Casteism in Indian Democracy: Problems and Prospects
(My Speech at 8th Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad, Pune)
Dalits from all over Maharashtra gather to attend the 200th Anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle. The battle in which Indian Dalits fought under the British Army and defeated the upper caste Peshwa. The event ended, and as these Dalits were returning home, they were beaten up allegedly by the upper caste Marathas which eventually led to Maharashtra Bandh. This is just one example, switch on the TV, and you’ll get many such news stories related directly or indirectly to caste discrimination.
‘Casteism’- the word describes discrimination on the basis of caste. In India, the term ‘caste’ refers to a social group, where the membership is decided by birth. But this caste system is neither God-created nor a vision of Vedas, it is just a human creation.
Caste is a constant factor. Even if the occupation changes, it doesn’t change. Even if the social status changes, caste just like an omega value doesn’t change, it remains constant.
To curb this problem of casteism, in the 1950s a violent partition and mounting social divisions made it necessary to introduce reservation. And thus reservation for socially backward classes was introduced in education, job opportunities and other growth prospects. A minimum of 20% of reservations for SC’s and ST’s were put in place in Indian educational institutions. But over the years the scenario has changed drastically. This is evident from the fact that today brilliant students fail to make it to their preferred colleges because of reserved quota seats snapped up by far less academically accomplished students merely because the latter was born into a particular caste or follow a minority religion.
On the one hand, where India is now giving jobs and opportunities to its reserved ones, the foreign countries are offering jobs to India’s deserved ones. Foreign rulers back then didn’t try to solve this problem; instead, they made it more sticky, because their policy was to ‘divide and rule’. Unfortunately even today, after more than 70 years of Independence, the top leaders of India, and the top politicians of India are still playing caste politics. Have anyone of you ever heard them talking about the casteless society?
There’s an interesting example of Tamil Nadu, where caste-based reservation and quotas stand at about 69% allowing only 31% for the general category. What’s more interesting is that 87% of the population in the state is eligible to apply under these quotas. It is due to this casteism that people instead of voting for the right candidate vote for the one who belongs to their caste. This not just encourages bad political tradition but also leads to groupism based on caste.
The Sikh scriptures declare that all men and women have been created equally-like pots of different shapes, sizes and colours, fashioned from the same clay by God-the cosmic potter. Thus, we need to recognize the divine light in each individual and treat them equally without discriminating against anyone based on race, caste, religion, gender or social position.
In the words of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji-
ਜਾਣਹ ਜੋਤਿ ਨ ਪੂਛਹ ਜਾਤੀ ਆਗੈ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਹੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
Recognize the Lord’s Light in all, don’t ask their caste or race; there are no class or caste in the world hereafter.
The right to Equality, my dear friends, is the very first right that the Constitution of India gives to its each and every citizen. And when equality is the objective, I believe, there’s no room for discrimination. Seventy years since Independence, now it's time that we choose the path towards the eradication of casteism from our society. And for that, there’s a simple formula of Four E’s-
We need to educate the masses as casteism is only due to ignorance within people.
The government must ensure, that no form, no government or public policy must have a caste-oriented first-generation approach.
The government should focus on the overall development rather than helping particular sections of society.
The government should remove reservations after the first generation receives the benefits of it, as continuity is also a reason for caste development.
So friends, let's make the citizens of India, the citizens of our country capable enough, strong enough to walk on their own feet and not hand them crutches to use and pass on to their future generations.
(Felicitation by Mr Rahul V. Karad, Executive President, MIT-WPU, Founder, Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad & MIT School of Government)