The practice of the son always following the business of his father is a common sight in India. In fact, if he opts out for a different occupation, multiple eyeballs twist in attention. Even though the civilization has rocketed in past decades, the social stratification hasn’t seen an inch dip. The caste system still breathes in peaking prominence.
Humans like many other mammals live in various social groups. We build web of relationships from bands to clans to the tribal compositions. In India, this social stratification is said to have pre-modern origins which has led to different analysis of human hood. The collapse of Mughal era saw the rise of men who associated themselves as affirmative regal of the caste ideals. This Varna system altogether gave rise to rigid caste organizations making it the apparatus for administration.
69 years to independence and India still struggles with its hassle around the cast system models. In my opinion, following are the ways the caste system effects today’s society:
THE RESERVATION PARADOX
It is evident that with caste system comes inequality and it still exists in modern India. To curb this disparity, government policies were introduced such as reservation or the quota system. The logic they extract from reservations is that it is pushing ‘positive’ discrimination by caste. These reservations gave the backward classes a direct entry into what the government called ‘normalcy’ but they forgot that paradoxically they were creating an incentive to keep these divisions alive.
THE ODD RANKINGS
We aren’t alien from the fact that there are universal notions of the relative worth of different professions and this bias have always reflected in our social hierarchy. If we ask a kid to rank the professions of plumber, soldier, doctor and a shopkeeper in terms of utility, he/she might instinctively say doctor >soldier>shopkeeper>plumber. This is a clear indication that the Rig Veda teachings still keep our minds captivated which did it this way- Brahmins> Kshatriyas > Vaishyas > Shudras. This isn’t just limited to the Rig Veda; plenty of societies around the world have classified their society.
THE OUTSIDER INFERIORITY
Let me quote a case here. When we visit our grandparent’s village with a friend during our summer holidays, the first thing they are intrigued to know is the name and the caste of the friend. Sometimes we even were the friend. Wouldn’t you agree? These incidences used to leave me wonderstruck as to why somebody would want to know something that even I don’t know about myself. And when I was unable to answer what my caste is, they would find it in my name. With age, I learnt the why but the definitions remain morbid in my head. The point I am trying to make here is that the perceived subsidiarity in the minds of people of different clans and tribes is harmful and it tends to alienate people coming from an unalike caste.
A MUDDLED AMALGAMATION
The Indian caste system is a complex mixture of many different social groups. It includes clans called gotras, tribes and ethnicity called jatis and a defined social hierarchy in Rig Veda called varnas. These rigid social classifications are present in most civilizations and have become immobile with time and distressing governmental supervisory schemes. We cannot only blame the government, our doughty family elders are equally responsible for keeping the caste-identity going. Consider marriage, we know that marriages can be fatal if it is against the social rules. Therefore, caste hassle continues to flag its grieving presence from the remotest areas of the country to the metropolitans.
TEXTBOOKS V/S REALITY
I recall a day in my school when in the political science class we were being taught about our human rights. I was asked to read the texts loud in front of the classroom. The textbooks read that caste driven discrimination is considered an offence and that everyone has the right to equality. Later after the class, we were given a form to fill in our details and there was a caste slot that had to be filled. I got entirely confused with what has been taught an hour ago to what was happening in the air.
THE SOFT CASTE CORNER
We believe that the educated Indians do not adhere to the caste ideologies and have little trouble understanding why it is obsolete and damaging but the truth is they still have passions for their tribe. As a unit of culture they believe they have stronger identity as an individual clique. This is true in many parts of the world. India is sort of many nations superimposed into one and the tribal passions that pop up from belonging to a certain caste can be quite tall.
The country’s great liberal constitution has still a lot of work to do in abolishing or at least soothing the millennia-old obsession with the idea of caste and social stratification. I wish that someday we wouldn’t have to hide behind our introductions and the existing stereotypical mindsets.
Ashwathi is an enthusiastic traveller and dancer with a passion for movies and music. Hailing from an Army background, she considers herself fortunate enough to have experienced the diverse cultures that India boasts of. She is a graduate in Journalism and Mass Communications and has worked in print, radio and television.