T H E W O R L D J O U R N A L O N J U R I S T I C P O L I T Y CASTE SYSTEM IN INDIA AND ITS STAGES OF ECLIPSE. Sakshi Chandra

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1 CASTE SYSTEM IN INDIA AND ITS STAGES OF ECLIPSE Sakshi Chandra Symbiosis Law School, Pune Caste System and Barrier: An Introduction There are different theories about casteism in India, there are Vedic theories, religious or mystical theories, biological theories and there also exist socio-historic theories. Vedic theories are which are written in most ancient and religious text available i.e. in Rig Veda. Vedas contain no word that can be considered as a synonym for caste. The two words commonly considered to mean caste are Jaati and Varna. However these terminologies differ from caste that we mean today. Jaati means a classification based on source of origin. Nyaya Sutra states Samaanaprasavaatmika Jaatih or those having similar birth source form a Jaati. An initial broad classification made by Rishis is 4-fold: Udbhija (coming out of ground like plants), Andaja (coming out of eggs like birds and reptiles), Pindaja (mammals) and Ushmaj (reproducing due to temperature and ambient conditions like virus, bacteria etc). Similarly, various animals like elephant, lion, deer etc form different Jaati. In same manner, entire humanity forms one Jaati. A particular Jaati will have similar physical characteristics, cannot change from one Jaati to another and cannot cross-breed. Thus Jaati is creation of Ishwar or God. Thus as per Vedic theory there cannot be any different Jaati within the human beings as they have a same origin. The actual word use for Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra is Varna and not Jaati. The word Varna is used not only for these four, but also for Dasyu and Arya. Varna means one that is adopted by choice. Thus, while Jaati is provided by God, Varna is our own choice. Those who choose to be Arya are called Arya Varna. Those who choose to be Dasyu become Dasyu Varna. Same for Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. That is why Vedic Dharma is called Varnashram Dharma. The word Varna itself implies that this is based on complete freedom of choice and meritocracy. Those involved in intellectual activities have chosen Brahmin Varna. Those into defence and warfare are Kshatriya Varna. Those in economics and animal rearing are Vaishya Varna and those involved in other support functions are Shudra Varna. They refer merely to various choices of professions and have nothing to do with any Jaati or birth. Thus Varna was something which implicated quality of individual rather than its family identity. Vedas have a theory on karma which means by one work one could change his Varna, thus there can t be any discrimination on the basis of birth as Varna could be change. Change of Varna was something common in Vedic 1 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

2 period, Nabhag, son of King Nedishtha became Vaishya. Many of his sons again became Kshatriya. (Vishnu Puran ). This concept of Varna and jaati was misinterpreted a lot; mixed and new meaning was given which was unlike the original text. Jaati which was meant for every human as similar and which can t be changed, was highly misinterpreted with four classification of Varna and four Varna s which were just a quality of an individual and did not have any relation with Jaati which were considered as different and were framed as unchangeable, as these misinterpreted jaati s are on the basis of birth. This was a huge setback for the original text of Vedas but with time and more foreign invasion this false terminology became more prevalent. Thus, the Varna s or human Occupations were the first to classify different Castes and Occupation became the first ever barrier in the Caste System. Caste in Other Religions Christianity Through interaction with Hinduism, caste systems are found in other religions on the Indian subcontinent, including groups of Buddhists, Christians and Muslims. Christians in India are sometimes discriminated by caste as well as by their denomination and location. The caste distinction is basically based on their caste at the time that they or their ancestors converted to Christianity. The earliest reference to caste among Indian Christians comes from Kerala. Duncan Forrester observes that "... Nowhere else in India is there a large and ancient Christian community which has in time immemorial been accorded a high status in the caste hierarchy. Syrian Christian community operates very much as a caste and is properly regarded as a caste or at least a very caste-like group. Like that of Hindu society, the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala had inserted themselves within the Indian caste society by the observance of caste-rules and were regarded by the Hindus as a caste occupying a high place within their caste hierarchy. Islamism Contrary to other countries in Islamic World, Muslims in India have a caste system. Their caste system is divided into hierarchical stratum such as Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal. Indian Muslims are a mix of Sunni (majority), Shia and other sects of Islam. From the earliest days of Islam's arrival in South Asia, the Arabic, Persian and Afghan Muslims have been part of the upper, noble caste. Some upper caste Hindus converted to Islam and became part of the governing group of Sultanates and Mughal Empire. These two came to be known as Ashrafs (or nobles). Below them are Ajlafs, the middle Muslim castes and then 2 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

3 the converts from backward or Dalit communities. The Ashrafs have a superior status, while the Ajlafs have a lower status. The Arzal caste among Muslims was regarded as the equivalent to that of untouchables. Anti-caste activists like B.R Ambedkar, and British ethnographer Risley claimed that more than 60 percent of Muslims in British India were of a caste equivalent in status as the Hindu Shudras and Untouchables, While other sources state an estimate between 75 and 80 percent. Sikhism Sikh Gurus criticised the hierarchy of the caste system, but they still exist in Sikh community. According to Sunrinder S, Jodhka, the Sikh religion does not believe in discrimination against any caste or creed, however, in practice, Sikhs belonging to the landowning dominant castes have not got rid of all their prejudices against the dalits. While dalits are allowed entry into the village gurudwaras they are still not permitted to cook or serve langar (Communal meal). Therefore, wherever they could mobilise resources, the dalits of Punjab have tried to construct their own gurudwara and other local level institutions in order to attain a certain degree of cultural autonomy. In 1953, the government of India agrees to the demands of the Sikh leader, Mr. Tara Singh, to include Sikh castes of the converted untouchables in the list of scheduled castes. In the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, 20 of the 140 seats are reserved for low-caste Sikhs. Buddhism In parts of India, such as Ladakh, with significant historical presence of Buddhists, a caste system existed in a manner similar to that of caste structure in Tibet. The upper caste belongs to sger gzhis, and they are called sgar pa. The priestly caste belonged to monastery, and is called chos-gzhis. Miser is the serf caste. Serfs, the majority of the people, farmed and paid taxes. An individual's social status and lifelong occupation was destined by birth, closed, and depending on the family one was born into, the individual inherited a tenure document known as khral-rten. Buddhist castes had sub-castes, such as nang gzan khral paand dud chung. Buddhist also had castes that were shunned by their community and ostracised, such as hereditary fishermen, butchers and undertakers. The untouchables in Buddhist regions, as in Tibet, are known as Ragyappa, who lived in isolated ghettos, and their occupation was to remove corpses (human or animal) and dispose of sewage. Thus Caste system does not remain limited only to Hinduism but has spread to other religions too and has proved disastrous for society everywhere. India Attained Independence: After Effects - Mandal Commission In a multiple undulating society like ours, early achievement of the objective of social justice as enshrined in the Constitution is a must. The Second Backward Classes Commission 3 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

4 called the Mandal Commission was established by the then Government with this purpose in view, which submitted its report to the Government of India on Government have carefully considered the report and the recommendations of the Commission in the present context regarding the benefits to be extended to the socially and educationally backward classes as opined by the Commission and arc of the clear view that at the outset certain weightage has to be provided to such classes in the services of the Union and their Public Undertakings. Accordingly orders are issued as follows: -- 27% of the vacancies in civil posts and services under the Government of India shall be reserved for SEBC. The aforesaid reservation shall apply to vacancies to be filled by direct recruitment. Detailed instructions relating to the procedure to be followed for enforcing reservation will be issued separately. Candidates belonging to SEBC recruited on the basis of merit in an open competition on the same standards prescribed for the general candidates shall not be adjusted against the reservation quota of 27%. The SEBC would comprise in the first phase the castes and communities which are common to both the list in the report of the Mandal Commission and the State Governments' lists, A list of such castes/communities is being issued separately. The aforesaid reservation shall take effect from However, this will not apply to vacancies where the recruitment process has already been initiated prior to the issue of these orders. Soon after the issuance of the said Memorandum there was wide-spread protest in certain Northern States against it. There occurred serious disturbance to law and order involving damage to private and public property. Some young people lost their lives by selfimmolation. Writ petitions were filed in this Court questioning the said Memorandum along with applications for staying the operation of the Memorandum. There were various issues for consideration. These writ petitions were heard in the first instance by a Constitution Bench presided over by the then Chief Justice Sri Ranganath Misra. After hearing them for some time, the Constitution Bench referred them to a Special Bench of Nine Judges, "to finally settle the legal position relating to reservations." The reason for the reference being, "that the several judgments of this Court have not spoken in the same voice on this issue and a final look by a larger Bench in our opinion should settle the law in an authoritative way". In the case of Indira Sawhney v. Union of India, these matters were looked upon, and the supreme court had finally reached the conclusion how "Social hierarchy and economic position exhibit an indisputable mutuality. The lower the caste, the poorer are its member. The poorer the members of a caste, the lower the caste. Caste and economic situation, reflecting each other as they do arc the Deus exmachina of the social status occupied and the economic power weilded by an individual or class in rural society. Social status and economic power are so woven and fused into the caste system in 4 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

5 Indian rural society that one may without hesitation, say that if poverty be the cause, caste is the primary index of social backwardness, so that social backwardness is often readily identifiable with reference to a person's caste." Chinnappa Reddy, J. dealt with the question at quite some length. The learned Judge quoted Max Weber, according to whom the three dimensions of social inequality are class, status and power -- and stressed the importance of poverty in this matter. Learned Judge opined that caste system is closely entwined with economic power. In the words of the learned Judge: "Social status and economic power are so woven and fused into the caste system in Indian rural society that one may without hesitation, say that if poverty be the cause, caste is the primary index of social backwardness, so that social backwardness is often readily identifiable with reference to a person's caste." There were different researches done by government to find the difference between these castes, one of the most exhausted study conducted in India till date. Mandal Commission report categorized backwardness into 3 main categories, they were: - Social Backwardness, Economic Backwardness and Educational Backwardness. These 3 Backwardness, are the biggest caste barriers in India, and for a society with no caste discrimination. These need to be removed. Different classification of these barriers were done, Social Barrier Social backward people are those who are: Considered backward by others Classes where people are mainly dependent on manual work for their livelihood Classes where child marriage is more prevalent Classes where participation of females in work is at least 2 per cent above the state average. Education barrier Classes where the number of children in the age group of 5 15 years who never attended school is at least 25 per cent above the state average. Classes when the rate of student drop-out in the age group of 5-15 years is at least 25 per cent above the state average Classes amongst whom the proportion of matriculates is at least 25 per cent below the state average. Economic Barrier Classes where the average value of family assets is at least 25 per cent below the state average, 5 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

6 Classes where the number of families living in kuccha houses is at least 25 per cent above the state average, Classes where the source of drinking water is beyond half a kilometre for more than 50 per cent of the households, Classes where the number of households having taken consumption loans is at least 25 per cent above the' state average. Government thus try to remove these barriers by adopting positive discrimination, By this reservation government reserved 27% seats for backward class people, these reservations were other than 23% that was already given to Schedule caste and Schedule class people. Government via another law also made reservations up to 50% in government institutes for backward class people; by backward mean all the three SC, ST and OBC. The main objective behind giving reservation was to eliminate these caste barriers which were highlighted in the Mandal Commission Report. Reservations in education were there for reducing different education barriers, as government believed certain society do need an extra help to compete with others. Similarly reason behind providing reservations in government jobs was to eliminate economic and social barriers. A Government job is a reputed job in a society, a job in this sector apart from economic help also improves social standard of the people helping in removing Social Barriers. Globalization and Effects Even though Globalization has brought in the heteroginization of the world, and new perspectives under one roof, all cannot be looked from the rimmed eyes glasses, just as the youth of the country is waking up to overlook the perils and shortcomings that they face due to this unreasonable system going on in the name of tradition, there are generations which are bound by their caste identities religiously. These restrictions have resulted in gruesome incidents such as honour killings, murder, kidnapping, etc. The news headlines are nothing new and are sayings of the past as horrific events occur repetitively and continuously. The parents of the young generation who belong to the same traditionalistic mindset want their children to get married to someone belonging to the caste similar to their own, so that when in the future their family grows, with grandkids, they are born with their caste and thus, their caste and clan gets a stronger hold in the society. People still live with these caste barriers which result in such appalling and shocking incidents where the parents themselves turn into the murderers of their children, all due to this frame of mind. According to the organisation, Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, of the 5,000 honour killings recorded every year internationally, around 1000 of such killings occur in India.3 There are currently no laws which exist under Honour Killings in India, although 6 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

7 there have been subsequent proposals which never shaped themselves under an effective law to curb this caste related crime. Modern India and the Current Scenario The current scenario of the country on one hand shows tremendous improvement due to the affirmative actions taken by the government for safeguarding individual rights against preferential disparities due to the castes difference and mindset ingrained in the country, but on the other hand, there is no dearth of examples to showcase the presence of the brutal system still existing with a strong grip. There are groups of people, who are rejected and isolated by society since the time of their birth because of their identity, an identity they did not ask for but were born into. Modern India is very flexible in its approach towards caste system. In Urban India hardly there is existence of any type of discrimination. Main barriers which were education, social and economical are declining due to improvement in GDP, literacy rate etc. Even in rural areas it is declining but still exists because of lower literacy rate, unawareness etc. In modern India to remove any type of discrimination government introduced the concept of positive discrimination. This was called as violative of article 14 as Article 14 calls for right to equality which means everyone should be treated equally under the law. Judiciary while allowing reservation produced a new theory. Judiciary interpreted equality in article 14 as equality between equals and they said as these classes are at such deprived condition since ages, they can t compete with the other ones, as they are not at all equal. Through this theory only different reservations were possible in India. From education to government jobs 50% seats are reserved everywhere for SC, ST and O.B.C (Other Backward people). This affirmative action which started with a very pure motive of balancing caste equality and for improvement, which should reach every last person of nation, has unfortunately become a tool for political gain even with all its good consequences. Political gain can be well explained by the example of Hindi heartland i.e. UP and Bihar, where politics after implementation of Mandal commission, unfortunately has become the latest caste barrier. Bihar since recommendations only have reserved category person as their Chief Minister. Similarly, UP also has a reserved category person as a Chief Minister. Bizarreness of reservations can be understood by looking at the election manifestos where every political party try to influence other by promising reservations.this is unhealthy for both society and democracy. Workplace scenario: The Hindu ethnic minorities with insignificant population and are marginalised in the Indian political system are facing atrocities and tribulations at their workplace. These ethnic social casts are not protected by any law as scheduled casts and 7 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

8 scheduled tribes in India. These ethnic minority people are targeted by ethnic majority interest groups by blame game and are pushed in the margins at workplace in spite of their brilliance and competitiveness. Their heeds are not given any attention by the authorities and finally, they end up their career troubled throughout. Particularly, when an official belonging any ethnic Hindu minority is delegated any high level authority, he is pulled down by means of some tirade against him like by imposing some fake sexual harassment case or SC/ST case or some other kind of demeaning conspiracy. The Hindu ethnic minorities have dismal representation in the public services; and if they do not want to participate in the activities of corrupt lobby they are pushed in the margins and harassed or become isolated in the organization and face displinary proceedings in regard to the fake allegations. This is the other face of the law, and the system. Many a times such case which have no truth to them, are under fire alike from such women groups or minority organizations who without willing to check into the truth of the matter fight against an innocent person, leading to that person s breakdown, whereas he/she is the victim of the caste barriers of the society. All the laws and legislations in regard to such cases, result in a black out for the innocent person fighting against the system only because he\she belongs to a minority group, so instead of these laws acting as a shield to protect and promote him\her they end up being wrongfully implemented and misused by the people who create a strong lobby while belonging to a similar high caste community. Political facet: India largely witnessed a breakthrough participation of the people this year in the 2014 general elections when the Bhartiya Janata Party swept off seats all over the country breaking the social, economic and mental caste barriers associated with political parties alike. People are more often than not associated with the political parties which are in support of their caste and community. This time Narendra Modi led BJP government broke the caste barriers in Karnataka, facilitating BJP's good show in the state. This despite a strong anti-incumbency factor against several BJP MPs, who were seeking re-election. The Modi influence helped BJP get a chunk of votes from both Lingayat and Vokkaliga communities. The party managed to win nine of the total 12 Lok Sabha seats in the north Karnataka region, which is dominated by Lingayats.7There are various news reports, glorifying the positive initiative that the political leaders are taking to increase the diameter of their influence. Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav has asked the Backward Classes to come out of the clutches of caste system and expand their horizon by a common marriage institution. This would pave way for their political power; he told a meeting.he said the Brahmins had a common marriage institution irrespective of whether they lived in the north or south. The same was the case with some other upper castes which helped them expand their communities and thereby corner wealth and power. However, the Backward Classes with several sub-castes are steeped in caste system and never assumed real power. They were all ticket seekers and not ticket givers in elections, he said.8 In another Indian 8 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

9 city of Kolar, withholding large population of Dalits, a new kind of social reform movement has started It employs a traditional event Grihapravesha to eradicate untouchability, which is rampant in the region. The Dalits have been facing inhuman social conditions here. Even six decades after Independence, they are not allowed into public places such as temples. In spite of Kolar being a reserved Lok Sabha constituency, it has not been possible to remove the curse of untouchability.9 There are numerous regions in India where the vote bank politics is based on nothing but the caste system, and the politicians very willfully try to influence the people of a certain caste and community according to the party s decision to woo the voters. Lot of times, this turns into a competition between the parties to pursue and flatter the people from lower casts and low socio-economic backgrounds. Conclusion Evolution of caste system in India was very unfortunate, with Vedas dissenting of any form of discrimination on birth. Its existence was result of misinterpretation of certain text. With changing time caste barriers have changed, there have been certain addition and reduction but is still exist in India. In British India, the caste term was coined for the first time at the time of censes. After independence, different laws were made for the protection of weaker caste; people who were earlier very weak politically have become powerful in modern India, whose prime minister is also of backward class. Occupation which was the first caste barrier emerges as a uniting force in this era of globalization where people break different established stereotypes because of their jobs. Jobs lead to large scale migration from villages to cities. It also helped in Urbanisation. Inter caste marriages, improved literacy rate, increased income are the major factors which helped in breaking caste barriers. Reservations need to be checked regularly and research should be done to find weather they are fulfilling their actual purpose or they have just become an easy source to gain votes. The general election in 2014 saw removal of caste barriers in UP and Bihar which lead to heavy defeat of regional political parties whose politics only run on caste equation. This emerges as a hope for positive change, hope for a better tomorrow. 9 THE WORLD JOURNAL ON JURISTIC POLITY ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.