A letter to The Indian Express

While Dalit movement is riding the high tide of political empowerment in UP ( or at least it seems so at the surface) there are islands archipelagos of Dalit villages/panchayats where democratic rights remain subdued.  That’s a fact. But newspapers use the term “Dalit” for every small and big political parties and political movements, whereas the term “Harijan” is used often for political disputes at village/panchayat level. Is it 1.) casteist insinuation, 2.) matter-of-fact reporting, 3.) recognisation fo the fact that “Dalit” is politically  and psychologically empowering term while  “Harijan” is a futile, powerless euphemism or 4.) an effort to impose the term once again?

Here is my letter to Indian Express. (I received no reponse)

I strongly protest use of the word “Harijan” in the news item dated Dec 15th, 2008.

At the outset I would like to congratulate reporter Mr. Kautilya Singh for bringing out yet another case of intimidation of Dalits by caste-Hindus and callousness of the administration in enforcing constitutional rights of the Dalits.  However, educated Dalits (the ones who read English newspapers like Indian Express) deplore the use of term “Harijan” for themselves and for members of their community. As a national newspaper, Indian express probably knows the comtempt and disquiet Dalit community nation wide associates with the term. I would like to remind you that CIC had sought to ban the words “Harijan” and “Girijan” in Lok Shabha for being “unconstitutional and deragotory”, which was reported in Indian Express itself.

If in a remote village Dalits are called by their occupational caste names or mere acchut (untouchable) that does not give a reporter the context or legitimacy to report with those extremely offensive words. Likewise, even though Dalits of Malasa are called “Harijans” by other villagers (or called themselves so), the Gram Pradhan seat is reserved for Sceduled Castes and hence SC was more appropriate word in such context, if “Dalit” must be avoided (I wonder why?).

In a time when the whole nation seeks to be socially sensitive and responsive to the minority and neglected communities, Mr. Kautilya Singh’s choice of word comes across as crass and offensive. It is unfortunate that either Indian Express does not have a policy on such emotive issue or it was ignored.

Dalit community would much appreciate such reportage, if it didnt come packed with derogatory words, for the news itself was despairing.

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