The caste system, a deep-rooted part of India’s culture, still exists in the nation. It has been 69 years since the caste system has been outlawed in India. But even today, discrimination based on caste is rampant, in both rural and urban areas.
Marking its origin more than two thousand years ago, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and the Shudras. Under this system, people were categorised by their line of work, the literacy, the opportunities they receive, and their dietary requirements.
Under this system, Brahmins were considered to be at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Kshatriyas (warriors and nobility) and the Vaishyas (farmers, traders, and artisans). According to the system, Brahmins were believed to have come from Brahma’s head, the Kshatriyas from his arms, the Vaishyas from the thighs, and the Shudras from the feet. According to the Varna system, communities falling outside this classification came to be called as Dalit communities.
The key areas of life that exercised control over caste were marriage, religious worship, and meals. Marrying someone out of one’s caste was strictly ruled out according to the system. Same-caste marriages persisted for thousands of years, and are still rife.
The system ruled that, in terms of food, a Brahmin was supposedly ‘polluted’ if they took food from certain marginalised caste groups. Moreover, an individual from a marginalised community could not use water from a public well. However, anyone could accept food from the hands of a Brahmin.
In terms of religious worship, Brahmins took charge of performing rituals, services, marriages, and funerals, as well as preparing for festivals and holidays. While Vaishya and Kshatriya castes had complete rights to worship in temples. People from marginalised communities were not even allowed to enter temples or offer sacrifice to the gods in some places.
According to the rigid system, people from the Dalit community were barred from Hindu places of worship with not even allowed to set foot on temple grounds. It was said that an individual from a Dalit community could not cross the same path as a Brahmin.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data revealed that the rate of crimes against people from Dalit communities have increased abruptly over the last few years. It also noted that the conviction rate for such crimes declined substantially. People from Dalit communities have been physically assaulted for seemingly trivial reasons.
On 17 June 2018, in Gujarat, a groom from a Dalit community, in his late 20s, was threatened by a group of upper-caste villagers for riding an adorned horse to his wedding ceremony. The villagers insisted that riding a horse was an upper-caste privilege and threatened to attack and his family should they continue.
In Maharashtra, three young boys were stripped and physically assaulted by upper-caste villagers for swimming in a well that supposedly belonged to an upper-caste menage.
In Tamil Nadu, two men from a Dalit community were killed by upper-caste Hindus for sitting cross-legged in front of them during a temple ritual. The upper-caste Hindus called it a “dishonorable and insulting” gesture.
In the year 2017 in Uttar Pradesh, three men from a Dalit community were assaulted up by an upper-caste Hindu man for not greeting him with ‘Ram Ram.’
In 2017, an eight-months pregnant woman, as part of her regular duty was amassing garbage from homes in a village in Uttar Pradesh. A rickshaw caused her to lose balance and ‘touch’ a bucket belonging to a person from the caste-privileged Thakur community. Subsequently, the pregnant woman was repeatedly punched. A few days later, the pregnant woman and the fetus were dead.
A 13-year-old boy, from a Dalit community in Gujarat, was beaten for wearing a pair of leather shoes, traditionally known as ‘royal’ footwear, and supposedly worn by members of caste-privileged members in some parts of India.
The data by NCRB reveals how, even in this era, belonging to a Dalit community in India isn’t facile.