There is an undercurrent of social stratification present in India since time immemorial. It has been commented upon by ancient travelers to India. Sometimes referred to as India’s secret apartheid, it is prevalent even now, despite numerous efforts to abolish it. This is the system of casteism, and it attempts to segregate the country into small squabbling stereotypes.
This system divided people originally on the basis of livelihood and duty, or as they called it, karma and dharma. But it forced generations upon generations of people into the occupations of their forefathers, and came to the point where the distinctions spread to bans on inter-caste marriage, inter-caste wells, and general inter-caste interaction. Though urban areas of India have mostly succeeded in shrugging off this regressive mantle of division, more than 90% of India is rural. And therefore, more than 90% of India is shrouded under the caste system.
Though India’s constitution banned discrimination due to caste right when it was written, and attempts to provide privileges to the traditionally underprivileged were made, lower castes still get the short end of the stick when it comes to health benefits, sanitation facilities, and access to potable water. The practice of ‘untouchability’ is reinforced by the distribution of resources by the state, where disparate facilities are provided to separate caste-based neighborhoods. Lower castes receive little to no resources or help from the government, and are forbidden by repressive village laws to share those given to the privileged classes. Additionally, the system sanctions this repression and turns a blind eye to the injustices meted out by the people in power, the privileged.
Any system, which oppresses some, and elevates others, is a system that needs to be abolished without further ado. The caste system creates divides not only in society, but also in peoples’ minds, and poisons interaction between human beings. It is unfair for a person to be treated differently, given lesser rights and opportunities in itself, above all on the basis of something that was etched in stone thousands of years ago. They get no respite from the system of democracy either, as the majority of the governing parties are biased against them. As Karl Marx put it, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Democracy is based on the principle of equality, fraternity and liberty. The caste system goes against everything it stands for, as it perpetrates inequality, discourages fraternity and crushes liberty, the innate liberty of man that he is born with.
Casteism encourages feelings of exclusivity and class pride among the less educated masses. It creates a distinction between people of similar abilities, based on the jobs of their forefathers. It calls for narrowing of outlooks of people, and stands in the way of modernization, development of the community, and the economy. It widens the gulf between the various sections of the community, and causes many hate crimes to be committed. Almost every week there are instances of brutality upon the people of the lower castes. These arise out of petty squabbles, like drinking water from reserved wells, and out of deeper social problems, like restrictions upon inter-caste relationships.
B. R. Ambedkar rightly said, “Untouchability of Hindus is a rare phenomenon, humanity in any other part of the earth has never experienced it. There is no such thing in any other society. The tyrannies perpetuated in the name of untouchability are black lessons in human culture.”
The caste system is based on inequality of status and opportunities, which creates conflict and tension in the society. In this way it has stood, and is continuing to stand, in the way of national and collective consciousness and proved to be a disintegrating rather than an integrating factor.
As a country, we should denounce this hateful tradition that divides us, rather than enriches. This practice of judgement and categorisation of innocent human beings, should be condemned. It does not fall to any one of us, but to us as a community, to increase awareness about the ill effects, both mental and physical, of casteism. This can only be done through proper and balanced education, and counseling. In most rural parts of India, casteism is so deeply seated in the blood of the people that they would rather burn alive their own young, than undergo the shame and judgement that their community heaps upon their heads. Thus, must India change.