To Be Truly Equal, India Needs To Do Away With Caste-Based Discrimination

Warning: This blog has been written by a girl
Who belongs to an indigenous tribe.
Yes, you read it right
Indigenous tribe.
Who always fight not for might
But for rights.
Yes, the same tribe
Whom you presume to be filthy, illiterate and less bright.
Whose wings you cut before their flight
Yes, I belong to that same tribe.
So read it at your own risk
Because the content will hurt
That is fixed.

India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification, surviving to this day. As kids, our history teacher would teach us how ancient Indian society was divided into five categories on the basis of caste for better administration.

The history teacher would then conclude the chapter saying that this system no longer existed in new India as leaders like Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar fought against the caste system. The system might have diminished but the mindsets following the ideology of the system still exists and the tribals are still suffering from it in the 21st century.

“In every change
In every falling leaf
There is some pain
There is some beauty
That’s how we grow
That’s how we evolve.”

But in our country, people actually never evolved. The caste system existed decades before and it still exists in the new, independent India. According to a report issued by Pew Research Center, India ranks 4th in the list of most intolerant countries just after Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.

It’s disheartening to see how people forget that we all are created by one God and we ourselves poison our minds about caste and creed. Many suggest that the only reason that is accelerating caste discrimination in India is reservation.

Caste in our society
A still from Hindi movie Dhadak, that spoke of an upper caste woman falling in love with a man from a caste lower than her.

Looking back at history, it is seen that the caste system that was legal and prevalent in ancient India often bestowed many privileges upon the upper castes while sanctioning repression of the lower castes by privileged groups. Often criticised for being unjust and regressive, it remained virtually unchanged for centuries, trapping people into fixed social orders from which it was impossible to escape.

Later in 1950, independent India’s Constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste and in an attempt to correct historical injustices and provide a level playing field to the traditionally disadvantaged, the authorities announced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions for ST and SC communities.

Caste discrimination often acts as a barrier which hampers the development of our nation. And the irony is that some people believe in gender equality but not in caste equality.

As kids we knew nothing about caste, religion and race – friendship was all we cherished and happiness was all that we spread. But as we grew, the concept of caste system that we studied in our history class seemed to appear real.

We were discriminated against in educational institutes, workplaces and even in temples. People didn’t like to speak to us, they would say we were “filthy tribals” and were “meant to stay below them.”

I think that they like history too much, so they just want to repeat it.

Our success is any field seems like a scam to them. They think we are too rich to bribe any official and excel in universities, colleges or workplaces. What they dismiss is that freedom is just a word for us. We rarely experience it.

“Flowers grow in concrete cracks
where they’re not meant to be
and I smile when I pass them
because they’re just like me.”

Asha Devi who lives in Fatehpur Sikri, a small city south of Delhi says that she is born to do manual scavenging.

“Suppose I have money and open a shop,” she says, her face covered by a sheer veil. “Non-Valmiki people won’t buy from me. Suppose I want to be a cook. Nobody will let me enter their kitchen.”

Caste is governed by an obsession with purity. Traditionally, food or water touched by Dalits is considered to be spoiled; in extreme cases even their shadows were regarded as polluting.

Demonstrators pictured at a protest march in New Delhi, 2016. Dozens of protestors from Campus Front of India (CFI) protested to express solidarity for Rohit Vemula, a low-caste student of the University of Hyderabad who was found hanging at a hostel in January and were also demanding the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student union leader accused of sedition. (Photo: REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee)

“The day she peered out the window screen
My life became a blissful dream
We were both seventeen
Perfect like a geometric mean
she would stare like in a dramatic scene
Her eyes were blue, mine were green
She was the forest, I was the stream
She was the sun, I was the beam
She was the serpent, I was the been
The only problem was
She was the daughter of the queen
And I was just a servant there to clean.”

Many of you have heard of the slogan, “united we stand, divided we fall.” Or might have learned a lesson on harmony. India often is seen or pictured as a harmonious nation where people from all castes, cultures and religions live together harmoniously. The concept though is not practiced.

Caste discrimination in India has become so brutal that it has forced people to take their lives. Rohit Vemula, a PhD student at the University of Hyderabad, died by suicide on January 17, 2016. In his suicide note, he blamed the system for his death.

Another such incident took place on May 22, 2019, when Dr Payal Tadvi, a Mumbai-based doctor at BYL Nair Hospital died by suicide, as she was constantly being harassed by her senior doctors over her caste identity.

Still, such discrimination will not stop us from achieving great heights. Tina Dabi topped the UPSC on her first attempt at the age of 22. She is amazing, isn’t she?

I would say to not let these things get us down. ST/SC and other backward communities are doing well. There are so many examples like Jyotiba Phule, Baba Saheb, etc.

“To freedom
I search for you
in the depths that
the world has to offer
There’s a door which keeps you away from us
the confused souls.
We aim for the sky as we stand on the field
we hear these voices whispering criticism even in our dreams
There’s a door which hides us all from the garden
which blooms with our colours and syncs with our life
almost as if it doesn’t matter, who we are or what religion we describe
The skies which go infinite, unlike in our world, it’s a limit treads from our dreams
to the minds of society.”

Caste is eventually leading us to a tunnel and I am scared that this one doesn’t have a light in the end.

I would like to end with this beautiful poem:

मुट्ठी में कुछ सपने लेकर
भरकर जेबों में आशाएं
दिलो में है अरमान यही
कुछ कर जाएं, कुछ कर जाएं
सूरज सा तेज नहीं मुझमें
दीपक सा जलता देखोगे
अपनी हद रोशन करने से
तुम मुझको कब तक रोकोगे
मैं उस माटी का वृक्ष नहीं जिसकों नदियों ने सींचा है
बंजर माटी में पलकर मैंने मृत्यु से जीवन खींचा है
में पत्थर पर लिखीं इबारत हूँ
शीशे से कब तक तोडोंगे
मिटने वाला नाम नहीं
तुम मुझको कब तक रोकोगे
इस जग में जितने जुल्म नहीं उतने सहने की ताकत है
तानो के भी शोर में रहकर सच कहने की आदत है
में सागर से भी गहरा हूँ
तुम कितने कंकड़ फेंकोगे
चुन चुन कर आगे बढूंगा
तुम मुझको कब तक रोकोगे
झूक झूक कर सीधा खड़ा हुआ अब फिर झुकने का शोक नहीं
अपने ही हाथों रचा स्वयं तुमसे मिटने का खौंफ नहीं
हालातों की मुट्ठी में जब जब भी झोंकोंगे
तब तपकर सोना बनूगा में
तुम मुझको कब तक रोकोगे।

A few dreams in hand,
And a pocketful of hopes
This is all that my heart desires,
To do something worthwhile, to leave a mark.
I may not have the shine of the sun,
But you will see my flame burn,
How long will you keep me,
From burning to my full might?
I am not the son of the soil that was nourished by rivers
I come from barren land, reborn from death itself.
I am the prophecy written in stone,
Attacking me with glass will not help,
My name cannot be erased simply,
How long do you think you can stop me?
There is more strength in me than there is wrong in this world.
I am deeper than the ocean,
How many skeletons will you dispose of,
I will move forward despite everything,
How long do you think you can stop me?
I learnt to stand upright while bending over backwards for too long,
I have made my own way and your threats do not scare me.
I am destined to transform into everything golden one day,
How long do you think you can stop me?

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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