The caste system, though considered to be a disgrace and ‘taboo’ in many social circles today, is still pervasive and even ‘celebrated’ by some sections in our complex and hierarchical society. The system divides the Hindus into basically four main groups – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras (based on their birth) – and stipulates the performance of particular duties in the society.
The Brahmins were deemed as highly-learned and are still at the peak of the social hierarchy. Next come the Kshatriyas who, in ancient times, were fighters and warriors. The Vaishyas were farmers, traders and merchants (in centuries past), while the Shudras were labourers. Then there were the Dalits (the outcastes) who were street-sweepers and latrine-cleaners.
Over the centuries, this system was very rigid, and the people belonging to the lowermost rungs of the hierarchy had to face myriad forms of discrimination and social injustice. The Dalits were the most unfortunate ones. They were considered ‘untouchable’, and were even denied the basic amenities needed for living. They lived in segregated colonies, where even the water wells were separate. They were not given opportunities to educate themselves and look for work. They were discriminated against when they tried to access healthcare facilities.
The people of the upper castes had no qualms about committing such discrimination and atrocities against the Dalits. After all, this system strictly followed Hindu law and religious texts, where these had been justified as the basis of stamping order and regularity on society.
Despite such all-prevailing discrimination through the ages, there have been exceptions in the Dalit community – people who have risen up through their sheer merit and determination. BR Ambedkar, who authored the Indian Constitution, is one such person.
Post independence, when the Constitution was being framed, special provisions were included for the betterment of lower-caste people, especially in the field of education and the government sector. The seeds of the various subsidies and stipends that are given to students from lower castes to help uplift them, were laid back then.
Even though the scenario today isn’t that rigid and regressive, especially in the urban areas, the menace of the caste system is yet to be completely eradicated. After all, we still often hear about cases where Dalit students are harassed or news of atrocities committed on Dalit women in different parts of the country.
In my opinion, political leaders are not at all interested in eradicating this system. Instead, they often instigate one section of people against another for their petty electoral gains. The reservation system too has not been implemented thoroughly yet. So, what was originally meant to be a temporary affirmative action-plan (to improve the lot of the unprivileged groups) is now being misused as a vote-grabbing exercise by many political leaders.