Relevance of caste in India

There seems to be a sudden increase in the number of caste related violence being reported from India. And the increased reportage of violence against lower caste people seemed to have increased ever since the NDA government came into power in mid-2014. Is there a relationship between them? Is it because Narendra Modi refuses to condemn such violence on his “Mann ki baat”? I don’t know. And neither is that the point of the article today. Today it is about the question “Caste? Is it still relevant in India?”

The answer, I am afraid, is yes. Let me tell you the story narrated to me by a colleague of mine. He was on a trip to some part of the country (He keeps doing that a lot). He decided to put up in one of the back-packers hostel which have started coming up in India. One of his fellow room-mate asked him, “Toh aap kya ho?” He replied, “I am an engineer.. I design electronic chips for phones”. The person replied, “No I meant aap ka jaat kya hain?” In 2010s, if someone literate asks you that question, then it means that caste system still exists. [I think a better term would be ambivalent casteism].

I have had friends in my bachelors university tell me, “My parents does not have problem with the guy I am dating because we are both Brahmins.” My mom has a friend who has a temple in her house. She proudly claims, “Only a daughter of a Brahmin is allowed into the temple. Even a woman who is not Brahmin, but married to a Brahmin is not allowed.” I am so happy that my mom got so pissed off that she refused to talk to her anymore.

The people who we hire to clean our house are still from the lower castes. And I know for a fact that their parents also used to work in people’s homes. Its maddening to see that even after 70 years of independence, we have not been able to bring about a revolution in the social condition of the lower caste Indians. The affirmative action in form of reservation in higher education systems for the lower castes has stopped being effective as it is being taken advantage of people who are now economically well off to do. I used to believe that there must be social equality before economic equality, but I slowly shifting my views on it. In a country which has a widening economic inequality, economic equality is necessary before social equality. The government at this point of time must amend the SC/ST reservation acts to exclude the creamy layer from availing benefits.

One of the greatest equalizers in the world is education. The most developed countries in the world has free education. [One of the things I really like about Belgium]. We cannot afford to do that in India without going into severe debt. But we can ensure that we can let people who have been marginalized for generations get their due. [Yes, it should be at the cost of people like us whose forefathers had oppressed them. The sins of the father always has to be paid by the son].

But now going back to the original question whether caste system really exists in India. I have one more example. The pride of the middle class Bengalis in saying, “We used to belong to the zamindar family.” Or “Our forefathers were king of that region.”

I believe even saying that is a dis-respect to the minorities in India. The role the rich Indians had in exploiting the minorities is well known. If you are an upper caste Hindu reading this, know that your forefathers discriminated and oppressed the lower classes of people. Please stop taking pride in being from a zamindar family.

And then the stupid thread ceremony that Brahmins still practice. Why, why, why? Why do you want to still preserve cultural practices that hark back to the old days of casteist oppression? Why do you still identify yourself with something that is stupid? I think it has more to do with the inherent pride that one has because he is a Brahmin. Just like I find it funny when sons and daughters of rich people say they despise socialism, I find it equally ironical when Brahmins with that holy piece of thread underneath their shirts say that they believe that caste system does not exist anymore.

There have been enough instances of caste based violence against Dalits in different parts of the country, and its time we stop saying that it is an outlier. We need to ask ourselves the difficult questions. “Why hasn’t the overall social condition of lower caste people improved?” “Why do we still practice traditions that are archaic, and underneath casteist?” Why are there even the outlier incidences of caste based violence, and are we really missing something?”