Caste system in India to fade away by itself

Laxmi Ramalu

In 1945, just a year earlier than I was born, English author, George Orwell wrote an allegorical novella called “Animal Farm”. The lines that became most famous and are quoted by many were, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. His connotation was in a political context.

Looking at the animal kingdom, he was absolutely right. There indeed is an unwritten hierarchy where the powerful have the right to kill the weaker if desired.

Modern day pseudo democracies tend to follow the same rule. Elected powerful men and women reap the most benefits and less powerful are expected to serve the more powerful. The only difference is that the less powerful are not eaten away physically like in the animal kingdom. But the essence of governance remains the same.

Ancient Indian society was a bit more defined and organised than the animal kingdom. It clearly classified itself depending on the task performed by an individual or a group of people. The man who had the position to deal with God took the highest position within the society and was called Brahmin. Since he kept all secrets of the unknown close to his chest, he was feared by all.

The man who was the strongest mortal and went to war with other weaker humans ruled as King and was called Kshatriya. Naturally, he had the first right to communicate with God through the Brahmin.

The king dealt with the commoners to collect money and the traders who did business on his behalf. These mortals were classified as Vaishya.

Laxmi Ramalu

And of course, last but not the least, were those who did the cleaning up and worked as manual labour and servant for all the others or were skilled workers like cobblers, blacksmiths or laudrymen. They were called Shudra. The untouchable, the lowest in the caste system…

Even after centuries, today, my own mother at 90, firmly believes that the woman who comes to clean the bathroom in my own house should be given tea, if at all, in a mug that is always kept aside so that any family member does not use the defiled mug  by mistake.

On the face of it, social stratification and construction of the Indian society was perfect…each doing his or her own job according to where one was born. However unjust it may have been, it seemingly worked well for centuries.  The weak bred only the weak and rulers bred only the rulers, and likewise, priests only the priests.

The system suited the British too…it was easier to control the king and then everything fell in place right down to the lowest and the weakest… till the weaker sections rebelled against the brutalities and exploitation by the powerful.

Then came the turmoil of independence, spearheaded by Gandhi, who also championed the cause of the weakest class of the Indian society. The Constitution, written for the new Indian state, espoused the cause of the Shudras and brought them at par with all. The big and the powerful continue to dislike the idea of this equality.

Now, as we get into the second decade of the new millennium, the weakest continue to claim more space in society and the powerful continue to gang-up to suppress the weaker…the lower castes…

Manifestation of the suppression has seeped right into the family unit in frightening forms. A young girl in this modern India has no right to fall in love with a young man from a lower caste. In hundreds of cases, the girl, the boy or both are killed by one of the family. The phenomenon has given rise to a new phrase, “Honour killing”.

In spite of tough legislations, honour killings continue and families are ostracised in hundreds all across the country…sending just one message that the weakest must remain at the lowest ladder of the society. “If I have to kill one of mine to retain the status quo, I would do it”.

Only last year, in a judgement on an honour killing case, the Supreme Court of India bench said, “This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment.”

According to statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, the total number of cases relating to offences of atrocities against Scheduled Castes, registered by Police in the country during the calendar years 2007, 2008 & 2009, under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989), were 29,825, 33,367 and 33,426, respectively. The reasons for increase can, among other things, be attributed to improvement in the registration of cases under the Act, owing to steps taken by the concerned State Governments which implement the Act and an increasing awareness amongst people.

Well…as we all know, statistics are usually used by social scientists and politicians to drive home a point that suits them…so, what does 29,825 registered cases of offences and atrocities against lower castes and tribes in the year 2009 mean? Actually, nothing, in a country of one billion plus. Just a little aberration… Probably, more people died in road accidents or there were even more cases of rape across the country.

The question that needs an answer perhaps is: Can all humans in a democratic society be equals. The obvious answer naturally would be a big No. One child is fortunate enough to be born in a family that can afford to send him or her to London to do masters while another family can barely afford to send the child to a small ill-equipped neighbourhood school. How can both compete for the same job in this big wide world?

That is the point. Ideally, a just society would provide a mechanism for a head start to the marginalised, so that opportunities are equal for all….lower caste or the upper caste…rich or poor.

That is exactly where Darwin comes into play. Survival of the fittest. Even before Indian society could resolve the issues of century old suppression and exploitation of the lower caste community, the scramble began even within the rich and powerful to have more of the best for their next generation…the marginalised lower caste got further marginalised and are today trying hard to erase their identity of lower caste in crowded  metro cities…trying to leave behind their stigma of caste and the curse of being born to the parents who could never claim equal rights for generations.

My bed ridden 90 year old mother has not dared to ask me the caste of the two women who bathe her, clean her private parts every single day without blinking their eyes and even feed her. She needs someone to take care of her needs and the two ‘casteless’ women need to earn and feed their children. The caste system in Indian society gets obliterated by itself…we need no legislation…Darwin will take care of all else.

One Response to Caste system in India to fade away by itself

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