Friday, June 22, 2007

Secularism, casteism and the Courts

There is a provacative article by Colin Gonsalves titled "State has no religion" ( For those of you who prefer links, I am afraid, I am not yet completely blog savvy to provide links. I am working on it!). After discussing various HC and SC judgments, Gonsalves makes two broad assertions- a) The Courts have not come down heavily on people and parties spreading communal hatred (he appears to extend this to include caste hatred); and b) Certain decisions (he refers to the Rishikesh Egg Case and the Parsi Housing Cooperative society case) in fact enable and encourage ghettoisation based on caste and religion and social ostracisim of minorities (and I think he means not only religious minorities but also caste minorities).

Assertion a) is clearly debatable as one needs to examine if the Court actually had options to hand out a more severe penalty (or conviction) in each of those cases based on facts and evidence, before we can agree with Gonsalves. It is assertion b) however that interests me. Apart from the cases that Gonsalves mentions, the newspapers regularly report of incidents where certain areas in some cities (Mumbai is an example) have either gone completely "vegetarian" or completely "Jain". Incidents where corporations have banned employees from talking in regional languages have also been reported. The more chauvanistic cultural, caste and linguistic groups are indulging in violence even when there is no perceptiple threat to their own culture, caste or language. If we go by Gonsalves' assertion, an aggressive propogation of an idea that adversely affects the freedom of any other religion or caste or language (or habit it appears, if we take non-vegetarianism/vegetarianism as an example) is something that should not be permitted or encouraged as it is likely to result in affecting minority rights (Gonsalves appears to recognise that minorities vary from place to place).

Clearly any propogation involving violence or inciting violence should be punished, but is there a need to curb non-violent aggressive propogation of one's culture, caste or language? Assertion of an identity is not something that the Constitution prohibits. Therefore, if a particular group wishes to limit access to resources/ spaces (let us for the moment assume that these are not state owned or supported resources, as it is likely that state owned or supported resources cannot be the subject of discrimination) which are occupied by them to other groups, is it something that can be discouraged legally? Will that not that result in a violation of Part III? This is an issue that is going to be significant as most of our large cities become cosmopolitan, particularly so given the enormous diversity that we have. In this context, Gonsalves' prediction is pretty dire. At the same time, assertion of identities (on a non-violent basis) is something that sociologists and historians do not discourage as they believe it does encourage diversity. I understand that there are a number of studies about assertion of caste identities (particularly Dalits) that show positive benefits.

So how does one regulate majority group activity that is non-violent, but may have the effect of reducing diversity and adversely affecting minorities of all hues?
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