The institution of caste in India – the past, present and future
December 4 @ 1:30 pm - 2:30 pm UTC+0
Zoom ID: 846 4619 9073
Abstract of the talk:
Caste system in India that existed in the Vedic period cannot be equated to slavery, racism or aparthied. The most we can equate it with is the classification of society based on temperament, training and social and economic functions of individuals as propounded by Plato in his celebrated work, the Republic.
It is true that caste divisions deteriorated into the inhuman practices of untouchability, inequity, oppression and exploitation of lower caste (mainly of women) by the upper caste (mainly by men) as simple village communities amalgamated to form feudal societies, and as market, money and capital formation facilitated the appearance of hegemonistic power structures. The Islamic and British rule over India fossilized this practice as the Hindus withdrew into their shell with minimal interaction with the emerging world and the powers that be.
During the independence movement many social reformers and political leaders campaigned against the evil of untouchability and social inequity as the awareness of the ideals of universal justice, equality and brotherhood spread among the Hindu elite.
After independence, the republican constitution of India made untouchability a punishable crime and incorporated provisions for affirmative state action like reservation for SCs and STs in educational institutions and government jobs. These actions have created a significant segment of an educated middle class among the oppressed, enhancing their economic status and participation in policy direction and political decision making.
But we have miles to go before we can pride ourselves to be a fully democratic, inclusive, equitable and free society. Dalits who constitute 25 percent of the Hindu community are not fully integrated into the national mainstream, especially in the BIMARU states. Most of the atrocities against Dalits are reported from these states.
I believe that social equality cannot come simply by political will, legislation or judicial activism. To change the mindset of people who are locked into a certain mode and stage of land and production relationships, the economy has to grow to a middle income status ( $15,000 per capita) – with sixty to seventy percent of the population living in cities. Then alone the old structure will collapse and a new India will arise. In such an India there may be caste divisions, but no discrimination and exploitation based on caste.
Though there is no guarantee that there will be no social, economic, political and ethical challenges in the new dispensation.