Suitably grey

Ordinary folk may be misusing electronic communication and the social media, but governments seem to have developed quite a strategy around them. Are instructions via the SMS or WhatsApp official, unofficial or could-be-either-or-not? The prison department in Bihar first instructed jail superintendents through the SMS to make a caste survey of all those booked under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016. In July, the state home department had asked jail superintendents, through a message in an internal WhatsApp group, to give details of the top castes in each caste group every month. The instruction provides a format that distinguishes between those caught drinking and those selling alcohol, and itemizes sub-groups under every caste group, such as, the numbers each of Paswan, Ravidas, Manjhi, Mushahar, Dhobhi and Dom castes under scheduled castes. Similar lists are given under scheduled tribes, economically backward and other backward classes and upper castes. Apart from one police officer, reportedly anonymous, who called this an unofficial survey to assess drinking habits along the lines of caste and socio-economic status, no one from the government or even the senior-most echelons of the police appears to know anything of the matter. Although the home portfolio is with the chief minister, both the the principal secretary to the chief minister and the home secretary claimed ignorance of this now monthly exercise.

  • Published 12.09.18
  •  

Ordinary folk may be misusing electronic communication and the social media, but governments seem to have developed quite a strategy around them. Are instructions via the SMS or WhatsApp official, unofficial or could-be-either-or-not? The prison department in Bihar first instructed jail superintendents through the SMS to make a caste survey of all those booked under the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016. In July, the state home department had asked jail superintendents, through a message in an internal WhatsApp group, to give details of the top castes in each caste group every month. The instruction provides a format that distinguishes between those caught drinking and those selling alcohol, and itemizes sub-groups under every caste group, such as, the numbers each of Paswan, Ravidas, Manjhi, Mushahar, Dhobhi and Dom castes under scheduled castes. Similar lists are given under scheduled tribes, economically backward and other backward classes and upper castes. Apart from one police officer, reportedly anonymous, who called this an unofficial survey to assess drinking habits along the lines of caste and socio-economic status, no one from the government or even the senior-most echelons of the police appears to know anything of the matter. Although the home portfolio is with the chief minister, both the the principal secretary to the chief minister and the home secretary claimed ignorance of this now monthly exercise.

So who is profiling and why? The strikingly skewed nature of the arrests, with the overwhelming majority being from the less privileged sections of society, has led to serious criticism of the Bihar government's new law. Even police admit that it is much easier to conduct raids on colonies and slums rather than on fortified private homes. Critics have also pointed out that even if some small fry are caught, the big bosses of the liquor mafia seem to be escaping the legal net. The arrests, therefore, give a far from balanced picture of law-breakers. What is the purpose, then, of categorizing drinking habits according to caste and tribe? The law is meant to be equal and neutral. To encourage discrimination not only by the way the law is implemented but also by profiling the poor people arrested is simply sinister. Especially since the goal of the exercise remains mysterious and the government claims that its right hand does not know what its left hand is doing.

About
Author