Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma
In the absence of well-developed political infrastructure of secondary groups the readymade primary caste groups emerged as the principal contenders for power and divisible benefits. Apart from participating in and influencing elections, caste is being used also as a pressure group to receive the benefits. An important aspect of this has been pressure for and against quotas. Sometimes castiesm leads to violent protests causing huge loss of public property and diversion of resources towards maintenance of law and order instead of welfare and development. Paradoxically as caste has become somewhat less important in determining individual life chances, it has become more salient as a political identity and as an institutionalized element of civil society. There are many caste based educational institutions, hostels, housing societies etc. Some of them are playing the important role of bringing the deprived into the mainstream and fulfilling their aspirations. In general casteism is causing social disharmony. It is seriously affecting the socio-economic development and building of a new modern India.
Casteism is affecting the socio-economic and political fabric of our society. Modern conditions of life and work have rendered many rigid rituals, beliefs and practices obsolete. Interdining, even inter-caste marriages are no more taboos, at least in some of the urban areas. In fact, among most educated people and educational institutions, particularly in metropolitan cities practices associated with caste system are ridiculed. Another positive aspect is that during the last few years in elections, caste has been put on a back seat. Parties are putting forward issues of development, corruption, performance, governance etc. as major concerns. But still there are parties and groups for whom caste remains the main plank for campaigning. They remain engaged in expanding and consolidating caste support. In a way, while issues of development and governance have entered elections in a big way the role of caste in politics has been reduced only in a limited way, particularly at state and lower levels. Thus, task of eradication, or at least to begin with reduction of casteism is the need of the hour. The first step towards reducing casteism is education. Education does not mean only formal literacy or school education. It includes generation and dissemination of awareness about myths associated with the caste system. Many a times caste is considered as part of religion or religious practices which is not correct. Voters need to be educated about how they are exploited by caste leaders without any developmental benefits either to a particular caste or society at large.
In schools, teachers need to encourage students to eat and play together. Removal of socio-cultural inequalities is essential to bring society out of primordial ties. Treating any caste as polluting or low provides a cause for leaders to mobilise them to rise against discrimination. In some cases social and economic inequalities coincide. Most Scheduled Castes, for instance are poor and deprived. In democracy this provides a legitimate reason to unite and participate in political process as such. When determined groups remain discriminated or unequal they have reason to act collectively, notwithstanding leaders using that for ulterior motives or vested interests. Civil society has a great and significant role in social and political reforms. They have to create awareness and mobilise voters on non-caste, nonreligion basis, inform them about the imperatives of development, abuse of caste and religion in elections and negative effects of that on social disharmony and conflicts. Civil society can also play a useful role in encouraging and arranging inter-caste marriages, dining and other social interactions to highlight the myths of separation. Recent trends in elections suggest that voters are rising above caste and community considerations and giving importance to performances of governments, leadership and developmental issues. This trend needs to be strengthened. Voters must exercise their vote according to their free will and not muffled by caste, community or communal considerations or pressures.
The writers are: Dr. Banarsi Lal, Scientist and Head of KVK, Reasi and Dr. Pawan Sharma, Scientist at KVK, Kathua (Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Jammu) (SKUAST-J).
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