Caste system in India is associated with Hinduism, where people are categorized by their occupations and it remains a great thorn in the flesh of Mother India.
Societal stratification and the inequality that come with the caste system still exist in India. Government is trying to reduce this inequality by reservation, the quota for backward classes, but paradoxically also have created an incentive to keep this stratification alive.
The concept of caste, that is a social class based on family origin, rank or wealth, originated in ancient India. In the later Vedic Age the concept of chaturvarna, i.e., the four castes became rigid. The four castes – Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (business class) and Sudras (menial workers) were initially constituted on the basis of their vocations.
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But later, this system became hereditary and came to be used as a tool by the socially affluent classes to subjugate the masses and perpetuate the ideology of hierarchy. In modern India also, the caste system has played an underlying role in every aspect of life.
The role of the caste system may not be as much in the urban areas as it is in rural areas. The city life has changed our outlook on many matters. Social mingling, professional interaction, and education have, to a great extent, washed away from our minds the rigidity of caste. Inter-caste marriages and inter-caste mingling of different castes in every aspect of life have increased to a great extent.
However the same cannot be said of rural India. In most of the villages of India, marriages, as well as social mingling outside the caste, are socially forbidden. The conflict between the landholding classes and the landless laborers is a continuous one in many states of India. This conflict is so grave that even today an inter-caste marriage can lead to a bloody carnage.
After Independence, the new government instituted laws to protect the Scheduled castes and tribes which included both the untouchables and groups living traditional lifestyles. These laws include the quota system and reservation in education and government posts. The Indian Constitution does not recognize the caste system, it treats every human being as equal. The Constitution has made separate provisions for the amelioration of the woes and advancement of all ‘backward classes’. Over the past sixty years, the person’s caste is more of a political category than a religious or social one.
In modern India, the castes which are elite of the Indian society are high caste, while other communities are lower castes. The lower caste is divided into three categories Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and the Backward Classes. The Scheduled Castes include communities who were untouchables and are called Dalit, Scheduled Tribes are people who didn’t accept caste system and preferred to live in jungles, forests, and mountains of India and are called Adivasi. The Backward Classes are people of Sudra Varna and also former untouchables.
About 15% of India’s population are Scheduled Castes, and 15% reservation is given to them in government jobs and universities admission. For Scheduled Tribes, about 7.5% places are reserved and for Backward Classes which form about 50% of India’s population 27% of government, jobs are reserved for them. In India there have been tensions because of these discrimination policies, the high caste communities feel discriminated by the government policy to reserve positions for the Backward Classes.
Casteism is one of the great evils, which plague our society. It widens the social rift. It has compartmentalized our political system. Now, most of the castes have their own political leader or political party, who serve only their needs. In states, like Bihar, caste politics create large-scale violence doing election. The conflict between landowners and the landless laborers takes the form of class conflict in many parts of India. Being a major vote bank, the Dalits have entered politics in a big way. The rise of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), especially in Uttar Pradesh and its impact on national politics is an example of the rising influence of Dalits. Similarly, some sections among OBCs have gained a major foothold in many important states of India.
Casteism renders democracy of virtual hypocrisy. Castes may be gradually dying, but casteism in getting stronger. From the politician seeking a constituency to the NRI seeking a bride, caste plays a prominent role. The caste, however, is not the overwhelming feature of Indian behavior that we like to make it be. The caste may be strong enough to bring leaders of one caste to the forefront. But, this would not be sufficient to ensure political power for the party in the election. Again an NRI with urban roots is unlikely to be comfortable marrying a girl of his caste from rural areas. This, however, does not indicate that Indians have moved away from narrow loyalties. The growing religion identity too has taken its toll.
The power of caste has been eroded by westernization. The westernized Indian community is becoming an increasingly close-knit group that shares common dress and food habits. They are extremely reluctant to mingle socially with non-westernized Indians. Indeed, even those westernized Indians, who would not be considered caste when deciding whom to marry, would never marry a non-westernized Indian. None of this suggests that caste has disappeared or is even likely to disappear in the near future. However, casteism has not been and can never be the ideology of change.
Many efforts have been made, before and after Independence, to get rid of India’s caste system. Our great leaders like Mahatama Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar fought all their lives against this evil. But the Caste system can not be eradicated without changing the mindset of the people and as long as there are no national consequences against casteism, the caste-related carnage in some parts of India will not stop.
Hence, we may conclude that casteism has not disappeared; it will erupt from time to time. It has to compete with regionalism, nationalism, religion and western thought and it no longer has the influence it once had. It is the responsibility of the youth of India to make their motherland a casteless society.