Question -“Caste system is assuming new identities and associational forms. Hence, caste system cannot be eradicated in India.” Comment. – 29 April
Caste refers to a broad hierarchical institutional arrangement with which basic social factors such as birth, marriage, food-sharing, etc. are organized into hierarchies of rank and status. These subdivisions have traditionally been associated with occupations, and in relation to other higher and lower castes, decide social relations. The traditional hierarchical system of castes was based on the difference between ‘purity’ and ‘corruption’. While the expression of hierarchy has changed to a large extent in recent times, the system itself has not changed much. For example- even though untouchability and caste-based discrimination are prohibited under the Constitution of India, occupations such as manual scavenging consist mostly of workers belonging to the lower castes.
It is undeniably true that the caste system has been changing. However, the rate of change in different aspects of the system has not been uniform.
New identities and associational forms:
- Political: Unlike the old structure, various caste communities have strengthened themselves by forming political parties based on caste identity. For example- Bahujan Samaj Party due to which caste based political mobilization has been increasing. Lingayats demand that they be considered as minority communities.
- Social: Due to the effects of globalization and technological development, with more inter-ethnic marriages, strict rules of marriage and succession have slowed. Though the expression of social exclusion and maintaining caste-based division by communities has not disappeared, it has become more subtle. For example- matrimonial advertisements which are often in newspapers demand brides and grooms especially from particular communities. Even religions that do not follow the caste system like Muslims and Christianity have seen discrimination like caste. For Dalits converting to Christianity, states like Kerala have separate cemeteries.
- Economic: Development policies targeting backward castes and scheduled people have only benefited a particular section of the population. These classes have emerged as oligarchs and have created divisions within the backward castes. These policies have strengthened caste-based mobilization. For example: Major castes like Maratha, Khap and Patidar have been demanding reservation. Socially empowered and land-owning communities like the Jats have also united themselves and demanded reservation.
Thus, there is a need to encourage inter-caste marriages under the Dr. Ambedkar scheme for social integration through inter-caste marriages. In addition, caste-based reservation needs to be abolished. This will help promote national unity and integrity.