To Whomsoever It May Concern,
We are writing with regards to the BBC World Service’s recent programme on the Hathras incident in which a 19-year-old Dalit woman was raped and then killed allegedly by four upper-caste men. For the radio programme that was aired on October 9, BBC World Service interviewed Markandey Katju, a former judge in the Supreme Court of India, who spoke about caste-based reservations when the topic was caste-based discrimination and violence.
The issue of affirmative action (reservation, in common parlance) is often the first thing that people from upper castes bring up whenever there is any discussion on casteism in India. This narrative is misguided and deflective, given the history of dominant castes, 10% of whom still own as much as 60% of the country’s wealth.
The caste-based reservations allow people from the oppressed castes to gain access to resources and enter into educational institutions, academia, bureaucracy, lower judiciary and other government jobs. However, the representation of oppressed castes and tribal groups in these spaces continues to remain low despite the affirmative action policy, and those who manage to enter these spaces remain stigmatised, isolated, specifically targeted and are discriminated against (here, here, here, here and here).
Even though Katju had a long career as a lawyer and later on as a judge, one cannot deny the privilege he has enjoyed his entire career and life. Not only is he a Brahmin, the topmost group in the caste hierarchy, but his father was a judge and a prominent politician. The appointment of judges in the Supreme Court and the high courts is already a controversial issue because of caste-based nepotism and red-tapism. Katju’s caste, the Brahmins, for thousands of years have oppressed the marginalised groups, particularly Dalits, Adivasis and other backward castes.
Inviting Katju on the BBC World Service’s programme was equivalent to asking a white supremacist to speak on the subject of how race impacts Black lives. Katju has been openly critical of affirmative action policy on his social media channels. His views have been uninformed and inconsistent with the reality of caste in India. Further, Katju’s previous comments on both caste and violence against womxn have been regressive.
Katju recently formed an organisation called ‘Dalits against Reservation Association’. Ironically, he, a Brahmin by caste, is the president of the same (screenshot below). He once tweeted that he was offended at people using the terms ‘Brahminism’ and ‘Brahminical Patriarchy’.
Following the Hathras incident, Katju took to social media to talk about rape in the country in a now-deleted Facebook post. He attributed increasing cases of rape to unemployment among men, and callously referred to their motive as a ‘natural urge’ (screenshot below).
We would also like to bring to your notice that while adjudicating a domestic violence case, Katju used the term ‘keep’ in his judgment while referring to women in live-in relationships. Katju has repeatedly made such irresponsible and ill-informed statements on this matter, that are not only gender-insensitive but also jeopardize the progress of women. He once denounced legalisation of gay marriage by comparing it with humans marrying animals (screenshot below).
We are incredibly disappointed with the BBC World Service’s choice of speaker. There are several hundred other individuals who would have been far more qualified to speak on the topic but you chose to pick Katju and gave him a platform to speak on reservations in the middle of a discussion on caste-based violence.
In the name of truthful journalism, can we please request you to consider the consequences of your actions? To quote Christiane Amanpour, “Truthful, not neutral … never to draw false moral equivalence.”
It is also extremely important to highlight that a state government in India has hired a public relations firm to disavow the government’s questionable actions in the aforementioned rape case. Given this context, providing a platform to individuals like Katju can have horrific consequences towards the social justice of marginalised communities in the country.
The Blue Dawn is a support group and facilitator of mental health services to Bahujan communities, and approaches mental health through social justice lens and community healing.