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- Casteism in India – Why CASTE names should be hidden during Government job recruitment processes?
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Defence & Security
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- GS 2 || Society || Salient features of Indian Society || Caste System
Why in the news?
Recently a draft report commissioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recommended that the last names revealing the caste, religious, or cultural backgrounds of candidates should be kept hidden during recruitment processes.
What is Caste system?
- Caste or ‘Jati’ originates from the root word ‘Jana’ which implies taking birth. Thus, caste is concerned with birth.
- India’s caste system is the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. It is also a defining feature of Hinduism.
- The caste encompasses a complex ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity.
- A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death, although the particular ranking of that caste may vary among regions and over time.
- Differences in status are traditionally justified by the religious doctrine of karma, a belief that one’s place in life is determined by one’s deeds in previous lifetimes.
- Too often ‘Caste’ and ‘Verna’ are used interchangeably, though there is a considerable difference between the two.
- Varna is a Sanskrit word which means colour or class. While the Verna based classification was based on the nature of occupation, the ‘jati’ based classification is based on birth in a certain class.
- Ancient Hindu literature classified all humankind in principle into four varnas:
- Brahmins: priests, teachers and preachers.
- Kshatriyas: kings, governors, warriors and soldiers.
- Vaishyas: cattle herders, agriculturists, artisans and merchants.
- Shudras: laborers and service providers.
- The Rig Vedic period Varna system (determination based on occupation) was changed to a caste system (assessment based on birth) by the later Vedic period.
- It is believed that these groups came into existence according to Hinduism through Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe.
Mobility in caste system: ‘Sanskritisation’
- The jati system is not static and there is mobility in the system and jatis have changed their position over the centuries of Indian history.
- However, the jati moves up the social scale as a group and not as individuals. A jati can improve its position in the class system by advancing economically and emulating social groups with money and power.
- At the same time, a jati can also move up in the caste hierarchy. Mobility in the caste system has been termed “Sanskritisation”.
- To gain position in this process, a lower jati copies the habits and behaviour patterns of the dominant jati in the area.
- This may mean a lower jati will change its name to one of a higher jati, adopt vegetarianism, observe more orthodox religious practices, build a temple, and treat its women in a more conservative way. The type of emulation will depend on the habits of the dominant jati being copied.
Caste System in India: Historical background
- The varnas and jatis have pre-modern origins, and social stratification may already have existed in pre-Vedic times.
- Between 2,200 BCE and 100 CE admixture between northern and southern populations in India took place, after which a shift to endogamy took place.
- The caste system as it exists today is thought to be the result of developments during the collapse of the Mughal era and the British colonial regime in India.
- The collapse of the Mughal era saw the rise of powerful men who associated themselves with kings, priests and ascetics, affirming the regal and martial form of the caste ideal, and it also reshaped many apparently casteless social groups into differentiated caste communities.
- The British Raj furthered this development, making rigid caste organisation a central mechanism of administration.
- Between 1860 and 1920, the British segregated Indians by caste, granting administrative jobs and senior appointments only to the upper castes. Social unrest during the 1920s led to a change in this policy.
- From then on, the colonial administration began a policy of positive discrimination by reserving a certain percentage of government jobs for the lower castes.
Constitutional provisions on Caste problems:
- Law against Untouchability: Untouchability is neither defined in the Constitution nor in the Act. It refers to a social practice which looks down upon certain depressed classes solely on account of their birth and makes any discrimination against them on this ground.
- The Indian Constitution has outlawed the practice of Untouchability under Article 17.
- Article 35 read with Article 17 confer on the Parliament power to make laws prescribing punishment for practicing untouchability. The Parliament enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955.
- In 1976, it was made more stringent and was renamed ‘The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. It defines ‘Civil Right’ as ‘any right accruing to a person by reason of the abolition of untouchability by Article 17 of the Constitution.’
- Prevention of discrimination: Article 14, 15 and 16 prevents Caste based discrimination in gaining employment and access to educational and other opportunities.
- Affirmative Action for the advancement of lower castes: The Indian Constitution under Article 15(2), 16(3) has also allowed Union as well as the State governments to establish special quotas in the Parliament as well as State legislatures to aid the lowest jatis.
- Statutes to safeguard the interests of lower castes: To prevent the commission of offences or atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Parliament also enacted the ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.’ The Act provides for special courts for the trial of offences under the Act and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences.
Disadvantages of caste system:
- Against modern democratic values: The caste system does not augur well with the modern democratic ideals such as equality, justice, fraternity, etc. since it does not consider everyone equal.
- Against National Integration: The case system does not facilitate national integration as it oppose the social, economic and political assimilation of different and heterogeneous group of people.
- Encourages regionalism: The caste system sows the seeds of high, lowliness, inferiority in every human mind since childhood. This eventually becomes a factor of regionalism.
- Exacerbate social problems like dowry, child labour, manual scavenging, etc: The caste system also exacerbate the social evils like dowry, atrocities against women, sexual violence against women, child labour, manual scavenging, etc.
- Adverse impacts on mobility of labour: In the economic field, the caste system undermines the efficiency of labour and prevents perfect mobility of labour, capital and productive effort. As a result, neither are the large scale industries developed nor are the economic resources of the country exploited to the best advantage of the people.
- Results in religious conversion: The caste system has given scope for religious conversion. The lower caste people are getting converted into Islam and Christianity due to the tyranny of the upper castes.
The caste system was a big blot on the Indian society and has been extensively discussed by historians, anthropologists, etc. The rigid caste system had caused atrocities and exploitation of lower caste people. Despite enacting various laws for prevention of caste based discrimination, it is still going on in different forms. The society needs to be sanitised against the evils of caste based discrimination and violence. Children at an early age need to be taught about the impacts of casteism. The stakeholders need to find the long-term strategy tp prevent and sustain a equal and just society free of any sort of discrimination.
Model Mains Question:
- Critically discuss the caste system in India. Explain the constitutional provisions that are aimed at preventing caste based discrimination in India.