H C Singh

Caste-ridden India – That is Bharat

After 60 years of 1950 constitution which abolished untouchability and ordained that reservations for SC and STs’ would be for only 15 years; it was felt that India would make progress in all fields – social, economic and political and India that is our Bharat will become a casteless society. Sardar Patel who was India’s first and best Home Minister had, besides supporting wholeheartedly India becoming a casteless society was opposed to reservations for so-called minorities. When some Muslim leaders had raised the question of reservation for Muslims in parliament Sardar rebuked them that India is a secular country and “those Muslims who want reservations can go to Pakistan”. It was then felt that in 15 years time there will be marked improvement in the living standards, education and employment of SC and STs’. But unfortunately our politicians and political parties did not pay any attention to these fundamental issues and were concerned with being in power or retaining power in politics. In 1964 India’s first PM Nehru died and thereafter there was struggle for Prime Ministership.

Thus in 1965 no politician bothered to think of or do anything for SC and STs’ so that there is marked improvement in their condition in society. It is unfortunate that politicians and political parties who have ruled India for the last 60 years, for political reasons and for political power more and more castes were being included for reservation, in particular the OBC’s. Thus instead of India becoming casteless society, today India is a caste-ridden society, a democracy in name only because democracy’s main features are equality of all citizens, no discrimination of any sort of Caste or Status.

How and why there has been deterioration in social, political and economic spheres during last 60 years? Why India, our Bharat, instead of going forward is going backward? Who are responsible for this reversal?

There are about 2000 castes of OBC’s in central list, though each State has a list of its OBC’s. There are some professions like that of Dhobi (washer man) which are SC’s in States of West Bengal, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan but are included in the list of OBC’s in Maharashtra. How can SC’s and OBC’s be considered one. There can be some other castes, particularly in Tamilnadu which may be SC’s there but OBC’s in other southern States or vice versa. How can OBC’s of all 2000 castes be considered backward when some are big landlords and prosperous businessmen or professionals. For example Badal of Punjab who is Chief Minister and his son Dy.Chief Minister can be OBC’s entitled to concessions. Similarly Hooda and Chautala of Haryana present and former Chief Ministers can come under reserved categories. The case of both Yadavas is similar. They have been ruling one State or other. There are many so-called other backward class (OBC’s) cabinet Ministers and Ministers in many States. There are Jats who are holding high position in Civil services, information technology, professors and principals as well as vice chancellors.

There have been occasionally murders, killing because of ‘Khap’ Panchayet’s objection to marriages in same gotra though same gotra marriages were declared legal in 1945 by Bombay High Court. This judgement is of great significance which has since been ignored though it was much before the codification of Hindu Code Bill. It is unfortunate that to gain political support former Chief Minister of Hariyana, Om Prakash Chautala and Congress MP Jindal are supporting the ‘Khap’ Panchayet’s ideology and actions and even want legal support. If somehow ‘Khap’ Panchayet’s get legal support this will mean, that our judicial system of justice will have no jurisdiction in ‘Khap’ Panchayet’s and thereafter in all Panchayets all over India though gotra politics is medieval : that will take India much more backward.

Latest unfortunate and ill-considered action of UPA-II government is inclusion of caste in 2011 census without bothering about its implications. Central leadership seems to have succumbed to pressure, particularly from two Yadavas, and allies. There are thousands of castes and tens of thousands sub castes. How these will be coordinated into four major castes? Moreover there are millions of citizens who don’t believe in caste system and do not and would not like to mention their caste for the census. There are 18,000 categories of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes listed in 2001 census.

 If India is to be a progressive and modern democracy it take steps, though 45 years late, to end caste system by 2025 so that India is determined to move forward and not backward. If a constitutional amendment is required, just as provision in 1950 Constitution that must be enacted. For this all parties must sink their differences and rise so that India advances like Christian dominated countries where there is no caste system at all. Even Muslim countries who have their problem of Burqa, have no caste system, thus no discrimination, all citizens being equal.

July 2, 2010 - Posted by | Corruption, Hinduism, India, Indian History, Muslims, Political Commentary, Politics, Religion | , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Before forming any opinion or passing comments on caste-system, it would be better to understand what caste system is? How and why it came into existence? And what is the difference between ‘caste’ as a system and ‘casteism’? Is creation of a ‘caste-less society’ possible on the basis of ground realities that exist today?
    So far, critics of Caste or supporters of caste-less society have not been able to suggest a better alternative scheme, system and norms needed to substitute caste-system. Common men in India is not sure about the effectiveness of new systems to be created by the proponents of caste-less society. They are reluctant to replace or abandon caste system – an institution of proven value with a Caste-less society on trial and error basis. They understandably wish to make improvements in the tried and testes old system by removing deformities developed into it with time. A change is good for the growth of a society. But Changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions, present requirements and existing ground realities of the place and future prospects.
    Caste still commands respect and attention of commonmen as a natural, valid and useful social institution, not only of Hindus but of other sects also living in India, with all their egalitarian faith, whether foreign or indigenous, like Muslims and Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist. None of them could not remain immune from caste system for long.
    Adaptability and absorptive nature of caste system has saved it by erosion from within and assault from outside. It has given Indian society coherence, stability and continuity and held together for generations different castes and communities despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups having diverse languages and practices. Caste-system took different shades and meaning with changing times and places. Once changed, it never returned to its original form. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. It is different in context of village, locality, region or religion. It has not become obsolete so far despite all its weaknesses, otherwise it would have given place to other systems.
    Caste system is a natural response of mixing up of numerous social multi-ethnic groups with indigenous people of the land into a single cultural system, coming from different parts of the world at different points of time in waves. Beauty of caste system lies in the way, it assimilated numerous social groups – immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or others – into its mainstream. It assigned each incoming group a separate caste identity. Society remained stable, while offering a place to a new community. The system neither disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented any new group to develop itself. Without any conversion, caste system made new groups its integral part. It never tried to annihilate their faith, originality, internal order, customs, culture or language. Instead, it gave them freedom to prosper/make changes into their systems according to their internal rhythm.
    Family, extended family, Kula, and Caste are fundamental social institutions in India. A common man regards caste a natural, and inevitable unit/institution widening the scope and contacts of a person in the society. An individual is a natural member of a family, which is the unit of an extended family, extended family of Kula (clan), Kula of a tribe (Vish) and a tribe of a Jana or Jati (Caste). Caste is second only to the family. To them, Caste, which is nothing else but a large extended family bonded by same language, customs, thinking, style of living, occupation and way of living. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence, specialization used to be its important traits.
    Almost all principles of a good organization are found in caste system. It provided strong structure based on principles of ‘Varna, Dharma and Karma”, kept its members comfortable and satisfied, assigned duties to different sections of society according to their natural instincts and qualities and instills amongst people feeling of interdependence and team-spirit etc. It had provided mechanism for decentralized self-regulated systems were the mode in social, political, and economic life of the country. Varna system along with Caste-system believed in lofty principles like “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” (whole world is one family), “live and let live”, “Self restraint”, “automatic checks and balances” “division of labour” along with “to each according to his needs and from each according to his capacity” etc. etc.
    In the past, ‘Caste system’ acted as shield for Hindus to retain their cultural identity while living under alien rule. It was a major force for failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway even after mass conversion, whether it was Mughal’s, Portuguese or British. Islam and Christianity had received substantial state patronage for sufficiently long period. However, this was the time, when many evil practices and deformities had developed in the system.
    British rulers made purposely an ideological attack on Indian society. They developed a complex in the minds of Indian intellectuals of different sections of society about efficacy of caste system. British rulers portrayed caste-system as “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and “highly stratified”. They held caste system responsible for evil social practices, feudalistic attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, and whimsical concept of purity and pollution.
    Through Census operations British rulers divided Indian social structure in a fundamental way and gave rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. The older four Varnas, embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold were divided into five new unbridgeable compartments – Backward caste, forward caste (caste Hindus), untouchables or scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minority. Through legal process, each one got a new separate and distinct identity. It gave rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. Census operations instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought amongst themselves from now onwards without any sign of relief even as of today.
    With the beginning of industrialization in India under foreign rule, many traditional occupations became obsolete or less paying or were regarded more hazardous and more time consuming. White collared jobs gained importance. More, a person withdrew from physical labor, more civilized, honored and qualified he was regarded by modern society. It resulted in discrediting many traditional occupations and in destruction of Indian handicrafts and cottage industry. With it, scattered efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. Very few of them could join modern occupations. Majority belonging to different castes could neither enter modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations considering menial work derogatory and lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride. Such people added the numbers of poor agricultural laborers, industrial workers or marginal labors or unemployed. Outcome of such a development has been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture.
    With the efforts of reformers of nineteenth and tentieth centuries and constitution-framers, spread of education, process of modernization, industrialization and growth of awareness among people, traditional caste barriers and evil practices developed into the system started breaking slowly but steadily after the Independence. Caste system has become more liberal and less restrictive. The system allows its members a greater degree of freedom in all walks of life. Castes no longer enjoy legal or religious sanctions. Expulsion from castes means little, while, earlier it meant complete social ostracism. In metros and cities of almost all the states in India nobody asks for anybody’s caste. The old style of authority and power of caste-elders in every day life has already diminished.
    In all the metros and cities throughout India nobody asks for anybody’s caste. Restrictions or interactions between different castes arising due to considerations for purity and pollution are fading away from public life even from rural areas. Earlier caste related issues were – who ate with whom? Or who married whom? The traditional barriers on marriage, hereditary occupations and commonality are loosing its importance slowly but steadily with the spread of education and awareness of masses.
    However the seeds sown by British rulers against caste-system has flourished in full in the political atmosphere of Independent India. In present politics, Caste has found a new lease of life in different form. It has become the single most important factor in politics. Lower castes are more tenacious on the subject of their caste than the higher. Many castes grouped together and increased their numerical strength. These groups have become very vocal and assertive. Politicians find it easier to sway them emotionally on the grounds of caste and fear to annoy them. Therefore, all political parties concede to their demands openly or discreetly, while in power. Of late, Dalits, backwards and Muslims are being wooed with vigor by all the political parties. Even Naxalite groups find in Dalits the allies, as most of their action squads are formed of Harijans.
    First Backward class Commission’s Chairman Kaka Kalelkar had very wisely commented in mid fifties, that “National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation. All communal and denominational organizations and groupings of lesser and narrower units have to be watched carefully, so that they do not jeopardize the national solidarity and do not weaken the efforts of the nation to serve the various elements in the body politic with equity. Mutual help, mutual respect and mutual trust are the touchstone, on which all communal and denominational activities will be tested.”
    A strong political will and courage is needed to bring to an end caste-ism and with it all kinds of discriminatory or repressive laws and practices.

    Comment by latasinha | July 27, 2010 | Reply

  2. The identity of india is very recent.. before that, there were so many desams.. like that of europe.. the britishers destroyed all these desams and clubbed it as single centralised entity..

    The castes of the present day are the people groups taking various proefession in different desams and empires.. and they acquired their identity based on the region and profession.. since the profession was inherited by successive generation, that people became large enough to form a people group..

    When britishers came, they could not understand this dynamics.. they saw every jaathi as racial and thus caste is formed..

    Today, the caste is kept alive not by the society, but by the reservation.. If reservation has not been there, the caste would have played a constructive role and would have been dynamic as it was in pre-british india..

    But even in current form, the caste has so far been a strength of india.. bcoz, while the urban educated people like you were busy characterising the caste system, those numerous castes of farming, farm labourers, and other castes, were working hard in their professions.. The farmers continuously produced food, so that people like you can easily get it from shop at a cheap price.. the farm labourers continuously worked hard in fields to grow these foods.. like wise, the baniyas and other trading groups looked after their profession so that money and goods flows in the society.. the brahmins looked after the spiritual service, so that when people go to temples, they did poojas and maintained the temple activities..

    My humble request to you.. Please stop characterising caste and focus on understanding it..

    Comment by senthil | September 29, 2010 | Reply


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