Student’s murder in TN school puts spotlight on 'caste bands'
The practice has been prevalent in Tamil Nadu for at least two decades now, and the school education department's efforts to curtail it has run into roadblocks
At a time when the Tamil Nadu education department is looking at sensitising students on caste issues, the murder of a class XII student allegedly by a bunch of class XI students over a caste band inside the school premises in Tirunelveli district has come as a shocker.
The victim had reportedly asked one of his juniors why he was wearing a caste band, which only ‘upper caste’ students typically wear inside school premises. Angered by the quizzing, the class XI student, with two of his classmates, allegedly killed the senior, it is stated.
School students wearing caste bands on their wrists has been in practice in Tamil Nadu for at least 20 years now. The state school education department has been taking several measures to curtail it, but the move has hit a roadblock due to various reasons.
“When we were about to release a set of guidelines to be maintained in schools so as to divert the students from anti-social issues and caste consciousness, we heard this news. This came in as a shock. Still, we released a set of initiatives that we will carry out in the coming educational year,” an IAS officer with the school education department told The Federal on condition of anonymity.
There are practical problems on the ground when the education department tries to address the issue of caste bands, the officer said.
Caste bands vs religious bands
“In places where caste atrocities and caste consciousness are high among students, a few physical education teachers have attempted to stop the students from wearing different coloured wristbands as their caste identity. However, the students claim that they are religious bands and not caste identity bands. So, even though we know that they are caste identity marks, we cannot take action when they claim it to be spiritual,” the IAS officer said.
However, DMK MP D Ravikumar said that the people on the ground can easily spot the difference between caste and religious bands. “Any kind of caste identity in the schools should be removed, including in school names. The only way to curb this is by banning wristbands identifying castes. Spiritual bands would be either in black or in red. Those could be easily identified,” he said.
It may be recalled that in 2019, a batch of IAS trainees at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration in Mussoorie submitted a representation to the Tamil Nadu government on how the caste bands are affecting the education of students. The state government then issued a circular banning such caste identifying bands inside school premises.
However, then state education minister KA Sengottaiyan said that the circular was issued without his knowledge. “Whatever existed before the circular will continue,” he said.
‘Need for blanket ban’
Educationalist Prince Gajandra Babu said the issue has been prevalent in Tamil Nadu for over 20 years now. “Though a blanket ban is necessary, a ban on caste bands alone would not put an end to the discriminatory practice inside school premises,” he said.
Prince said that only a multi-disciplinary curriculum would bring in equality among the students. “School subjects and lessons in each subject have to be taught in such a way that students understand equality and that caste has no value in the society,” he said.
He added that the Union government’s current education policy is equipped to develop the student as a skilled labour to meet the industry demands and be a good citizen. “The state education policy may shed more light on these aspects so that it could be useful for Tamil Nadu students,” he said.