Chandru panel’s advice a beginning, politicians should walk their talk

In Tamil Nadu, known for its social justice politics, the extensive influence of caste remains an open secret. Major parties openly court caste-based political parties, despite not fully embodying the inclusivity they profess.
Justice K Chandru
Justice K ChandruFile Photo

In August 2023, a Dalit boy and his sister in Tirunelveli district’s Nanguneri were grievously attacked at their home by the boy’s classmates, who belong to a dominant caste community. The incident brought to the limelight the prevalence of casteist sentiments even among children. The Tamil Nadu government set up a one-man committee to examine the issue and suggest ways to prevent caste bias and discrimination among the state’s school and college students.

The Nanguneri incident was only the tip of the iceberg. Casteism in government schools runs deep, as evidenced by a survey conducted by an NGO that found Dalit children being made to clean bathrooms in some schools, separate caste-based queues for noon meals, and discrimination in classroom seating arrangements.

The Justice K Chandru committee recently submitted its report to the government. Among the urgent recommendations it made is the need to do away with caste appellations in schools and colleges, both government- and privately-run. This echoes the move in the 1990s to remove the names of caste leaders from public transport corporations following caste riots.

The report also says the wearing of caste-linked wristbands, tilaks and rings should be banned, caste identities of students must be kept confidential, and headmasters and teachers should be periodically transferred. It notes that teachers and principals in government schools play a serious role in inculcating or reinforcing caste sentiments among students, and suggests that guidelines be framed to avoid posting senior staff belonging to an area’s dominant community in schools there.

The report rightly recommends that adequate orientation be given to teachers during their training and the training syllabus be appropriately overhauled. However, the recommendation that noon meals be centralised at the block level flies at the thinking behind the scheme—that the food be made locally, under the eyes of the community, and served hot.

In a state that touts social justice politics, it is an open secret how deeply enmeshed in caste the society actually is. Unfortunately, caste-based political parties are openly courted by major parties, which themselves are hardly as inclusive of oppressed communities as they claim to be. Justice Chandru’s recommendations, if implemented, can only mitigate some of the casteist messaging youngsters are bombarded by. For large-scale change to occur, politicians must start walking their talk.

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