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  • Writer's picturesrikant-sharma

CASTEISM IN INDIA… WHO TO BLAME

Going by interpreters of our rich history, caste system dates back right to creation of this universe by the holy creator Lord Brahma … as per Manusmriti, an influential ancient Sanskrit legal text in the Dharmaśāstra tradition of Hinduism, ‘For the welfare of humanity the supreme creator Brahma, gave birth to the Brahmins from his mouth, the Kshatriyas from his shoulders, the Vaishyas from his thighs and Shudras from his feet.’. The text not only divides society in these four categories but also ranks them in order of their perceived status as envisaged by Manu, wherein each caste has an obligation to serve other castes above them. This ancient support has made lives of current day champions of this theory pretty easy and why not… often a country so rich in culture depends more on its past than on its future to give meaning to its existence. In a country, which as per popular perception has around 330 million deities, a divide which presumably has been made by God himself is no less than supreme law and is often treated as one greater than law of land.


This empirical reference shows how deep rooted casteism is in our society and makes one contemplate why and how such a primitive thought managed to survive tens of centuries, despite witnessing centuries of foreign rules (including infamous British rule). Not only did this thought survive but also grew out of proportion, such that independent India under article 17 of its constitution had to indirectly abolish it. Though there is no direct mention of caste system in our constitution, yet indirectly under Article 17 it says that ‘Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of “untouchability” shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.’. Few ignorant souls may deliberate on how untouchability is related to caste system. To answer them we don’t have to analyse this division in detail, even a brief review will highlight the fact that Shudras are the only caste which has nothing to gain through this divide. Shudras, often also termed as Harijan or Dalit, represent members of the lowest caste and being declared untouchables were also at the receiving end of this perennial torture. Thanks to Dr. B R Ambedkar, after thousands of years, India through its constitution finally not only acknowledged presence of this demon but also decided to address it at the same time. It was his great thinking which ensured that essence of his effort doesn’t get lost in nomenclature used by society for this division, rather focuses on pain arising of this caste divide, hence ‘Untouchability’.


If looked upon with a neutral lens, caste is something of no relevance or physical existence, it’s just figment of imagination which has been able to house itself across length and breadth of country. Despite diversity in language and religion one thing which remains common across the country is this caste divide. There are several groups of people who are responsible for this divide in our society and discussing reasons and contributions of each one of them is not what I want to present here. In this article I want to touch upon three of these several interested parties viz. Politicians, Subject (that’s we the citizen of India) and Media. Each one of the three mentioned here can be easily crowned with the sole reason why this menace has been able to survive and grow in our society. To make an earnest effort will start from the one easiest to blame and move towards those who have been deprived of their due credit.


Politician – Simplest to Condemn


I wouldn’t shy away from mentioning that politicians are the one most benefited out of this divide in society and are the ones who earnestly hope for this division to be one constant throughout their lives or political career, whichever ends first. Continuation of this divide makes their effort easier in terms of identifying their target customer (yes you heard it right… voters are no different than customers specially in a country where political parties are no different than political enterprises). Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation where there are no caste divide in our society, what would a politician do to get vote in such situation and whom will he approach..? Every politician would have to then look for real problems in respective societies, such as hunger or shelter or for that matter basic education. Politicians won’t be able to hover around offering to solve a problem which is just a notion, housed in mind of millions.  Come every election, these politicians come up as flag bearer to defend the right of such underprivileged groups of our society. While it may look irrational from our standpoint, if we step in a politician’s shoe we will realise that what they say or offer during such aggressive political campaign seems valid and rational. In marketing parlance, Politicians have to treat themselves as a product and sell it to citizens in exchange of votes, by identifying specific needs and providing themselves as citizen’s only viable solution. So is it their fault if we as a society is plagued by such imaginative disease and are actively looking out for a cure? I don’t think that we can pin our blame this exclusively on their shoulder. Yes as representative of our society they are supposed to work toward removing this prejudice and that’s the only blame we can allocate to them, while for rest of the blame we need to look at others too.


Society at large – Mindless Consumer


In current times, with increased importance of basic education in society, citizens are becoming aware of this political manipulation and generally tend to ignore political commitment towards betterment of specific class of society. However, this understanding is still in its nascent stage as rural India is decades away from its urban counterpart in terms of this realisation. It will be unjust on my part to single out rural India as what I have witnessed, during my interactions with individuals from various economic strata representing urban India, is that even in current generation of educated masses there are plethora of individuals who are not only carrying genes of their ancestors but also carrying this deceitful belief of supremacy of their caste and religion. What wonders me is not the fact that millions of individuals are still slaves of such societal values, rather its lack of rational reasons explaining why they are holding on to it. From all practical and rational perspective, which I can think of, common masses don’t stand to gain anything out of this belief, other than a psychological cure to mask their insecurity arising out of reduced importance in constructive process towards building future societies.  I don’t deny that their fear is unreal, with improvement in basic education, masses are on a gradual awakening process and will ultimately realise that certain classes of society have flourished purely at their cost. What I don’t agree is their means to overcome this fear, the way suppressing pain doesn’t tantamount to cure similarly stressing on existence of this division can’t be classified as permanent solution. Given pace of human evolution, one can’t expect a certain faction of society to remain ignorant forever. I am hopeful that there will come a time when humans will behave like humans and not like ignorant chimpanzees or orangutan, finding roots to their ignorant ancestors, and hopefully that will be beginning of end of this menace.


Media – Deprived of Its Due Credit


So by now we know, who is selling this product and who are end consumers of the same, the only missing link remains marketing of the same. Necessity is mother of invention and that’s how media came into this picture of ever growing threat of casteism. For an unfair divide, which has lasted for over thousands of years, it’s safe to say that atrocities on group of people belonging to so called lower castes is not a recent phenomenon. With society so used to this divide, these biasedness became part of daily life with people from so called higher castes getting used to being oppressor and those from so called lower castes getting used to being oppressed. Media was expected to be the shining knight of armour and that’s what they did, highlighting these rampant biasedness to common people for them to realise what is wrong and what is right. Had media stuck to this, it would have been the best for society. However, with competition kicking in and revenue of media houses getting dependent on TRPs,  they became active participant in marketing this school of thoughts. Without singling out any specific news channels, we can highlight on occasions where the word ‘Dalit’, gets added to every case possible to represent it as an incident of societal biasedness.


A guy riding his motorbike hits a female pedestrian, making her unconscious, and  neighbours in the rage beat the guy to death. A month later guy’s father kills himself as he couldn’t get justice from concerned authorities. The event in itself is sad and disturbing and taking any side would be irrational, as neither of us were there to witness any of the sequential event and by no mean am trying to justify any of the sides. This event was made to look like a societal biased act by intentionally highlighting that the guy riding motorbike was a Dalit. I believe this mention was not even required, as change in caste wouldn’t  have changed any sequence in this series of events. This is my presumption that thy holy neighbours would have not thought on caste of the bike rider before beating him up and neither would have regulatory authority thought of the caste before going slow on investigation. Had that been a case, Indian judicial system would not have been clogged up with millions and millions of cases. Such incidents are not in isolation, as there are multiple events wherein, unwarrantedly, we are being fed such stories of strong presence of casteism in our society. By doing this, media itself is diluting the impact which such information could have made in eradicating this menace from its root.


Hope for Future


In an idealistic world, or as they say in economics assuming a society of rational individuals, once mentioned and demerits specified, such primitive thoughts should have been eradicated from our society. And there ends the journey of our wishful thinking, as the society we live is neither ideal nor rational. It would be naive to hope that what survived through over 3000 years could be eradicated in 70 years and that too with presence of vested interest of various classes in our society. Role of media is a tricky one, as it’s a fine line between reporting what’s important and making important what is being reported. Words are being regularly played with to ensure political enterprises do get a plot to work upon, as masses are like those innocent consumers, who will end up consuming whatever is being sold to them in fancy packaging supported by dedicated marketing.


I honestly believe that true balance will finally be achieved when castes will be just synonyms to the profession which each individual belongs to and each one of them will be respected for their choice of profession, which given our rich history am sure will mostly be left for fate to decide. Our society has reached current state of affairs passing through various experiments done over a period of several hundred of years, hence will take its own time to find what’s best for the same. Eventually such unbiased systems will perish and true castes will prevail…wherein learned individual will be called Brahmin, soldiers will be called Kshatriyas and not their respective blood lines. May be this was what author of Manusmriti really meant, which got lost partly in translation and mostly on account of selfish act of leaders of society. Till that time each one of us will have to put conscious effort to make India a better place with no discrimination.

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