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

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Is Caste a Private Matter?


It is now in the public domain that the recent judgment of the Patna High Court has stalled the caste-based survey proposed by the Government of Bihar. What is more interesting to notice is that the judgment seeks to stand with the petitioners’ argument that such a survey, if allowed to happen, would lead to the violation of the right to privacy. Thus, the petitioners unequivocally suggest that caste falls into the intimate and restricted realm of one’s private sphere. However, as the editorial in the current issue of EPW suggests, such a view of caste offers a very narrow and convenient view of the complex phenomenon of the social which is constitutive of multiple realities, including, but not limited to, caste. The editorial appropriately hints at the politics of convenience that underlies the intention of the petition which has led to the stalling, albeit temporarily, of the caste-based survey announced by the Bihar government. The editorial also exposes the hidden script of the petition that seeks a selective disclosure of certain social realities such as caste while leaving out other more pernicious aspects of India’s social reality.

Building on the arguments in the editorial, it is possible to verify the tenacity of the petitioners’ claim and its endorsement by the court which suggests that caste belongs to the realm of privacy. Enclosing caste to the most intimate sphere of privacy perhaps raises more fundamental issues. The connection bet­ween privacy and caste can be brought into question. If one treats caste as a private matter, then what implication will it have on caste which has a spectacular presence in the public domain? Will consigning caste into the private domain seek a strict separation between caste and public life? In a certain sense, the right to privacy is based on the moral right of dignity. However, counting caste as belonging to one’s right to privacy raises certain fundamental questions. Caste as the idiom of social interaction, when brought into the private realm, would lose its historical and social significance. The social practice of the people would be devoid of caste or would be based on factors other than caste. Can we expunge caste from the social and relocate it in the realm of privacy? The answer is perhaps no.

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Updated On : 3rd Jun, 2023
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