Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma
Casteism is considered as one of the greatest social evils affecting the socio-economic development as well as unity of our society. When we think for a united, dignified and developed nation, castiesm acts as a powerful social and political divisive force, causing conflicts, effecting peace, harmony and stability in our society. Not only Hindus, with whom caste system is generally associated, all the Indians whether Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Buddhists even Christians carry some vestige of caste system. It has been agreed by many statesmen, policy makers, observers and political leaders that in order to make India a strong, self-reliant, free of poverty, illiteracy and diseases, occupying a place of honour in world community, eradication of casteism is essential. It is very important to understand some misconceptions about caste system, reasons behind emergence and growth of casteism and its present role in our social system. There are numerous differences among observers and scholars about the exact definition of caste system. In its general fundamental aspects it can be described as a scriptive system of status and hierarchy. It is a type of social stratification system based on gradation of endogamous kinship group with certain considerations of ritual purity reflected in restrictions on commensality and pollution and associated with traditional occupational specialization.
Caste system is linked with Varana system. Researchers trace the origin of caste system to about 2000 years back in economic, political and material processes of evolution. Caste has never been a fixed fact of Indian life. Before British rule caste affiliations were loose and fluid. It was the British colonial rule that treated caste as the institutional key stone of Indian society. Beginning with the first decennial census of 1871, the census became the main instrument of gathering information about the caste system and classifying it.
Enumeration of population into rigid categories, especially with 1901 and 1911 census resulted in hardening of caste identities. Britishers used caste system as one of the instruments of divide and rule. They enforced caste affiliations very strongly. They institutionalised caste into the working of governmental institutions. Some castes were preferred for certain jobs such as police and army, while some were branded as criminal. Some laws were also passed keeping in view caste affiliations and making those allies of the regime. The immediate effect of this, according to the studies was that it increased caste consciousness and inter-caste competition. The arbiters of caste system were thus no longer part of the ritual order but rather external to it in politics and also in the national movement. The national leaders attempted to reduce the differences and subsume the social justice issues in national struggle but they did not succeed much. During Colonial rule, caste groups became identity conscious and organised. At the time of independence some of them were quite vocal in their concerns and demands. The framers of the constitution were committed to the formation of an egalitarian, equitable, fraternal society. The 1950 Constitution, therefore, eliminated caste system, as instrument of discrimination, restrictions of any kind, particularly the practice of untouchability, through fundamental rights of equality, liberty and freedom. At the same time, in accordance with the need of positive actions to eliminate age old deprivation of some sections provisions for affirmative action for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes and backward classes were also incorporated in the Constitution. It was expected that, in due course, with socio-economic development and transformation society will be socially integrated. During seven decades of independence while the influence of caste has been decreasing in social and economic spheres but still it has been gaining a stranglehold over the field of politics. There has emerged new caste based organisations, growing polarisation on caste lines, violence and reservation conflicts. Caste has embedded itself firmly in the politicoeconomic fabric of the country.
Generally casteism means the tendency of caste or subcaste groups to maximise economic, social and political advantages of its members to the detriment of the other caste members and society as a whole. It is also an ideology of political allegiance to a caste group as primary and decisive, leading to blind group loyalty towards one’s own caste believing that social, economic and political interests will be fulfilled through that.
(To be continued)
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