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Slash surname to kill caste

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) is set to recommend a Constitution amendment to abolish Hindu surnames because they denote caste.

By this radical move, the commission wants to articulate the demand for abolition of the caste system.The drive reflects the stirrings of discontent within the government and outside more than 50 years after the Constitution abolished untouchability.

The amendment will propose changes to Article 17, which abolished untouchability.

Commission chairman Suraj Bhan told The Telegraph: “We may have outlawed untouchability but that does not stop atrocities against the Dalits.

“As long as our surnames symbolise our caste and as long as (the) caste system has legal sanctity, the Dalits would continue to suffer. I am going to recommend that the government ban the use of surnames that reflect our caste. The annual report of the NCSC this year is going to recommend an amendment to Article 17.”

If the amendment comes through, surnames such as Mukherjee, Banerjee, Sharma and Yadav run the risk of being outlawed.

The commission has been organising meetings with all SC/ST members of Parliament to lobby for a constitutional amendment. The 120 SC/ST Lok Sabha members have held talks with the commission. “I want to take everybody along. I have also consulted religious heads,” Bhan said.

The BJP is not particularly enthusiastic about the move but the Congress has welcomed it “in principle”.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar found the idea “far too simplistic to achieve something as radical as abolition of the caste system”.

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said: “The Congress would welcome initiatives that aim to end discrimination on the basis of caste. I am sure the proposal would be duly considered by a parliamentary committee, the ministry of law and justice and all others concerned.”

The commission has recorded as many as 45,000 cases of atrocities against the lower castes in the past one year. “This is the official figure. We have no idea about unregistered cases. Police, as you know, are reluctant to register FIRs, particularly where atrocities against Dalits are concerned,” Bhan said.

Northern states like Punjab and Haryana have recorded unparalleled instances of violence against Dalits. In Punjab’s Ferozepur, the commission has come across a particularly shocking incident.

According to police records, villagers were “offended” by three Dalit boys playing cricket. They were summoned by the village head, who beat them up.

He then urinated and forced the boys to drink it as punishment for daring to play cricket in an upper caste neighbourhood.

It is unlikely that surname abolition will change this. What will be even more difficult to end are widespread social practices such as marriage based on caste.

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