Many have hailed the news as an achievement befitting a progressive state. Others, however, feel society needs to address caste, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.

Caste religion columns blank for over 1 lakh Kerala school kids but is that enoughRepresentational image
news Society Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 17:18

On Wednesday morning, Kerala society had a new subject of discussion. Education Minister C Raveendranath told the Assembly that the school records of as many as 1,23,630 students in the state have empty religion and caste columns.

The minister was replying to a question by MLA DK Murali, from the CPI(M), who represents the Vamanapuram constituency. He said that in the academic year 2017-18, as many as 1,23,630 students who got admission into government and government aided schools did not fill up the caste and religion columns. Of these, 517 students were at the Higher Secondary level, 278 students were in Plus One, and 239 students were in Plus Two.

The maximum number of students with religion and caste columns blank were in primary school – pointing to the fact that it is the younger parents who have chosen to do so.

However, under the Vocational Higher Secondary category schools, none of the students have opted to seek admission without caste or religion.

The news has been discussed widely in Kerala, with many people hailing this as an achievement befitting a progressive state.

But many others feel that this is simply a gimmick, that is blind to the reality of the state. Especially since the question was asked by a ruling party MLA in the Assembly, many feel that this could simply be an attempt to show Kerala as a casteless state, whereas the reality on the ground is very different.

“Caste was very visible in the state in the recent killing of Madhu – an Adivasi youth from Attappady. It was visible when the Dalit artist Asanthan’s body was not kept in the courtyard of the Lalitha Kala Akademy, and in the killing of a woman for loving a Dalit man,” says Dalit activist Sunny M Kapikad.

“For upper caste people, there is nothing to lose by not registering their caste. But for others, they would lose the Constitutional benefits that they are entitled to if they don’t register their caste. Therefore, we can’t say that some people are liberal simply because they haven’t filled up the caste column in their children’s school documents,” Sunny says, adding that he suspects that this castelessness is only technical.

The activist further said that instead of creating a fake impression that caste isn’t a reality, the state should address caste.

“In Kerala society, people easily realise who is a Nair, who is a Namboothiri. For upper caste people, caste is a privilege. It’s a capital for them which they take with themselves,” Sunny explains.

Activist Civic Chandran in a Facebook post also countered the hype around the statistics, by asking the government to reveal how many new admissions in schools had ‘tails’ of the upper castes. “It should also be made clear how many students got admissions with caste tails such as ‘Nair’, ‘Varma’, ‘Panicker’ and ‘Warrier’,” he wrote.

However, some others say that while caste is a reality, the move to not fill caste and religion in forms should also be welcome.

“We cannot say that caste doesn’t prevail in society simply because a small percentage of people didn’t register it. In Kerala, everyone knows which caste each and every family belongs to. In the current socio - cultural scenerio  of Kerala caste needs to be addressed to get social justice performed, atleast until the idea and reality of caste gets wipedout completely, if ever,” says Lakshmi Priya, Associate Professor of English at the MG College, Thiruvananthapuram.    

“But we can’t write off the move by many people to go without the categorisation as tiny,” she adds.

“We won’t be able to realise the impact of the move now. It will take two or three generations to see it,” she says.



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