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SC turns down petition on use of ‘Dalit’ by media

Topics Covered:

  1. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.


SC turns down petition on use of ‘Dalit’ by media


What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Advisory issued by the I&B Ministry, rationale behind, is it justified?


Context: The Supreme Court has refused to entertain a petition challenging Centre’s notification advising the media not to use the term “Dalit” to describe members of Scheduled Castes.



In its August 7, 2018, circular, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had advised that the media should refrain from using the word “Dalit” for members belonging to Scheduled Castes and had directed that ‘Scheduled Caste’ should alone be used for all official transaction, matters, dealings, certificates for denoting the persons belonging to the community. It was questioned in the Supreme Court.

This advice had come in compliance with a direction from the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court.


What does the petition say?

The plea said the word “Dalit” is a self-chosen name, used as a “positive self-identifier and as a political identity”. The petitioner said the name represented the people who have been affected by the caste system and the practice of untouchability.


The debate over the use of word- Dalit:

The debate over the appropriateness of using the term ‘Dalit’ to refer to members of the Scheduled Castes is far from new.

  • A decade ago, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes disfavoured the use of ‘Dalit’, which it felt was unconstitutional. This is because belonging to a ‘Scheduled Caste’ is a legal status conferred on members of castes named in a list notified by the President under Article 341 of the Constitution.
  • Therefore, arguably, ‘Scheduled Caste’ is the appropriate way to refer to this class of people in official communications and documents.


What’s the issue with advisory issued?

The I&B Ministry’s advisory is confusing as it uses the words “for all official transactions, matters”, though the media’s references to the community are usually beyond official contexts.


Way ahead:

  • It is inexplicable to oppose the use of the term ‘Dalit’ in the media and in non-official contexts — a nomenclature chosen and used by the community itself. Doing so lends itself to the charge that there is an attempt to deny the powerful and emotive meaning of the word Dalit.
  • The term has evolved over a period of time and has come to symbolise different things in different contexts — self-respect, assertion, solidarity and opposition to caste oppression. In the past, Dalits were referred to as ‘untouchables’, but the official term during British rule was ‘depressed classes’.
  • Mahatma Gandhi sought to remove the stigma of ‘pollution’ by using the term ‘Harijans’, or ‘children of god’. In course of time, the community rejected this appellation as patronising and sanctimonious. It was only some decades ago that they began to refer to themselves as Dalits.
  • ‘Dalit’ literally means ‘downtrodden’ or ‘broken’, but it is a word pregnant with meaning, reflecting the struggle of a community to reassert its identity and lay claim to the rights that were denied to them for centuries.


Sources: the hindu.