Sociologist, political critic and author Ashis Nandy on Saturday set off a row here with comments that people from OBC, SC and ST communities were the “most corrupt,” but later clarified that he had made the observations in the context of “corruption as an equalising force.”

“As long as the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs participate in it, corruption would not be a one-sided affair where the rich, prosperous and powerful protect themselves and hide their wrongdoings,” said Professor Nandy, clarifying his remarks to journalists at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival here.

“I have been misquoted. What I meant was that most of the people getting caught for corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities, as they don’t have the means to save themselves unlike people from upper castes.”

Professor Nandy, 76, said he had made the remarks while endorsing Tarun Tejpal’s statement at the session on “Republic of ideas” that corruption acts an “equalising force”. “What I was saying was a support to the minorities. There was neither any intention nor any attempt to hurt any community.”

Earlier in the day, Professor Nandy said in conversation with Mr. Tejpal, journalist Ashutosh, writer Urvashi Bhutalia, biographer-historian Patrick French and academician Richard Sorabji at the session marking the Republic Day that most of the corrupt “come from the OBCs and SCs and now increasingly from the STs.”

“As long as this is the case, the Indian Republic will survive,” he said, citing the example of West Bengal, which he said was the State with the least extent of corruption. “In the last hundred years, nobody from the OBCs, SCs and STs has come to power there. It is an absolutely clean State.”

These remarks led to strong reactions from the audience, and one of the panellists, Mr. Ashutosh, said it was the “most bizarre statement” he had ever heard. Some members of the audience at Char Bagh in Diggi Palace also took exception to the remarks and demanded that Professor Nandy retract them.

JLF producer Sanjoy Roy sought to defend Professor Nandy, saying his statement had been taken out of context. He said the festival organisers had spoken to Dausa MP Kirorilal Meena and Jat Mahasabha leader Raja Ram Meel, who had warned of an agitation, and convinced them about the background of remarks.

Dalit activists gathered outside Diggi Palace and staged a demonstration against the “offensive remarks,” and a first information report was lodged by tribal activist Rajpal Meena against Professor Nandy and Mr. Roy, citing Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 (1) of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act at the Ashok Nagar police station here. The police said the matter would be investigated.

In his clarification, Professor Nandy pointed out that if a rich man’s son or daughter gets admitted into a foreign university, it would not be seen or talked of as corruption or seeking favours. “In our society, corruption among the rich is ignored, but a poor OBC or Dalit is blamed and punished for similar crime. White collar corruption, favours in the middle class, are not called corruption, but when a poor OBC or Dalit does something, he is blamed.”

The opening panel discussion on the Lit-Fest’s third day witnessed a lively discourse on the idea of the Indian Republic, the nature of democracy and the significance of freedom. Mr. Tejpal said people from the marginalised sections often move ahead using loopholes amid “class barriers” created by society.

Speakers said the Indian Constitution had been drafted by incorporating progressive and liberal ideas. Mr. French said the problems facing India were not created by the Constitution but by the bureaucracy and the governance structure. Ms. Bhutalia said utopia in the Indian context would be a static state.

In Nandy’s defence

The Rajasthan unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties condemned the registration of an FIR against Professor Nandy and demands to arrest him. “Professor Nandy was neither exhorting hate nor being casteist. He was [only] making an academic point that nobody is free from corruption,” said PUCL general secretary Kavita Srivastava. She affirmed that the institution of criminal proceedings against Professor Nandy, and any move to arrest him would amount to restriction on academic freedom and democratic debate.