As a boy, I had observed caste discrimination in my native village. There were various facets to it, but one significant aspect that I observed was that one way or another, it was the play of power and dominance.
There is a hierarchy that exists in society and a mentality that comes along with it.
The people who mend your shoes, cut your hair, wash your clothes, serve as your maids, clean the toilets, perform last rites at the cremation ground and even skilled carpenters, were all designated a caste lower in the hierarchy. Quite often, they didn’t get the opportunity for good education and were economically deprived. Many of them didn’t possess any ancestral land as property to inherit. The worst part of it was that they had inherited their caste from their birth and had accepted their status as a norm.
I was fortunate that the caste which I had inherited from birth was not that low in the hierarchy. I received better opportunities than many others, based just on my birth. But it is difficult to say goodbye to an evil which is so deeply linked to our social customs and traditions. Every year, I also perform ‘Dawaat Pooja’ or ‘Chitragupta Pooja’ as a member of the Kayastha caste.
One has to face a lot of resistance within one’s family and society to be able to recognize an evil and present it as it is. It is well evident that without any resistance, there can be no significant change in the society. Some of the measures that can help to dispel the evil of caste are as follows:
One of the major contributors towards enforcing the caste system is that your surname/last name is supposed to depict your caste. Nobel laureate Sri Kailash Satyarthi expressed how he got rid of his caste-depicting surname and replaced it with ‘Satyarthi’ (the seeker of truth).
Many of my classmates and friends are getting married to a person of their own caste or belonging to a caste with an equivalent position in the hierarchy. One can clearly filter these aspects by looking at the surnames. Marrying a partner irrespective of their caste shall be the next step in the right direction. Love transcends all the boundaries of division and hatred.
Another aspect which was – and still is – predominant in rural India is the practice of untouchability. To be able to get rid of the evil of the caste system, it is crucial that this custom be abolished and criticized as a ghastly tale of spiritual ignorance. Wherever one sees it, direct or indirect, in forms physical or mental, it should be condemned and punished by law.
We have recognized scheduled castes and given them reservations. However, it has become a vote luring game of bad politics. Reservations, in fact, solidify the caste system by giving state recognition to this age old evil. However, no solutions are perfect unless there is a sense of progressive ethos in the citizens.
Don’t avail reservations for the sake of it. If one hasn’t faced cases of discrimination or is economically empowered, the same facility should be voluntarily given up. Similarly, students shouldn’t discriminate between their peers based on whether they availed reservations or not. Such thoughts can only be inculcated through a quality well-rounded education, right from school to the colleges and universities.
A good percentage of the Indian population is still illiterate and of those who are literate, not many get a quality education, especially one that focuses on bringing about social change.
As George Washington Carver once said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”
But quite unfortunately, in India, many are handed the wrong keys and consequently, they struggle to open the golden doors of freedom.
In this new year, it is my appeal to everyone – and especially to the youth of India – that with our collective efforts, let us unburden India from the evils of the caste system.