The Tamil Nadu School Education Minister K A Sengottaiyan vowed on Friday to act against schools requiring students to wear colour-coded bands and rings to indicate their caste, but only "if complaints are received in this regard". However, he would not confirm if a notice issued by the Education department, which banned the practice, would be upheld and would only say that "whatever practice existed shall continue the way it is".
"All of them (school students) are united without discrimination. Let us know where such things (coloured wristbands) are worn. There is no such practice," the minister said.
His comments marked a second successive U-turn in his position on a July 31 notice issued by S Kanappan, Director of Education in Tamil Nadu, asking district officials and school principals to crack down on institutions where students reportedly wore red, yellow, green or saffron bands, rings and tilaks (marks on the forehead) to indicate castes.
KA Sengottaiyan, 71 had nullified that circular a few days ago, alleging it was sent without his knowledge. He did so after state BJP leaders hit out at what they described as an "anti-Hindu act".
Former MLA H Raja tweeted in Tamil: "Wristbands and tilak on forehead are related to religious faith. (Isn't) banning these a brazen anti-Hindu act? Would the officer dare to ban symbols of other religion? This order ought to be withdrawn."
In his circular, Mr Kanappan quoted a report by a group of visiting IAS trainees.
"These wristbands, which come in shades of red, yellow, green and saffron, indicate whether they belong to lower caste or upper caste. In addition, rings and tilaks were also used as caste marker(s)," the circular alleged.
"The state Adi Dravida Department forwarded us the information they received from Mussoorie, which was based on what the IAS probationers had said. The Director had done his job taking the report seriously," a senior officer in the Education department told NDTV.
The minister's stand hasn't gone down well with the teachers' association in the state. An office-bearer in the organisation told NDTV, "The Minister has let down the Director of School Education. There should be no place for communalism on campuses."
Meanwhile, the opposition DMK has accused the ruling AIADMK of buckling under pressure from the BJP - its allies at the state and centre - and nurturing a communal divide.
"BJP thrives on caste hierarchy. It wants caste inequality perpetuated. DMK believes in an egalitarian society. There is no link to religion in this. The direct communalisation by BJP doesn't augur well for students in Tamil Nadu," party spokesperson A Saravanan said.
Although it isn't widespread, colour-coded caste identity marks have been reported from some pockets, where people reportedly take pride in the practice.
In southern districts, particularly nearly Tirunelvelli and Ramanathapuram, red could indicate the dominant Thevar community while blue could mean a Scheduled Caste member. These districts have been hotbeds of communal violence between Thevars and SC communities; in the 1990s more than 70 people died in clashes.
Colour-coded wristbands had been banned by the district collector of Tirunelvelli a few years ago.
With input from PTI
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