July 6, 2003
Judges Urged To Help Counter Vote Bank Casteism
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – Indian Judges have been urged to help counter the caste system which lost economic bearings long ago but is ”fostered and sustained socially” by ”vested interests for vote bank politics.”
The suggestion came from a fellow Judge of the Allahabad High Court in an academic paper arguing that the Gujarat and other killings in the name of religion and caste belie hopes that a modern constitution by itself would make a society modern.
Justice Markandey Katju’s paper titled ‘Access to Justice With Special Reference To Socio-Economic Rights’ was published as part of the proceedings of a seminar held recently in the Capital.
Although long outlawed, caste discrimination largely affecting 240 million of India’s dalits and tribals has far from disappeared.
Published accounts say two Dalits are murdered and three Dalit women raped every day across India. Activists say that is an underestimate.
”The belief that by merely importing and transplanting a modern Constitution from above will result in our society quickly becoming modern has proved to be mistaken,” Justice Katju wrote.
He cited as proof ”what… happened in Gujarat” and the barbaric ”honour killings” of young men and women aspiring to marry out of caste in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar in Western Uttar Pradesh.
”People have killed each other in the name of religion in the year 2002– as they did at the time of Partition in 1947– although the Constitution has been in force since 1950.
”Similarly, the ‘honour’ killing of young couples of different castes by their kith and kin shows how casteist we still are,” the paper said.
This, it pointed out, was notwithstanding the fact that things had ”totally changed” insofar as caste was no longer a decisive factor in how a person makes a living.
”The son of a badhai (carpenter) now does not become badhai, he comes to the city and becomes an electrician or motor mechanic, or having acquired education, he becomes a clerk, or a lawyer, engineer, doctor.”
Division of labour now ”has to be on the basis of technical skills. A factory recognises no caste or religion but only efficient production based on technology.”
The judge saw similarity between the Indian caste system and the division of labour in feudal Europe.
”The same thing happened in Europe, too, up to the feudal age. Even today many Englishmen have surnames like Taylor, Smith, Carpenter, Potter, Gardener, Barber… which indicates that their forefathers belonged to these professions.”
Noting that in India, too, individuals were no longer confined to pursuing ancestral vocations, Justice Katju said ”this has largely destroyed the economic foundation of the caste system.”
But he warned that ”the caste system is being deliberately fostered and sustained socially by certain vested interests for vote bank politics.”
Experts say caste polarisation is more pronounced around election time.
A government-appointed commission headed by former Chief Justice M N Venkatachaliah recommended mandatory punishment for anyone — including candidates — fomenting caste or communal hatred during elections.
”Any election campaigning on the basis of caste or religion and any attempt to spread caste and communal hatred during elections should be punishable with mandatory imprisonment,” it said.
But experts and activists say record of such prosecution even under existing laws is thin.
National Minorities Commission Chairman Tarlochan Singh placed the blame on political parties which even pick candidates on such considerations.
National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Chairman Bizay Sonkar Shastri said casteism was not ‘officially’ a factor in such considerations, but its role needed to be determined.
The trouble in India, critics say, is that laws and the legal system are not effective.
Justice Katju said underdeveloped countries such as India were going through a transitional stage– from feudal, agricultural society to a modern, industrial society, which ”is a very painful and agonising period.”
England went through such transition during the 16th-18th centuries and France during the 18th-19th centuries– periods ”full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, intellectual ferment. Only after going through this fire… modern society emerged in Europe.
”India is presently going through this fire… Our national aim must therefore be to get over this transitional period as quickly as possible, reducing the agony, which to some extent is inevitable in this period.
It said justice in such context meant creating a social order in which every human gets a decent life– a process in which the judiciary could play a supportive role by upholding the Constitution in its true spirit, giving it teeth and content, rather than limiting itself to deciding disputes.
It stressed a ”powerful cultural struggle” to combat feudal and backward ideas such as casteism and communalism. ”The Indian judiciary, too, must contribute to the progress of the nation and to our goal of creating India as a strong, modern, Industrial State.
It asked the judiciary to strike backward, feudal laws, customs and practices violative of Article 14 — Equality Before Law — and Article 21 — Life and Personal Liberty and uphold political rights and civil liberties inscribed in Part III of the Constitution.
It also suggested encouraging business and industry — rapid industrialisation can create jobs and wealth for people — and ensuring that the State looks after the people’s welfare in providing food, water and employment.
Justice Katju said freedoms of speech, expression, travel and trade guaranteed by the Constitution were meaningless for someone hungry or unemployed or with no money for those pursuits.
He recalled sarcasm levelled in the 19th century by an English Judge at his country’s judicial system. In Justice Darling’s words: ”The law-courts of England are open to all men like the doors of the Ritz Hotel.”
UNI MJ MM AKK1034
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