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A-I jets into caste cloud

Mumbai, March 9: A top Air-India official has been booked for allegedly making casteist remarks against Dalit airhostess aspirants.

The airline’s authorities said a case “could have been” filed against director (operations) M.K. Hathi, but denied knowledge about his whereabouts. Hathi is believed to be in London on official work.

If the airport police at Santacruz here act on the first information report filed by some Republican Party of India activists, Hathi could be arrested immediately on his return.

The case against the director, who had allegedly made the remarks during a recruitment drive by the international carrier earlier this year, has been registered under the Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes) Act 1989. The law stipulates that any person charged with “intentionally insulting and intimidating an SC/ST member within public view” can be jailed for at least six months. The sentence can be extended to five years.

RPI leader Praksah Bhosale said Hathi made the remarks in his chamber on January 29. “Some of our party men and representatives of Dalit organisations had gone to submit a humble petition regarding reservation for Dalit candidates when he turned against us and said daughters of cobblers and untouchables cannot become airhostesses and pilots,” Bhosale said.

RPI activists also claimed that Hathi said “there are no beautiful women among the backward classes”.

One of the complainants, Shravan Nikhalje, said he had gone to meet Hathi with another activist, Ashok Darogar. Asked if they were making it a big issue, an RPI leader said: “It becomes an issue when in this day and age such senior and educated officers make a statement which reduces Dalits to second class citizens in their own country.

“Imagine the effect of such statement on our younger generation who want to march ahead with the others, forgetting the abuse and debasement heaped on them since centuries. Dalits are only now lifting their heads and looking at upper castes in their eyes, saying ‘give us a chance and we will do as good as anybody else’. If you say they can’t make it, it will crush their confidence.”

The Dalit leadership maintained pressure on the police and the administration to book Hathi, who had earlier denied he ever made the statement. Hathi said he was explaining to the Dalit representatives his limitations — because the decision on reservations will have to be taken by the government — when the duo stomped out.

Dalits had gone on a hunger strike outside the police station, demanding that they be allowed to file a complaint.

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