Tuesday, May 4, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Caste and case politics


Posted: Tue, May 4 2010. 9:04 PM IST

Caste and case politics

As in the recent murder of a journalist, so in the controversy
surrounding A. Raja, caste issues should not preclude the legal

On Monday, a mother was arrested on suspicion that she smothered to
death her daughter, a journalist, who wanted to marry a man from a
caste considered lower to theirs.

On the same day, M. Karunanidhi, the head of the Dravida Munnetra
Kazhagam, a key ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance
government, claimed that telecom minister A. Raja was being targeted
because he is a Dalit. Raja has been under a cloud for a little over
two years over the way radio waves were allotted to newcomers wanting
to offer wireless telecom services.

Sixty-three years after India's independence, the country is clearly
yet to break free from the centuries-old caste system, and it is
difficult to pick one of these two instances as the more shameful. If
the charges against Mrs Pathak are true, it is shocking that an
educated mother, belonging to a middle-class household, should choose
to kill her daughter than have her wed someone from a lower caste.
Such honour killings are common, especially in north India, but only
in families that are either poor or uneducated or both.

Yet it is even more shameful for a political leader of Karunanidhi's
standing to try and use the caste card to get his colleague out of
trouble, although it isn't surprising that he did so. Politicians
regularly leverage caste and class to achieve their own
ends—caste-based classification is even part of the Constitution—and
that may well be the reason why a system that should have ceased to
exist long ago still continues to thrive. This also explains, but
doesn't excuse, the kind of thinking that may have prompted Pathak's
actions. Still, the law seems on top of that particular issue.

What is unresolved is l'affaire Raja. The government, which unleashed
the income-tax department and the Enforcement Directorate to
investigate the allegations surrounding the Indian Premier League, has
been loath to even acknowledge an investigative report in The Pioneer
that would seem to suggest Raja's involvement in allotting radio waves
to new entrants on favourable terms.

Surely, that merits investigation—irrespective of Raja's caste background.

How do caste affiliations affect Indian social and political life?
Tell us at views@livemint.com


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