There is still ambiguity over whether school students wearing caste bands to distinguish between “upper castes” and “lower castes” still prevails in Tamil Nadu. Combinations of red, yellow, green and saffron bands were known to be in use in schools in remote parts of the state. A circular banning the practice was issued by in July, but ran into trouble as the education minister disowned the circular and defending the practice, while a BJP politician joined the debate to defend symbols of differentiation among castes like bands, forehead marks, chains, etc. This came to light only after IAS trainees took it up as a case study at the Mussoorie academy. The practice may have subsided after the controversy came out into the open, but the deep-rooted prejudices in society remain.
Tamil Nadu isn’t the only state to practise such discrimination, but rural areas where Scheduled Caste students may comprise the majority in schools are hotbeds of several discriminatory practices like separate plates and tumblers for those of different castes. All such practices may be banned by law, but the discrimination continues as it is embedded in society. Dalits suffer the most, sometimes from the anganwadi stage itself, where cooks often refuse to prepare meals for them. India’s caste system was a legacy from time immemorial. It’s a pity it still exists in discriminatory practices that indicate an attitudinal problem. Laws may wish away caste, but the feelings persist, vitiating the atmosphere in social interactions. Tamil Nadu, the land of social reformer Periyar, took pride in being the first to end caste prejudices. But if even today its students wear caste bands, we shudder to imagine how things could be in other parts of India.