By Amit Kumar, TwoCircles.net
Ahmedabad: It is no secret that when it comes to doing menial jobs in our society, it is almost always seen as a responsibility of the lower castes in India. This begs a question: if upper caste people who are poor are given a chance to apply for these jobs, would they consider applying or would it be beneath their ‘social status’ to do so? An institute based in Gujarat tried to find out, and the result was inviting the wrath of Hindu right-wing organisations.
An advertisement was issued more than a month back for vacancies for the posts of sweepers at The Human Development & Research Centre (HDRC), St. Xavier’s College Campus, Ahmedabad. The additional clause mentioned that first preference would be given to people belonging to the general castes. They also mentioned names of the castes whose members can apply for the job, which included Brahmins, Baniya, Patels, Jains, Saiyed, Pathans, Syrian Christians and Parsis.
For the next 30 days or so, the advetrtisement remained on their notice board and the website. However, three days ago, a member of a Hindu right-wing organisation noticed it and the result was all too familiar; allies of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and other Sangh Parivar affiliates like Brahmo Samaj, Police Lok Seva Raskshak Sami and some members of the Patel community began protesting since Tuesday and around 50 people entered the campus and terrorized people and tried to damage the area.
Even as the police remained mute spectators, the protesters accused Prasad Chacko of ‘inciting communal tension’ and asked the Police to file an FIR under section 153A of the Indian Penal code against him. Amrish Jani, a leader of the Brahmin Community has also targeted the HDRC and ensured that charges are put against them.
Speaking with Twocircles.net, Prasad Chacko said the advertisement was a well-thought and conscious decision. “It was an attempt to gauge how people would react to an advertisement like this. We wanted to see how many people from the upper castes would apply for this job and whether the argument of economic reservation holds any ground,” he said. “We did expect some sort of controversy, but did not expect hooliganism and threats to both the campus and me,” he added. Chacko also said that this advertisement clearly stated that the upper castes would be given first preference, and it was not as if only they would be appointed. “The reaction is an eye opener for people who believe that economic-based reservations can work,” he added.
The most revealing outcome of this controversy however, was that not a single person from the upper castes applied for the job. “So, while not one person has applied, I have still been threatened and advised to stay off campus,” Chacko said.
Speaking on the issue, Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit activist and a lawyer said that this was a progressive advertisement and it should be welcomed. “Narendra Modi has compared sanitation work as a spiritual exercise. Then why should the Savarnas be denied this opportunity?” he asked. “This advertisment shoud be emulated by the Gujarat government, but instead political and castiest interests have resulted in making it sound like an insult,” he added.
Taking note of the incident, a number of social organisatons like National Alliance of People’s Movement, Khudai Khidmatgaar and Narmada Bachao Andolan have written to the Ahmedabad Police asking them to repeal all the charges against Chacko and instead take action against RSS-sponsored lumpenism. “…the reaction to it (advertisment) very clearly indicates that certain elements in the society will go to any extent to maintain the caste hierarchies and the discriminations. The job of a sweeper is mostly given to the lowest castes in the society, Dalits, OBC’s, those at the bottom of the caste pyramid across different religions. The discrimination against certain castes is perpetuated by various means and any attempts at trying to break that, is met with threat and intimidation by dominant castes. This is the worst feature of the caste society and instead of finding ways to challenge it; is being taken as something that has to be preserved,”the signatories of the press release which includes Medha Patkar, said.
“It is unfortunate to see that an advertisement to invite candidates from the general category for a sweeping job has turned into a crime and an FIR has been lodged against HDRC Director. We want to know on what basis, police has resorted to such a tactic, it only shows their own complicity in it. This also clearly implies that the Hindu social order of Caste System persists and cleaning work is to be performed in accordance with the Hindu Social Order, meaning untouchables have to do cleaning and serve. A change of faith and religion does not guarantee freedom from menial work of sweeping. The continuance of this system can in no way define social harmony and peace,” the letter added.
Chacko added that the institute has agreed to issue a ‘limited’ apology, against the potential hurt that such an advertisment might have caused, but it will not apologise for issuing the advertisment itself. The protesters have also demanded the removal of Chacko from the post of Director, HDRC. “That decision is for the institute to decide and I would not like t comment on that,” he said.
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