NEW DELHI -- Former Speaker of Lok Sabha Meira Kumar has suggested that Indians should give up their surnames if they are "really sincere" about caste equality. The five-time Member of Parliament and daughter of the late Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram alleged that carrying one's surname reflected one's caste.
"If everyone is really sincere about removing caste systems, then give up your surnames," she said during a debate on NDTV. "Please give up your surnames. Would you be able to do that? That shows your caste. That shows you still carry caste in your mind."
Kumar urged the moderator, journalist Barkha Dutt, as well as others on the show not to use vocabulary that re-asserts caste stereotypes. "A lot of us (and I'm no exception) use the phrase "upper caste" and "lower caste" which we shouldn't," she said, "because it has a certain connotation of superiority and inferiority which hurts."
"It has a certain connotation of superiority and inferiority which hurts."
The debate, which included Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nalin Kohli, Janata Dal (United) MP at Rajya Sabha Pavan Varma, and nominated Rajya Sabha MP Narendra Jadhav, was on Dalits of Saurashtra allegedly dumping cow carcasses in front of government offices as a form of protest against policing by self-appointed cow protection groups.
Kumar pointed out that the leather industry is one of the oldest professions, carried out by the "chamar" caste. Even though they didn't kill the cow—just skin a dead cow and prepare the hide, they are tortured and abused by these vigilante groups. "Accusing them of killing the cow is a conspiracy against them and to torture them, insult them, demoralise them is very disturbing," Kumar said. "Dalits are the most devout Hindus." She alleged that even though everyone used leather, those who made the hide were regarded as "untouchables".
"The Temple doors are closed to them. They are tortured. Nobody even wants to touch their shadow," she said. "Yet, from within they are Hindus."