Court ruling challenges India’s caste system

Human beings do not respect themselves, others and also not their home planet. This is a recipe for disaster. All human beings are equal. A caste system looks like stone-age consciousness to any evolved being.

A landmark legal ruling which granted India’s downtrodden ‘untouchables’ the right to defend their reputations has been hailed as a symbolic victory for the country’s lower castes.

An appeal court judge in Jammu and Kashmir decided that all Indians were worthy of respect and entitled to a good reputation regardless of their wealth or social status.

The ruling amounts to a direct challenge to India’s caste-focused society in which attacks on ‘untouchables’ or dalits because of their ‘polluting presence’ are common.

There are cases of dalits killed for daring to drink water from the same well as their caste ‘superiors’ or to complain when their daughters are raped.

Against this background, the ruling has been hailed as revolutionary.

Mushtaq Ahmed Mir, an unemployed man from Kupwara, decided to sue the Kashmiri newspaper Tameel-i-Irshad after it published a false report claiming he was a defendant in a murder case. He had asked the judge to waive the court fee in the case because he was too poor to pay it.

The judge threw out his case with a ruling that the poor did not have reputations which could be damaged in newspaper reports.

“When the plaintiff is not even in a position to pay the lawsuit fee, he cannot seek damages for defamation, ” Judge Nazir Ahmed Fida said. “The dignity of a person of low integrity will not be lowered further in case his name appears in a defamatory piece of news.”

Mr Mir’s lawyer said he was shocked by the decision, made despite the judge’s acknowledgement that the news report was untrue, and launched an immediate appeal.

In his appeal ruling, High Court Judge Muzaffar Hussain Attar reprimanded the original trial judge and said his ruling had been “offensive to conscience.” “The respect and reputation of a person is not dependent upon how much wealth he has accumulated,” he said. If only the rich were entitled to respect “a great disservice will be done to society,” he added.

Supreme court lawyer Zafar Shah last night welcomed the ruling which he said had narrowed the gap between the equal rights promised to every Indian in the country’s constitution and the reality where “the respect and dignity of a person is determined by [his] economic and social status.”

Leading social commentator Pavan K Varma said the ruling heralded “the beginning of change.” “To say that someone who is poor can’t have status reflects the mindset of another century, but old attitudes die hard. That the appeals judge threw out the ruling means there’s a beginning of change. I’m not surprised that [the judgment] was overruled. That’s the significance. Caste is now standing on its head,” he said.

Dalit leader Dr Udit Raj however said while the ruling was “revolutionary” and a “symbolic victory” for the poor and low-castes, the reality in India was closer to the original trial judge’s ruling.

“It’s impossible for the poor, minorities and low castes to get justice. The trial judge should be dismissed, but his ruling is closer to reality. There is some way to go before dalits get the respect they’re entitled to under the constitution. Our people are hypocrites,” he said.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Last Updated: 10:51PM GMT 17 Mar 2009

Source: The Telegraph

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