New Delhi: After finding themselves embroiled in controversies over telling girls to dress ‘decently’ or Muslims to give up beef, Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and his government have now caused an outcry for allegedly promoting untouchability.
A 100-point questionnaire, being circulated among Class XI and XII students in the state, has landed the Haryana chief minister in trouble. Not only does the form ask students for their caste and parents’ Aadhaar numbers, it also asks if their parents are engaged in an “unclean occupation”.
The student admission form has several other objectionable features. While the sixth point demands the student’s Aadhaar number, the 19th asks for the father’s Aadhaar number and 36th asks “whether parents engaged in ‘unclean occupation’?” It it doesn’t end there. Point 72 seeks the caste (if reserved category) of the student, even though this has nothing to do with education.
The students are also asked, at point 79, to reveal if they are “mentally challenged” and at point 82 if they have a “genetic disorder”.
It is the point related to “unclean occupation” which has drawn the ire of opposition parties in the state, who have claimed that it is a form of propagating untouchability.
Congress spokesperson and Haryana MLA Randeep Singh Surjewala, while raising objections to the contents of the form, tweeted that students had been labelled as “untouchables” and their parents occupation had been described as “unclean”.
BREAKING! Khattar Govt does it again. Students labelled as ‘untouchables’ & their parents occupation as ‘unclean’.
— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) April 10, 2018
In subsequent tweets, he also claimed that the form was really meant for “surveillance of parents”. Calling such a form “height of insanity”, he had charged that “calling vocation of parents unclean is absurd”.
Yogendra Yadav, founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, questioned whether the constitution allowed such questions to be asked of students. Yadav – a former leader of the Aam Aadmi Party who had also led its campaign in Haryana before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls – also wondered whether new instruments of promoting untouchability were being created.
क्या संविधान इस तरह के सवालों की इजाज़त देता है? याकि छुआछूत के आधुनिक यंत्र बनाए जा रहे हैं? https://t.co/AS62ZXKVDD
— Yogendra Yadav (@_YogendraYadav) April 11, 2018
But rather than take cognisance of the objections, the Haryana education department defended the questionnaire.
Director of Haryana Secondary Education, Rajiv Rattan, was quoted by the Indian Express as saying that there was “no case in which any student has been denied admission on the basis of Aadhaar card. If a student doesn’t have Aadhaar number at the time of admission, we can manage her or his Aadhaar card after admission to the school.”
The BJP too defended the questions and its Haryana spokesperson Raman Malik went on record to ask:
“What is wrong in asking for such information? Such details are asked to ascertain whether a student requires medical check-up or special attention. Further, there is no harm in asking details about the caste of the students. By such information, the government can know which community is lacking behind in availing education. It will enable the government to take corrective measures.”
Incidentally, this is not the first time that the Khattar government has run into a controversy for its limited views on issues of caste, gender and religion. The chief minister, a former RSS pracharak, had landed himself in trouble when, while speaking on women’s security in the run-up to the elections in the state in 2014, he had advocated for girls to dress “decently”. “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way. If they want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited,” he had said.
The following year, in 2015, he was quoted as saying, “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef. The cow is an article of faith here.” His comments had come in the wake of the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in UP’s Dadri.