In contemporary period, Indian caste system has tended to become ‘invisible’ for the few section of society while coming in new identities for some.
Originally, Caste System referred to a broad hierarchical arrangement linked to occupations, on which the social relations between upper & lower castes were decided. It then served as a harmonious division of society due to inter-dependency in work. But, with due time, it got defined as a system of hierarchically arranged hereditary endogamous occupational groups.
Functional attributes of Caste System :-
- Job security : By birth people knew their occupation, hence less competition for jobs & less unemployment.
- Social Recognition to everyone : Nature of their job attached to the caste tells of their utility in society. Today, we need degree for the same like Doctor, CA, etc.
- Socialisation (learning to behave that is acceptable to society) of a person :
- Eg, Shastriya Brahman : No Non-veg, No alcohol, Sacred, etc – these are desirable qualities of a man in society
- Similarly, Untouchables : No entry to temple, drum beating while coming, etc – these boundations decreased the chances of meeting of upper & lower castes, & hence lower conflicts.
- Caste ensured occupational specialisation : This increased the efficiency of their work.
- Protection of its members from economic exploitation
- Like, Trade unions in present day, castes had their own groupings, eg, Barbers striking together if not got wages.
Evils of Caste System :-
- B.R. Ambedkar said Caste System was against meritocracy.
- Practice of Untouchability.
- Caste System led to internal division of society. Outside attackers used this weakness of us, at many instances.
- Conflicts due to internal divisions & different interests.
- Slow social change in society : Caste prescribed certain rules & regulations which people were bound to it. Hence, most changes were initiated by outsiders.
- Eg, Lenin & Mao brought communist revolution in Russia & China respectively, which triggered for Indian response to socialist nature later. Even in India, revolutionary nature was triggered by Mughals & Britishers.
- Political Status Quo : Dynasty system hijacked the political powers of a country.
Changing Caste system form :-
- Change in occupational role : Due to Industrialisation & Urbanisation, there is no boundary of work profile on the basis of caste of a person.
- Inter-caste marriage : This led to liberalisation of Endogamy, which loosen the borders between different castes in India.
- Social & behavioural change : Open minded society, or western minded people, are breaking the restrictions on food-sharing or public-resource sharing.
- Constitutional Safeguards : Among all, Indian Constitution with its provisions of Article 14, 15 , 17, stands highest for keeping intact the right to be non-discriminated.
Assuming new identities & associational forms :-
- Politically : Today, caste identity is getting used for political mobilisation. Eg. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), giving a political face to the Bahujan Samaj, caste based group.
- Economically : Development policies targeting the backward castes, unfortunately, benefitted only a section of them, which today emerged as elite section or ‘creamy layer’. This led to division within backward castes itself.
- Socially : Caste system is now represented on social factors like poverty, religion, etc, where poors & minorities like muslims, are treated in par with lower castes, in many instances.
While the manifestation of the caste system has changed to a large extent in the recent times, the system itself has not changed much. For eg, even though untouchability and caste-based discrimination is barred under the Constitution of India, occupations like manual scavenging have the majority of workers from lower castes.
‘This caste system had grown by the practice of the son always following the business of the father’ : Swami Vivekananda
‘You cannot build anything on the foundation of caste. You cannot build up a nation. You cannot build up a morality’ : Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Father of Indian Constitution)
It’s up to us to think, think , …. & decide.