Indians, it would seem, remain obsessed with “aukaat". Casually translated, it refers to a person’s status or standing in society. However, in a largely hierarchical social set-up like ours, the term is usually loaded, even weaponized at times to snub an adversary for his or her lowly place in the power structure. In the latest instance, the term was reportedly deployed by Kailash Vijayvargiya, a national general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party whose son Akash, a legislator in Madhya Pradesh, allegedly thrashed a civic officer with a cricket bat; when a news anchor sought Vijayvargiya senior’s views on the matter, he demanded to know the mediaperson’s “aukaat".

Used in that context, it could mean “locus standi", perhaps. This would make it about the authority of the individual whose aukaat is in question, which in turn would give it a touch of legitimacy. But anyone familiar with the word’s popular use—and it’s used in many a street scuffle—would know better than that. More than seven decades under a Constitution that holds every citizen equal, India remains irredeemably feudal, with the language in common use still littered with terms that reflect power asymmetries. The word “aukaat", while often used positively (as a stand-in for “stature"), speaks of our failure to live up to values we all ought to hold dear.

It’s time that status markers faded away. In a democracy, every citizen has an equal ‘aukaat’. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said over and over that the only holy book of his government is India’s Constitution. Some of his party members would do well to take a refresher course in what it says.

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