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Pro-poor bill blocked in parliament

Lawmakers move to keep caste discrimination alive

Swati Deb, New Delhi

December 21, 2012

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A bill aimed at boosting the social status of dalits and tribal people has been blocked in the country’s parliament.

If passed into law, the Constitutional Amendment Bill would ensure India’s lowest castes would receive a guaranteed quota in government job promotions.

However, MPs from the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Samajwadi (Socialist Party) prevented the bill’s passage by opposing it in the lower house.

The move highlighted how the country is struggling to rid itself of the discriminatory caste system despite it being outlawed.

"Caste is the ultimate reality in Indian society. Despite official provisions, things have not changed much since country's independence in 1947,” Sharad Yadav, president of the Janata Dal United (United People's Party), told

The bill had earlier been backed by BJP members in the upper house.

However, several BJP lawmakers in the lower chamber who depend on support from higher caste voters reportedly cautioned the leadership not to commit political hara-kiri by backing a bill that supports lower castes.

The BJP leadership chose to stall the bill on constitutional grounds by demanding it be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The quota issue has always been a contentious issue in Indian politics and has led to street clashes. 

Some 1.8 million government employees, mostly upper caste, in Uttar Pradesh have recently been protesting the bill with street demonstrations. After the bill was blocked yesterday, they called off the strike.

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