An India where literacy is a test and condition precedent to enfranchisement!

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“Indifferentism is the worst kind of disease that can affect people”
— BR Ambedkar

Individual liberty, end of the caste system and a democratic public culture are the pillars of Ambedkar teachings. He propagated the need of modernisation while stressing on equality.

Contrary to Babasaheb’s ideology, Rajasthan and Haryana government passed amendments in the year 2015, fixing a minimum educational qualification for contesting elections to the Panchayati Raj Institutions. These amendments make it mandatory for contestants to pass Class VIII to contest in sarpanch elections. In the case of tribal reserved areas, the minimum qualification is Class V — and Class X for Zila Parishad or Panchayat Samiti elections. Keeping in mind low female literacy rate, the qualification requirement has been brought down to Class VIII for women and schedule class. The amendments under Section 19 of the Rajasthan Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 also makes a functional toilet mandatory in the house of a contestant.

A similar act was passed by the Haryana government, with an additional amendment to rule out those who failed to pay electricity bills.

The act might seem welcoming but it contradicts the basic constitutional philosophy of our nation. It deprives many from contesting in elections and reserves the power seat for the higher class. It also leads the state government in an ambush and questions its ability to provide education at the village level.

Going by Census 2011, these amendments kept more than half of the Haryana population from contesting elections, 56.8 per cent were disqualified on the first count, and a shocking 79.76 per cent were declared ineligible. In Rajasthan, the exclusions disproportionately hit the poorer sections.

According to the Supreme Court, “The amendments will enable the candidates to effectively discharge duties of the panchayat. It is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad.”

The approach of the Supreme Court stated above is not entirely wrong, but, the question that looms large is whether these regions, with low literacy rate, can handle such stern laws without being biased?

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In spite of being highly qualified, Ambedkar himself was against making education compulsory for election aspirants. In his memorandum to the Simon Commission (1928), he declared: “Those who insist on literacy as a test and insist upon making it a condition precedent to enfranchisement, in my opinion, commit two mistakes. Their first mistake consists in their belief that an illiterate person is necessarily an unintelligent person… Their second mistake lies in supposing that literacy necessarily imports a higher level of intelligence or knowledge than what the illiterate possesses”.

It is of no doubt that upper caste communities are intellectually sound in India. With this fact the sad truth of our society gains prominence: The upper class never utilise their capabilities in serving the people coming from lower strata.

Surprisingly, there is no such provision for ministers, who clearly have more intricate responsibilities to handle.

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