By Saji Thomas and Bijay Kumar Minj
Church officials have joined rights activists and politicians in condemning the government in Madhya Pradesh state for writing caste identities on the bare chests of young people aspiring to become police constables.
Officials in the central Indian state, where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party runs the government, used a marker to write caste identities of candidates seen wearing only underpants during the selection process in Dhar district.
“This is a deliberate attempt to whip up a caste divide among job aspirants even at a time of recruitment in a bid to belittle the individual identity of those hailing from backward categories,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.
The police department conducted the initial process to recruit constables. Candidates were seen with markings on their chest in the district hospital, where they were taken for measurements of their weight, height and physical fitness.
“It is an inhuman act. This is not the way to treat people. It is a third degree of humiliation and we condemn it,” Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ Office for Dalits and Indigenous People, told ucanews.com.
Medical board member and civil surgeon S.K. Khare denied the allegations and said markings were not intended to hurt anyone or show them in a poor light. It was done to make the process easier as each category has job quotas and markdowns in requirements.
“Obviously, it was not done to discredit anyone,” Khare told ucanews.com.
The chest markings were SC, ST O, and G, indicating the category of the candidate. A certain number of government jobs are reserved for Dalit and indigenous groups under the official categories of scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST).
Jobs are also reserved for other backward castes (OBCs). The general category covers all those who have no job quota.
Photographs and videos of the medical examination have gone viral, provoking public outrage and inviting criticism from opposition Congress party president Rahul Gandhi and political leaders of parties supported by Dalt people such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Gandhi accused the BJP government of “knifing the nation’s heart with its casteist attitude.”
BSP leader Mayawati termed the markings a “criminal act” and “the newest example of the BJP government’s newly found love for Dalits for their political gains.”
Bezwada Wilson, an activist and Dalit leader, said such incidents should not be dismissed as minor events.
“We have to think of the bigger perspective because the government is supposed to take care of the least privileged people, but what they have done here is unacceptable,” he said.
Indigenous leader Gulzar Singh Markam told ucanews.com that such incidents are “quite disturbing as it reminds people of their caste every day under BJP rule.”
Archbishop Cornelio and Father Raj said the government could have marked the quota categories in discreet ways such as by giving candidates a slip of paper.
Minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, Dalits and indigenous people, are victims of extremist attacks as these groups work to establish a nation of Hindu upper-caste hegemony, the prelate said.
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