Cast-e Away

article

Marital advertisements in newspapers, especially in so-called progressive English language newspapers, tell us that the system of Manu will not go away anytime in this millennia

Arvind Mohan

Arvind Mohan

Arvind Mohan is a consultant for ABP News. He has over three decades of experience in journalism. He has translated some important works into Hindi, including Paul Krugman’s ‘The Return of Depression Economics’

Caste system in Hindus has been a favourite subject of researchers, academics and social commentators and rightly so, as it has played an important role in the socio-economic reforms post our independence. It has been criticised a lot and different quarters of society have their own set of beliefs and ideologies about this ancient practice and still, none of the viewpoints can be considered absolute.

Caste system in Hindus has been a favourite subject of researchers, academics and social commentators and rightly so, as it has played an important role in the socio-economic reforms post our independence. It has been criticised a lot and different quarters of society have their own set of beliefs and ideologies about this ancient practice and still, none of the viewpoints can be considered absolute.

Has the technological advancements in the last 70 years insulated us from caste system or made us more vulnerable is a big question, but that remains unanswered. Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), who are now a part of ‘more evolved’ societies when return home to find their life partners, act no differently than a large section of society in India who prioritise caste, sub-caste and several allied parameters. But it is the use of caste in politics that mocks meritocracy and pluralist thinking, the two essential components of good governance.

Left, Center and Right each have a different perspective about the caste system and each viewpoint has been a major subject of debate. Prime Minister Modi who comes from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) school of thought has emphasised on ending the evils that sprout as a result of casteism, something that has left scars on the national conscience and has created a divide that vote-bank politics thrives on.

The Sangh’s ideology of Hinduism is strongly based on equality and discards caste or anything related to it. Social optimists believe that the last two landslide victories of BJP (Lok Sabha elections – 2014 & Uttar Pradesh state elections 2017) have proved, especially in the Hindi speaking belt, that stronger socio-political dreams can help us overcome this abysmal divide and march towards achieving bigger goals for India, together.

Poll Piping

However, the claim is too utopian and has fewer instances in its support than it would ideally be required to command acceptance. The election timeline in India has often proved that people have come together and voted to highlight the importance of being a strong democracy and undermining the caste system for national benefits.

“Garibi Hatao” (eradicate poverty) was the central agenda of 1972 elections. In 1977, the elections post emergency that dethroned Indira Gandhi for a short while, and in 1980, when people overlooked the caste system to achieve a stable government, and the ones in 1984, post Indira Gandhi’s assassination have a common trait.

All these elections were won on the manifesto of development, stability and peace, precisely in the same order. Prime Minister Modi and BJP party president Amit Shah are no exceptions to the powerful clan that has tried selective caste appeasement politics in Uttar Pradesh.

Polarising the elections by not giving tickets to any Muslim candidate is a clear indication of Hindu appeasement politics. This was done after all the permutations and combinations of caste appeasement were tried and proved to be no good.

Not just BJP, but other political parties also tried their hands at politics of caste and religion vote bank but failed miserably. However hard we try to rise above the social evils of a caste system, we are eventually dragged into it by men aiming for power, the political class.

Our social and economic lives are fundamentally tied to this ancient practice. Due to its uniqueness in and unknown sources of inception, it has been the center of attraction for researchers within India and abroad. Each one of them has presented their perspective but there isn’t a single version which can be accepted as the absolute truth.

Nehruvian...

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, a visionary and advocate of modern thinking firmly believed that caste and creed are social baggage and should not be carried forward. It won’t be wrong to arrive at that conclusion if societies followed linear thinking. Turns out, the caste system has changed its mask timely and has always found some deep-rooted believers in every social and political cross section and the biggest irony is, it’s prevalence in premier educational institutions such as AIIMS, that are supposed to be symbols of the forward thinking and development.

The caste system has its origins ingrained in the Vedic system. It stems from inequality based division of people in castes. It may have been in its primitive form which is way different from what appears today. Initial four major castes were decided Brahmin, Kshatriya,Vaishyas and Shudras. Soon, the collective felt the need to find one more sect, this is also one of the most debatable and controversial points of the caste system, the Untouchables. The evolution of society and its offspring’s

Interestingly, every section claims about its ancestral purity (which apparently, is one of the brag-worthy things to declare oneself more ‘purer’ than others) those claims were ratified and approved by the Brahmins, of course on a monetary exchange. One’s status in the society became a direct function of Dakshina (donation) brahmins received. The state (Kingdoms) never opposed this practice and it eventually became the part of the society. This practice prevails across the nation and surprisingly it is being accepted as one of the social norms that have been passed from centuries. The caste based political victories and social changes have strengthened the existence of this system in social conscience. Communities like Shaka, Yavans and Hoons have become a part of the caste system and Buddhism, a religion that originated again the ideology of caste system has also been given a branch in this complex social tree.

Social Identifier

Famous historian Dr Ram Sharan Sharma believes that Bhumihars are the latest entrants in the Hindu caste system. Muslims and Christians in India are also categorized on the theological beliefs as caste has become not just a Hindu practice but a social identifier in general.

Quasi-judicial bodies such as Khap Panchayat were established to resolve the issues of a particular caste or community contrary to the inhumane and brutal image that they have rightfully developed due to their misogynist attitude. Revolutionary socialist Dr Ram Manohar Lohia considered caste as the basic insurance that had its judicial, social and political responsibilities. The caste system, it won’t be wrong to say, could be surpassed if one gained enough financial or political prowess. Post-independence India has witnessed many such incidents that stand testimony to this fact.

Fatal Flaw

The basic flaw in the caste system lies in its undemocratic principle of encapsulating the social destiny of a child, right from the birth. This narrows the chances of a person wanting to change his destiny through hard work as an invisible social boundary is created around him and insulates him from understanding bigger entities such as society and state.

In the past, there have been instances where people have been forcefully converted to slaves by using inhumane methods. Sixteen per cent of current Indian population is Dalit (lower caste and lower tribes). As many as 450 lower castes have been identified till now and the new ones are being constantly added to the list.

Tectonic Shift

There has been a tectonic shift in the way we look at castes. Politicians, on the basis of various permutations and combinations, have decreased their proximity to castes that were ones considered ‘untouchables’ by their fraternity. The population count system was introduced by the British mockingly disguised as a chance to register oneself in a higher caste in the government records. The current scenario is the polar opposite; agitations, protests and even violence have been used to blackmail the government to get one’s caste registered and accepted as a lower caste, as it comes with humongous benefits.

In Uttar Pradesh, the daughter of a Dalit has been enthroned as Chief Minister four times, and Rajputs, Brahmins and other ‘Upper Castes’ have given their higher respect to this Dalit empress of the state. This proves that power tops caste by far and wide but caste system is still deep-rooted in the social ecosystem.

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