India has been known to have the longest, still surviving social hierarchy. One of the major features of Hinduism, caste, was basically a social division made of the basis of ritual purity. The earliest mention of the caste system prevailing in India could be found in the Purusha Suktam verse of the ancient Sanskrit Rig Veda (1500–1200 BCE). An elaboration of this Varna system with reasons was found in the Manu Smriti (the legal text for the Vedic period).
“From his mouth God (Brahma) created the Brahman (priest), from his arms the Kshatriya(ruler), from his thighs the Vaishya (commoner) and from his feet the Shudra(servant).” LAWS OF MANU (CH.1:V.51)
This social division saw too much exploitation during the Mughal period and after that in the British colonial period wherein Indians were segregated by caste, while Christians and people belonging to upper caste were granted Senior posts and jobs in the British administration. The Indian Constitution therefore formed abolished any form of discrimination and practice of untouchability. But years after independence, our country witnessed riots that arose due to conflict between people of different caste, beginning from the Ramanathapuram riots (1957), Kilavenmani massacre of Dalits in Tamil Nadu (1968) and many more. After a period of continued pressure on the central government “The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989” came in effect.
Years after this Act coming up, do we see a reasonable decrease in caste related violence? Maybe yes or maybe not!
Living in the 21st Century, India, today is the youngest country of the world with 65% of population below the age of 35 and 65% of its population still living in the rural area.
“Unity in diversity” has been a motto of India for years, and as a country with diverse systems and culture, India still have many things to let go.
We have quite a few times heard adults take their stand on caste system in India and we wanted to know what does the youth have to say about this caste system. We questioned 15 people in the age group of 18 to 25 and the very first thing we asked, “Does caste-based discrimination still exist in our country?”
Not to be surprised, each one of them agreed to the fact that YES, caste-based discrimination still exists!!
The younger generation of our country is much more evolved and has observed the different behavioural structure of the society closing, in today’s time of social media nothing could remain hidden from the public. Very often while talking or when in a fight with someone we knowingly or unknowingly use casteist slur, which if used due to lack of knowledge of that term must be avoided. But why were these caste names such as ‘Bhangi’, ‘Chamar’, ‘Mahar’ and many more. Many of the terms were listed as offensive by the Supreme Court and even by various State government. But does that change anything? Of course not, because no one monitors you when speak.
But where does caste come into play in today’s time?
Marriages, meals and religious worship.
Many marriages in India are strictly caste forbidden. Marriages outside one’s caste was considered a shame in the society and were often termed with the saying, “muh dikhne layak nhi chora”. We all have heard instances of honour killing that take place in our country at a reasonably high number wherein many instances from smaller towns or villages were not even reported due to threat from the upper caste people or when in case the upper caste dominates the area.
Secondly, food, the most essential thing for the survival of a human being was said to be polluted if a touched or taken from a lower caste people. At various places people of lower caste were not even allowed to draw from a well. Not even caste but also menstruating women were also considered and was very closely compared to a pig.
“Neither a ‘Fierce’ Untouchable, nor a pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, or an impotent man should be watching the priest dine. (ch.3: v.239)”
Brahmin, the priestly class, presided over rituals and services to God and the Kshatriya and Vaisya caste had full right to worship and offer sacrifice to God but Shudra were not even allowed to enter these places. Its basically people who don’t even allow lower caste to sit at equal level as them, how could they even allow them to pray to their God. As if they owned God!!
“If a man of the inferior caste tries to sit down on the same seat as a superior caste, he should be branded on the hip and banished, or have his buttock cut off. (ch.2:v.281)”
But what could one do to simply let go this forever prevailing system??
What most of the people that took the survey said was Education and social awareness.
But what if these places also practiced or believed in the social division.
Instance were reported where kids of the harijan community were made to sit at the back of the classroom where they could hardly hear the teacher and some instances also reported where kids of sweepers and cleaners were also made to clean the school ground and washrooms. The only reason why people from lower caste send their children to school so that they don’t have to go through the vulnerability that they have experienced. In India, it is one of the most important barriers for the society to unite and work for collective concern. At the grassroot level, Indian society is very much divided on Caste basis. It is a long existing tradition and is so influential that even after Constitutional guarantees and civil society efforts, Casteism still exists in India and no sign of its eradication at one go. But universal education, proper dissemination of scientific rational ideas and detailed community development program and a mass level movement (of course a gradual, peaceful, and multifaceted) against it can help solve the problem, not fully in near future, but to a great extent in our generation.