Caste Prejudices in India: A thing from our past or something for the future?

This year on Ambedkar Punyatithi, there was a lot going on in the world that had to do with his legacy. India and the world are dealing with an imminent health crisis, and such times are calling for social distancing. And even in these grim times, news of casteist exploitation and inequality has surfaced. Lodged at quarantine center, a man has been booked for refusing to eat food cooked by Dalit village head in UP’s Kushinagar district.


More read- Yes, I am a ‘Kashmiri’.


Even as these feudal systems exist in India, in both rural and urban areas, society constantly tries to convince itself that casteism is a thing from our past.

Upper-caste Indian society has found numerous ways to refer to caste without explicitly having to mention it. In everyday language, media and advertising, proxy words like ‘community’ and ‘family background’ are used. These proxies carry the full range of meanings that caste categorisations do, and are used in a variety of situations, from school and job interviews to a landlord meeting prospective tenants.

This deceive lets Indian society permit itself the feel-good release of loudly castigating brute incidents of caste violence.

Still, the caste prejudices exist in our daily life at a scale we fail to notice. “Love marriages” is the term we perceive as couples marrying for love but in reality, it’s just a euphemism for inter caste and inter religious unions. The antonym for love marriage, i.e. arranged marriage is a practice which had been followed since ancient times in India and is completely based on the caste system.  These “love marriages” have resulted in numerous instances of caste violence, with family members condoning brutal attacks on kin, feudal rivalry and even cases of riots. Now they are even considered as Love Jihad.

Indian media houses and newspapers love to condemn these attacks on the front pages of their newspapers and editorials but their revenue thrives on caste based matrimonial.  These barriers and caste limits have now even surfaced in the cyberspace. Matrimonial Websites surfacing in recent years have turned out to be a huge success as they understood that Indians interested in marriage would definitely want caste as a metric. This has led to different castes having their own matrimonial websites and has extended casteism to the cyber world.

I was born in a Bengali Brahman family, where we, unlike other Brahman families of modern India, have young Brahmans inducted into the complex caste system at an early age of 6-12. However, my family held my sacred thread rituals just out of respect for old Bengali tradition. My family doesn’t believe that people must be discriminated on the basis of caste, not even remotely, but however, didn’t want to give away the caste identity. I went on to read the works of Karl Marx, Lenin, Bhagat Singh and B.R. Ambedkar and started rejecting my vast identity soon after being inducted into the caste pyramid.

However, I often come across people who, in order to glorify the Vedic pristine culture of India as the greatest in the world of that time, try and justify classification of humans into castes. A common notion that a lot of boomers have tried to give me over the years is that some humans have better brain function and hence should be the scholars while some are born more physical power, hence they should be the Kshatriyas, while those with inferior genes must trade and make living and those in the lowest rung are unfit for any work accept cleaning our dirt. We Indians have had a long history of trying to prove our mythological stories with modern science, which is hilarious in certain cases. I need not explain how stupid that logic is (someone tell this to a Kshatriya friend of mine who is as thin as a matchstick, despite being “genetically a warrior” as claimed by the boomers)

Disclaimer: We don’t support any sort of body shaming.

Through the recent surge of Hindu nationalism, people while trying to glorify the Vedic society, have subsequently also tried to justify casteism, which is one of the reasons we still haven’t been able to eradicate it from public consciousness.

Post-Independence, it was claimed that the Indian republic had eradicated the caste problem in the first years of nation-building, with the abolition of untouchability and landlordism. Caste became almost invisible in urban middle class contexts until 1990s, when caste was brought back into public consciousness. The Mandal Commission’s suggestions were enacted by law and several lower and middle class ‘jaatis’ availed the benefits of preference after 2000 years of exploitation. This sparked riots across the nation, and questions of caste became a part of daily life once again.

These “Reservations”, which originated way back in 1831 when the British wanted scholars outside the Brahman community to be listed Into the service, have engendered a slow paced upward mobility of exploited castes. These Reservations have challenged the age old feudal orders of Indian society and have brought affirmative change.

Yet the reservation policy has been constantly attacked by privileged classes as denial of true merit to those who “deserve” it. In India’s finest scientific institutions, notably the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi and the Indian Institutes of Technology, where the entrance exams are among the most competitive in the world, reports surface every year about ‘reserved’ category students being discriminated against by upper-caste students and faculty who feel that the reservations have denied spots to more deserving students. Indian recruiters have had a history of using metrics of caste under the garb of ‘family background’. Even universities have often been known to hand separate lists of reserved and general category students to recruiters. Caste discrimination is indeed faced by lower castes even in the modern day; it’s just that the methods have slightly changed since the colonial era.

To eradicate this caste system, which is a primary c

 

ause of poverty and backwardness of sections of Indian people, we need to understand what casteism is in contemporary times. The feudal system has survived a thousand years of political and religious change, evolving itself in the process. Yet we still perceive it only through definitions of the colonial era. The key to liberate the lower classes from exploitation is to understand the caste divide of modern day India and every day Indian life.

– Archit Mukherjee

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