Caste and case politics

Caste and case politics

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.

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