiving education.
is a lot of push by this current government to skill India and provide
digital literacy but much of it seems to be on paper. What are some of
the ways in which we can effectively uplift the socio-economic status of
Dalits without being partisan and treating them like vote-banks like
the governments traditionally have?
are two things to be done. Dalits are not given the same level access to
the judiciary. I gave the example of low conviction rates when it comes
to crimes against Dalits but there’s a lot more to be done. Last year,
the Prevention of Atrocities Act was strengthened, revised and passed by
both the houses of the parliament. But we need a rigorous
implementation of that act.
In some states, the
conviction rate is as low as 3% and there’s always under-reporting of
cases. It means that in 97% of the cases, the perpetrators of heinous
crimes go scott free.
In 1975 and 1979, Indira Gandhi
as the Prime Minister came out with a very good scheme that was called
Scheduled Caste Sub Plan and Tribal Sub Plan. Essentially, it meant that
from the plan expenditure of the government they must earmark for
Dalits and Adivasis which corresponds to their population in the total
Dalit population is 16.8% and tribal
population is about 8.6% so they should spend that much amount from plan
expenditure to uplift these communities directly. It was to be done for
states similarly depending on their ratios.
So what happened after this scheme? Did it achieve expected results?
won’t believe that in all these years, this scheme has never been
implemented properly in letter and spirit. When I took over as a member
of Planning Commission, the first thing I did was to check on this
scheme and the proportion was 7% instead of 16.8%. And even in this
earmarking, a large amount of money was siphoned off for non-Dalit
For instance, in Delhi, about Rs 700 crore
were diverted to the Commonwealth Games. And this is not an exception,
it is a rule. Out of 68 different departments and ministries in the
central government, only one department had opened that subhead after 40
years of the scheme.
Even today, it is less than 10%.
the other hand, many people feel that there is a lot of appeasement.
Dalits are facing a double whammy as what is being announced or told to
them is much more than what is actually reaching them. This is creating a
kind of animosity between the general population and Dalits whereas on
the ground, very little work is happening for their welfare.
is actually quite interesting since debates around reservations always
revolve around the idea of having a meritocracy and people advocate that
educational institutions should get rid of reservations? What is your
stand on this?
What meritocracy are we
talking about? This is hypocritical. How do you compare a little boy
whose mother is a sweeper and his father is a peon somewhere? He doesn’t
have electricity at home. How do you compare him to someone who has not
only had private schooling but coaching as well? And even though we
know marks are not reflective of intelligence or capabilities, we still
can’t let this false equivalence to perpetuate.
own enlightened self-interest, we must have reservations because if we
don’t expand the gene pool, we can’t expect to make progress.
have advocated extending them to the private sector as well but why do
we have reservations in the first place and can we expect them to go
Reservations are needed because
of the innate inability of our social system to be just and fair. Why is
our system not just and fair? It is because of the caste-ridden
mindset. As long as it is unjust and unfair, we need reservations. Have
we come close to a system where we are just and fair? We have not.
should be reservations in private sector jobs also. How private is
really private? Aren’t we giving them all kinds of concessional land,
electricity and tax concessions? I am not saying we are obliging them
but we give huge loan waivers to the industrialists. And if private is
not entirely private, I think as part of corporate social
responsibility, we should expand and extend reservations to the private
sector as well.
And this must be done in our
enlightened self interested. When Ambedkar presented the final draft of
the constitution, he gave a most brilliant speech
which said the following:
On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of
contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and
economic life we will have inequality.
In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value.
In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and
economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.
How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?
How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?
If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our
political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the
earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will
blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so
laboriously built up.
question: what do you think about the appropriation of Ambedkar by
political parties and especially the Bharatiya Janata Party?
is appropriating Ambedkar and what is wrong with that? First of all, we
need to know that we have not recognised Ambedkar as a national leader.
We have this caste-ridden mindset. We looked at him only as an
emancipator of Dalits which he was, of course. But he was an
intellectual colossus who was truly a national leader. His entire
contribution needs to be seen in the enormity.
Ambedkar awakened the social conscience of modern India. To brand him as
a Dalit and a leader of Dalits, we have done a grave injustice to him.
That is now changing as all political parties have understood this and
now they are trying to recognise Ambedkar for what he was. But their
motivations might be different.
It’s perfectly fine to
recognise Ambedkar but I am saying that it should be done in the right
letter and spirit. It should not only be symbolic, it should be
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