This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Prateek Kumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Casteism In India Puts Both Humans And Animals Through Horrific Torture

Though it’s been more than 70 years since India’s Independence, with things like Article 17 of our Constitution (which abolished untouchability), and laws like the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, one may conclude that untouchability and the caste system is in the past. The reality, however, is far from that. People’s views on untouchability and caste system have not truly evolved despite changes in legislation.

You might think that I am exaggerating but pick up today’s newspaper and head to the matrimonial section or visit any matrimonial site, and you will see clear examples of casteism in place. Stalin K’s documentary titled “India Untouched: Stories of a People Apart” shows how, even today, high-class priests (I should say ‘elite class’ Hindu priests) like Batuprasad Sharma Shastri strongly believe and practice these customs and have specified a willingness to risk time in jail for them. He says, “I’ve been arrested several times under anti-untouchability act when chamars (Dalits) would enter the Vishwanath temple, we, the big scholars, would say that they would be sinning if they enter the temple, so we would kick them out! And I am not afraid to do that again.

One of the elements that has fueled and powered the caste system in modern times, apart from intra-caste (endogamy) marriages and strict rules, is the enslavement of nonhuman animals and the further division of them also based on caste. The use of animals for various purposes, including food, clothing, entertainment, labor, and other forms of exploitation, defines how pure and high a caste is. Purity, in India, based on nonhuman animal casteism, is used as a reference to discriminate between different castes and uphold supremacist hierarchies.

Human rights activists use a specific term known as “Brahminical mentality” to name this type of hierarchical discrimination based on purity. However, the term is limited to humans only and does not reflect how nonhuman animals form a part of upholding casteism. In truth, the mainstream public has failed to recognize the fact that oppression based on caste, race, or religion is rooted in the same justifications and interconnections as the oppression based on species.

Yet, ‘casteist speciesism’ is a driving force that allows casteism to continue unchecked. Under this type of speciesism, nonhumans are given a value according to caste: cows are considered holy and sacred, while pigs are impure, filthy and dirty and should not be allowed anywhere near temples or upper-caste people. Horses are the pride and property of Kshatriyas only, while Dalits and Shudras are forbidden to ride horses and camels even today in parts of Rajasthan and Gujrat. Milk and milk products are considered pure and holy and represented as Lord Krishna’s or Shiva’s favorite food, whereas animal’s flesh is considered as ‘Chandal’s’ (devil’s) food, and associated with the “lower” castes.

Adding to the interconnections, we find that while some nonhuman animals have been deemed sacred, the pain, cries, and torture of others is unacknowledged and ignored. Other animals are entirely dependent on humans and their customs in a caste-based society that continues to thrive in India. Even those so called sacred nonhuman animals spent their entire life in pain, suffering and misery, all for the sake of ‘purity’, all for the sake of maintaining the speciesist caste based hierarchy of holiness. People who drink milk are considered ‘pure’, while people who consume cows’ and pigs’ flesh are considered dirty. Ever heard how babas, yogis, shastris and Veda philosophers insist on how important ghee is? Or the insistence on the “holy” importance of milk? What about the religious applications of honey? Milk, ghee, curd, honey, and butter are described as some of the purest offerings to God from humans. These same “godmen” use tiger skins because they are considered sacred. Similarly, bull horns are used as good luck charms, and some animals are even sacrificed to “rid” oneself of evil.

Cow is considered holy in Hinduism.

For many, riding a mare at one’s marriage is a caste tradition. Riding or owning a horse is allowed to only some upper-caste people such as Rajputs and Thakurs. Weddings, for example, are perfect social events where riding a horse through the streets just works as a status symbol and caste dominance. That is why many still continue to do so. Though in recent times people from various castes from Bahujan and Dalit communities have started following this tradition using this tradition as a tool to fightback casteism. In reality this is a clear example of casteist speciesism where an oppressed group (Dalits) is oppressing other marginalized group(non-human animal) to challenge the oppressors(Upper caste people).

Other upper-caste people do things like bullfights to show how strong a male from a caste is. At the same time, plant-based foods and many animal foods, such as, ghee, curd, milk, wheat, rice, corn barley etc are forbidden for the lower castes.

Even choosing what part of the animals should be used for what purpose reflects caste. Milk for Brahmins, farming for Vaishyas, hides and leather for Kshatriyas, and finally, flesh and other ‘waste’ parts for Shudras.

Dalits were basically denied their own lands and hence were unable to do farming on their own. It becomes apparent once we draw the lines that ‘Brahminical’ ideology, which is upheld through “Casteist Speciesism”, successfully keeps the caste system intact through a dependency on the oppression and exploitation of nonhuman animals.

It was considered a sin for a Dalit to own any of these. In order to survive, they turned to ‘unholy’ and ‘impure’ sources of food. Generations after generations when people are forced to eat certain foods or live in certain ways, it becomes their lifestyle. So, many dalits even today are dependent on such foods. After Independence many things changed; many dalits are now given lands and everything by government to practice, but the mindset of upper-caste people still remains somewhat same.

Today, even after so many steps taken by the government and law enforcement to curb casteism, upper-castes still consider it a sin if a Dalit owns or touches whatever they aren’t supposed to: entering the temple, owning a cow, riding a horse. Manual scavenging is one the biggest and most ignored problems in India. The biggest because majority of waste collection in India is done manually, and mostly involves only Dalits.

In a recent event, a protest happened at Jantar Manter (New Delhi) to end manual scavenging which has killed more than 1,000 sanitation workers over the past year – 11 in the week before protest itself. All present were Dalits. The event was covered by Jayashree Bajoria of The Wire. She interviewed one of the persons, named Bablu, who had come to that protest. He said, “We don’t get any other job no matter where we go. I have tried. I know this is discrimination, but what can I do? I was thrilled when I secured a job interview in a hotel because I wanted to train as a waiter. But as soon as the manager heard my caste, I was hired instead to clean toilets. Others with a similar education who were not Dalit, got the waiter jobs.” Bablu soon quit the hotel job and was compelled to take up manual scavenging for his survival.

Often, we hear people say that they treat the other animals in their life “like they are family members”. However, when we truly look at the relationship between humans and other animals, this isn’t the reality. These animals are beneficial assets –property. When a cow or buffalo is healthy and well, they are used for the milk they produce intended for their calves. The calves, however, are committed to a life of farming or impregnated again for their own milk. This system is kept in place to satisfy the request of Brahmins to buy and consume the “purest” form of what is animal exploitation. These “pure” milk products are also made as offerings in temples and also keep the cycle of hierarchy and inequality running.

Countless number of cows, bulls, oxen, buffaloes, horses, chickens, pigs, donkeys and elephants die serving different purposes for different caste groups. When these animals become ‘useless’, Dalits are expected to clean the ‘mess’. Dalits are also given the task of slaughtering them to sell their flesh and peel off their skins, wash, dry, and clean them for leather, which Vaishyas then purchase for very little money in order to mold the skins into leather shoes and musical instruments. These, by the way, are “end products” of a hierarchy-based chain that traditionally and according to Vedas only Brahmins are allowed to use.

In essence, thousand-year-old traditions have not changed. Any factory that makes animal skin into wearable leather is completely filled with Dalit workers – often, they are not even rewarded with permanent employment. In a documentary made by National Geographic, titled “Inside An Indian Tannery”, horrific working conditions of tannery workers are shown, all of whom belong to marginalized communities. They were either Dalits or ‘lower caste’ Muslims.

Other departments, such as the railway department, hire Dalits, specifically, to clean things like railways tracks and to pick-up and dispose of deceased human and nonhuman animal bodies. During an interview for the “India Untouched” documentary, one of the workers said, “I belong to Dom (Dalit) caste. My whole neighborhood works for the railways on contract basis. We dispose of all dead bodies found on the railway tracks. A speeding train cuts the body into many pieces. So, we pick up those pieces from here and from there and put the body back together, photos are taken and then its sent for post mortem.” Another worker said, “We carry rotten bodies on our shoulders, even after ten days, stinking smell doesn’t go. We work as daily wage or on contract but are never directly hired by the railways.

Whenever a “holy cow” dies, Dalits are charged with picking up the remains of the body and burying them. Somehow, these supposedly ‘holy animals’ (once thought of as family) become “untouchable” in death. Dalits are forced to do some of the dirtiest work when it comes to nonhuman animals, for the benefit of the oppressors in this oppressive system. Dalits and nonhuman animals are both unwilling victims of the caste system.

During the interview, General Secretary and priest Batuprasad quoted something from the Vedas and then described how people who do not follow Vedas and its principles are “dumb”, like animals, and “inferior” while those who follow Vedas are superior to all animals and humans. According to his views, only people from higher castes, specifically Brahmins, can read books like the Vedas. He continues a belief system that insists that people from lower castes, including Shudras, aren’t allowed to be near anything which is ‘pure and sacred’ at all, leave alone touching it. This is what he said the interview: “God created Shudras, Kshatriyas, Brahmins and entire universe. He has prescribed specific jobs for everyone. Why did you get the birth as a Shudra? Why did you get the birth of a woman? Why do you have black skin or white skin? All these are the results of the karma of our several births. A Dalit doesn’t have the right to education, he cannot understand what’s written in Vedas or shastras or other rights which are only meant for other castes. Our Veda and Shastra are orders. Obey it, you have no right to judge it. It is written in our shastras that only animals follow intelligence, humans follow shastras.”

In essence, taking nonhuman animals out of the equation, and embracing a vegan lifestyle, hurts the caste system and destabilizes its whole structure. It would help animal liberation movement to gain much pace and strength. Adopting a vegan stance would be a way to remove hierarchies that distinguish between ‘pure’ and ‘impure’, between both humans and nonhumans. Eliminating nonhumans from our own speciesist hierarchy would disallow the use of  ‘food’ politics, which keeps the human caste system in place.

You must be to comment.

More from Prateek Kumar

Similar Posts

By Animal Equality

By pratyush prashant

By Praveen Kumar sharma

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below