Last week, Kerala’s Education Minister made an announcement that made several people reiterate the progressive credentials of Kerala. Prof C Raveendranath proudly declared in the state Assembly that 1,23,630 students studying between Class 1 and 10 have left the religion and caste columns blank in their admission forms, for academic year 2017-18. But did the minister overstate and exaggerate the numbers?
On Saturday, Anvar Sadath, the Vice Chairman and Executive Director of Kerala Infrastructure & Technology for Education (KITE), posted a list of numbers on his Facebook page – and said these were numbers as per ‘Sampoorna’, the automated school management system implemented by the government of Kerala.
In the list, Anvar said that the number of students for whom both religion and caste were left blank were only 1,538. Apart from this, 748 forms said ‘non-religious’ in the religion column, and 486 said religion was ‘not applicable’.
While a total of 1,22,662 students had not entered their caste, a large majority of this number however did enter their religion, according to Anvar’s list. 1,19,865 students had mentioned their religion, but not their caste.
The official’s post also mentioned that there was 1,750 students who did not select their religion.
Around 3.30pm on Saturday, Anvar’s FB post had been online for around three hours. However, by 4.30pm, it had disappeared. This reporter had saved a screenshot of the post before it was seemingly deleted.
Hiding behind technicalities?
The data posted by the official clearly contradicts the data declared by the minister in the Assembly – and points to a possible overstatement on technical grounds.
The post comes on the back of a statement by a school official from Malappuram who corrected the minister’s statement and said that no one from his school had left the said columns blank.
According to the minister’s data, 1,011 studying in the Al Hidayath E.M. School at Thurakkal in Malappuram have left religion and caste column blank in the admission forms. However, a school official said that there are only 1,011 students studying in the school and nobody has left the religion and caste column blank in the form.
“It could be a technical error,” the school official had said, on the same day that the minister made his announcement.
In Kasargod, the minister had said that in six schools, over 400 students had not mentioned their caste or religion. But all six schools reportedly disputed this claim.
“My school has 783 students and the religions of all students have been entered in the government site Sampoorna,” said NA Abubacker, chairman of NA Model Higher Secondary School in Kasargod, according to reports.
'Nothing to celebrate'
Either way, activists have pointed out that this should not be celebrated as a great achievement.
Ajay Kumar VB, a Dalit activist, cautioned that such announcements could fuel anti-reservation rhetoric. “Now when we discuss these issues, it is automatically leading us to reservation issues. That’s the real politics behind this,” he said.
“If parents have left the religion and caste column of their children blank, then it’s purely an individual choice. However, the politics behind it must be discussed seriously,” he added.
Ajay Kumar said that caste exists in Indian society not because it’s a column in school admission forms. “There are many other reasons behind it,” he said.
“To know how casteist Indian society is, we should check matrimonial columns and ads. That will reveal the real picture,” Ajay said.
Further, he said that only when many Dalits, Christians and Muslims come forward to not mark religion and caste, there is something worth discussing.
‘Kerala becoming more casteist’
Meanwhile, Mini Mohan, a trade unionist and a sociologist in Kerala, said that society is becoming more religious and casteist in the state.
“It’s a fallacy that casteism is not practiced rigidly in Kerala. We may speak and write that Kerala is a progressive state, but the truth is that Dalits and minorities still face a tough time from upper caste people,” Mini said.
Activists have pointed to the recent incident where the mortal remains of Dalit artist, Asanthan, were not kept at the government owned Durbar Hall Arts Centre for people to pay their last respects, allegedly after opposition from upper caste people from a nearby temple in Kochi. Asanthan was a celebrated artist who won several accolades, including the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi award and the CN Karunakaran Smaraka Award.
The caste wall in Ernakulam’s Vadayambadi village also disproves the ‘casteless’ claim of Kerala society. Eighty Dalit families are fighting to reclaim their right to a 95 cent piece of land, adjacent to a temple run by dominant caste Nairs.
In a 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), Delhi, it was found that one in four Indians practises untouchability.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 40,801 incidents of crime/atrocities against Scheduled Castes were recorded in 2016 in the whole of India. This was against 38,670 in 2016.
As for Kerala, the number of cases of atrocity against Scheduled Castes was 696 in 2015. It shot up to 810 in 2016.
“The 2017 report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) also states that the conviction rate under SC/ST Act, 1989 is a mere 2.4 per cent. This exposes how ineffective the law is,” Mini added.