ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Cynical Use of Caste

The Punjab government has fi led cases under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against publishers and editors of poetry books written by a long dead poet for including inappropriate caste names. Babu Rajab Ali's poetry has been published many times previously, often by the government itself, and his works have been read and researched for many decades as it is an important cultural resource for understanding Punjabi society. Such use of protective legislation for petty political gains needs to be strongly resisted.

The views expressed in this article are personal.

A seem Trivedi was a supporter of India against Corruption, which became handy for him when he was booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 124A for sedition, Section 66A of the IT Act and under the National Emblem Act, 1971. His arrest unleashed an outrage among civil society and he emerged as a symbol of the freedom of expression. The state government ordered an inquiry to reconsider the charges as the chief minister and deputy chief minister of Maharashtra felt that they were too harsh for his actions. The media joined hands with protesters to build public opinion against this action on Aseem Trivedi. Perhaps Aseem was lucky enough to have been arrested in India’s commercial capital, which provided the opportunity to convert his issue into p­olitical theatre.

Punjabi book publishers and editors have not been lucky like this, as they have been booked under charges of atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, rioting and conspiracy for publishing the edited works of the poetry of Babu Rajab Ali (1894-1979), a well-known Punjabi poet. Babu Rajab Ali wrote poetry to narrate traditional s­tories, contemporary social-dynamics, ballads, and rendered themes of the freedom struggle in his verses. Before moving to Pakistan after Partition he was known for his genre, Kavishri, in which the poet narrates a story punctuated with songs. He has written on h­istorical, mythological, political, religious, and s­ocial issues in the Malwai dialect of Punjabi (which is spoken in the Malwa region). He invokes folk w­­is­dom in his works and society’s accumulated civilisational resources, including caste, emerge as important social variables in his K­avishri. Caste names appear in his poetry, regularly, as he narrates characteristics of the caste-­ridden P­unjabi society.

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