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In August last year, the Union I&B Ministry had issued an advisory to media houses asking them to refrain from using the term ‘Dalit’ for Scheduled Castes

The Supreme Court, on Monday (February 18), refused to entertain a petition that challenged the constitutional validity of a circular issued by the Union Ministry for Information and Broadcasting in August last year advising media outlets to “refrain from” using the word ‘Dalit’ while referring to members of the scheduled caste community.

A top court bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjiv Khanna said it was not inclined to entertain the public interest litigation right away and asked senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioner, to instead approach the I&B Ministry for relief.

The I&B Ministry’s order, dated August 7, 2018, was issued months after the Bombay High Court, on June 6, said that the constitutionally mandated term ‘Scheduled Caste’ should not be interchanged with the term ‘Dalit’ while referring to members of the community.

The ministry’s order had read: “It is accordingly advised that media may refrain from using the nomenclature “Dalit” while referring to members belonging to Scheduled Caste in compliance with the directions of the Hon’ble Bombay High Court and the Constitutional term ‘Scheduled Caste’ in English, and its appropriate translation in other national languages should alone be used for all official transaction, matters, dealings, certificates etc. for denoting the persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes notified in the Presidential Orders issued under Article 341 of the Constitution of India.”

However, a large number of organizations working for the empowerment of the scheduled castes and Opposition parties like the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party had claimed that the community took pride in the term ‘Dalit’ and slammed the Centre for the circular. They alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was unnecessarily trying to ban the use of ‘Dalit’ as a term because it invoked strong political sentiments against the ruling BJP which is often accused of oppressing or condoning the oppression of the scheduled caste community.

The petition before the Supreme Court had dubbed the Centre’s circular as “arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to Articles 14, 15, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.”

The petitioners argued that the word “Dalit” is used as a “positive self-identifier and as a political identity”, to describe the pan-Indian community of all those who have been affected by the caste system and the practice of untouchability for centuries and deprived of social, economic, political and cultural rights.

—India Legal Bureau

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