A Dalit as India’s President?

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By 2017-07-18

A member of India's poorest, most oppressed caste is expected to be elected President.

Ram Nath Kovind, the Governor of Bihar until last month, was announced as the nominee of Narendra Modi's government in June, in what was widely seen as part of a decades-long strategy by Hindu nationalists to win over members of the dalit (Untouchable) community.

More than 1,000 Indian State and Federal members of Parliament took part in a secret nationwide ballot on Monday to decide the next President using specially designed violet ink pens with unique serial numbers.

The five-year post has significant responsibility under India's Constitution, but similar to other Westminster-style governments, it is largely ceremonial in practice.

The result of the collective parliamentary votes will not be known until Thursday, but Kovind (71), has secured wide cross-party support and is expected to comfortably beat Meira Kumar, the former diplomat and MP nominated by the opposition Congress party and its allies.

Kovind and Kaur are dalits, highlighting the community's symbolic and electoral significance.

Dalits, officially known as scheduled castes, were traditionally thought to fall outside the four castes that determined the shape of Hindu lives, from jobs and diets to marriage prospects.

As a result, they were considered 'impure' and banished to the periphery of Indian society, suffering thousands of years of exclusion and extreme poverty that affirmative action programmes in the past 70 years have done little to address. (Guardian service)

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