Upper-caste people can hide their obvious caste privilege thanks to a narrow definition of merit: Justice Chandrachud

A restricted definition of merit, according to Supreme Court Judge Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, only allows higher caste members to hide their blatant caste superiority.

Upper caste individuals can use such a narrow concept to dismiss the accomplishments of Dalits and other reserved classes as a result of caste-based reservation.

Referring to prominent jurist Michael J Sandel’s book “Tyranny of Merit,” Justice Chandrachud stated that people with great privilege might define their identity and achievement not as a result of their privilege, but as a result of their idea that they have earned it via their “merit.” He noted that the Supreme Court, in its decisions B.K. Pavitra v. Union of India and B.K. Pavitra v. Union of India, articulated a broader definition that takes into account the upper castes’ accumulated caste privilege as well as the reserved castes’ years of oppression.

“The Courts have been able to approach the reservation dispute from a different perspective as a result of this reframe, and the dialogue surrounding reservation in the public sphere has changed as a result of this reframe. Unfortunately, it remains to be seen whether this will have a positive impact on the mindset of every single person in this country “, he expressed his thoughts.

On “Conceptualizing Marginalisation: Agency, Assertion, and Personhood,” Justice Chandrachud delivered the 13th B.R. Ambedkar Memorial Lecture. The Indian Institute of Dalit Studies in New Delhi and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung South Asia co-hosted the event.

He claimed that while the professional achievements of upper caste people might wash away their caste identity, the same cannot be said for lower caste people.

In the Indian context, castelessness is a privilege that only the upper caste can afford because their caste privilege has already converted into social, political, and economic capital, according to Justice Chandrachud. Individuals belonging to the lower caste, on the other hand, must maintain their caste identity in order to claim the advantages of measures such as reservation, which are in and of themselves a recognition of a historic damage, according to the court.

In his presentation, Justice Chandrachud discussed members of society’s disadvantaged groups – their hardships, loss of agency, and personhood – and contextualised their marginalisation as a result of their participation in a group that is purportedly regarded inferior to others. The judge also discussed what the law and society may do to address these issues.

The inclusion of multiple such rights in our Constitution has not always resulted in a positive shift in society’s perception of marginalised groups and individuals who belong to them.

It is critical that the society’s privileged members break free from the shackles of the past and accord respect and recognition to members of marginalised communities.

He emphasised that Dr. Ambedkar has entrusted each of us with the task of upholding the principles enshrined in our Constitution and bringing them to life through our deeds.

“It’s no easy effort to combat something as pervasive and entrenched as marginalisation, and I acknowledge that I don’t have any easy answers. The only option open to us is to genuinely follow and give life to the Constitutional values that Dr. Ambedkar helped to design, and to use those ideas to effect revolutionary change in people’s minds and perceptions “, he explained.

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