By Biranchi Narayan Acharya
Edited by Michelle Cherian, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
It is always said that caste system is deep rooted in Indian society and can’t be abolished. Recently ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) expressed on their blog that ancient caste system worked well. This might be the council’s personal opinion. Many social activists reacted sharply & blamed Yella Pragada Sudershan Rao for advocating the infamous caste system that tortured the lower caste population for centuries.
Before going to the version of anti-caste system activists, let’s understand what the Indian caste system really is. It’s commonly thought that the Indian caste system has its existence from the ancient period. However contemporary scholars argue that the British created the caste system between 1860 to1920.
In ancient culture there was the ‘Varna’ system which was in fact different from the Caste system. Varna system was principally recognized with profession. In fact Varna was identified with Class. For example Bramhins were the intellectual class with occupations as priest, teacher, philosopher, medicinal expert (Baidya) & ruler. Kshatriya was the warrior class such as soldiers & rulers. Vaisya was the white collar working class such as traders, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, record keepers etc. Sudras were the blue collared working class, mainly serving the three upper Varnas. There were also out-castes (untouchable) whose work was considered unclean. Interestingly, Varna system allowed mobility from one Varna to another. If a community or family changed its profession, then the Varna was automatically changed.
Whereas caste system can in fact be considered as a race! Caste is always identified as the identity of a clan! Caste has always been immobile, that means, irrespective of changes in profession, the caste remains the same.
During the British rule, the 10 year census which started in 1860, identified caste with profession. The profession based Varna system became immobile, just like caste, because caste is also considered to be based on profession, keeping aside clan considerations.
In any case, both the Varna system as well as the caste system had made the life of untouchables a living hell. None can deny this. Under the Varna system, Sudras were not untouchable but somehow because of caste identities since 1860, even Sudras began to be treated as untouchables. Earlier British gave jobs to all upper castes. During the 1920 unrest, British reserved some percentage of jobs for the lower caste as an affirmative action.
The Indian Constitution although doesn’t differentiate between Indians because of their caste, creed, race or occupation, it allows for affirmative actions for uplifting the lower caste people who were subjected to discrimination.
Whatever may be the historical facts, caste system is no doubt blunt in a democracy. Democracy says all are equal, but caste system says some castes are higher than other castes.
Now let’s come back to the critics of the ICHR chief’s blog! They claim for a caste less society. If there would be no caste based society & also no caste based reservation, they will immediately scream asking about the injustices inflicted upon the lower caste people for last 5000 years! This is the dilemma. Whenever caste system is discussed these wise people would demand that there shouldn’t be any caste system, but when caste based reservation comes in, they have to defend it citing 5000 years of torture. To avail the reservation facility, many castes are competing to be considered as lower caste. There have been many violent protests in Haryana, Rajasthan & even UP for inclusion of their caste into the SC/OBC category.
In Tamil Nadu, no education certificate mentions one’s caste because of casteless social revolution during sixties & seventies. But again you will find people attaching to their educational certificate their caste certificates, authorized by competent authorities, only to avail the benefits of government affirmative actions towards lower castes.
This becomes a never ending problem. At one hand one seeks a casteless society but on another hand, one also defends caste, for quota, stipends & other governmental benefits for lower castes. So the reality is that those who seek a casteless society in fact, have to defend restoring the caste based society! This is just like oscillating between the two extreme ends of duality.
Now the question is can our society be caste-less? The answer is definitely yes, provided people shed their duality! Let’s suppose that we Hindus don’t have any caste. If Hindus are a casteless society then this would also end caste based reservations, stipends, special rules etc.
The next question to build a casteless society is, should the dalits, other lower caste people & downtrodden community have to give up all the government facilities provided to them as an affirmative action? Well that’s a very big question & again the advocators of casteless society would come, seriously demanding the restoration of the caste based society!
However my stand is clear, make the society casteless & end all caste-based reservations and facilities. Am I against reservation? Certainly not! In fact I am big supporter of all affirmative actions to all down trodden communities.
Poverty and hunger neither has any religion nor any caste! Extend all the affirmative action to the poor and down trodden people irrespective of religion, caste, creed or race. In simple words, provide reservations as per the financial and social status. In this way we can achieve the dual objectives. On one hand while all deserving people would get important benefits and perks, on the other hand, society can also be casteless! It’s like killing two birds with one bullet.
But if all over again the so called sympathizers start advocating that “rich but lower caste” people should also get benefits because of the so -called 5000 years of torture, then I don’t think they are true to themselves in demanding a casteless society, in-fact they are just strengthening the ancient caste based society. Until the paradox is removed, no social justice or casteless society can ever be possible!
A civil engineering professional but also is keen observer of current affairs, politics, socio-economical issues, spiritual & cultural issues. Contributed lot of articles in various web-based on line magazines & well appreciated also. In free time, transforms in to activist mode in educating & awaking people on the meaning of democracy, citizen duty to society, nation & Constitution. Love to debate in any issue with open mind. Contact email id-[email protected]
Kolkata, Jun 3: A casteless society has always been the need of the hour, but India had failed to achieve unity in that perspective.
Speaking at a seminar on Casteless Society: Equality and Social Justice, Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Meira Kumar said this and added, ''Education could have been the pall bearer of social reforms, but in India even the educated youths are dogmatised when it comes to respecting the lower castes.'' Iterating that India is a caste divided society, Ms Kumar said the country is poor because of its caste division.
Citing the Gujjar and Meena riots in Rajasthan, she said the status of the dalits and the ''adivasis'' have already been reserved and now all the minorities would ask for a reserved seat.
''When minorities have merit why should they wait for reservation to materialise their dreams,'' she questioned.
The seminar, organised by the Bengal Provincial Depressed Classes League to mark the birth centenary of Babu Jagjivan Ram, was also attended by Left Front Chairman Biman Bose and Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprise Santosh Mohan Dev.
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