Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

“Untouchability” in India and its perception in “West”


In their understanding of untouchability and caste system, “element of caste is predominant and element of system is less.”


Western World

Western World has always been mystified by the amazing pluralities and unique social structure of India based on caste-system. Its being an indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India makes the task difficult for them to understand it in its true spirit. Because of its complete localization and unfamiliarity with rest of the world, they look upon caste-system with surprise and with a mixture of pity and contempt.

In Western societies, wealth has always been associated with power, authority and social status. India has never been a materialistic society. Caste system has separated wealth from status, power from authority, pursuit and achievement in knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts. The greatness of a state is judged on the basis of the degree of righteousness and justice, with which the administration governs lives of the people, and not on the basis of the size of a state or its treasury. Similarly, in the society, status of a person or a caste is ranked on the basis of knowledge, discipline and moral standards, and not on the basis of material success, or control of power.

Similarly, whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights forming the natural foundation of human relationship, caste system evolves around the concept of duty, tolerance and sacrifice. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant. 


I was going thru’ some old issues of National Geographic and was surprised to see the article (‘Untouchable’ by Tom O’Neill, photograghs by William Albert Allard, p. 2, photograghs by William Albert Allard, pp 2-31, National Geographic, June 2003 National Geographic, June 2003). The writer’s concern about the fate of 750 million poor ‘untouchables’ belonging to Hindu community is appreciable, but the reasons given for the pathetic condition of untouchables is far away from ground realities of 21st century India..

‘Articles’ and ‘Photographs’, published abroad in reputed papers or magazines, attempt to prove that Indian social- structure and its systems, especially “untouchability” are responsible for “subjugation, discrimination against and humiliation” of “750 million poor ‘untouchables’”.  Some write-ups like ‘Untouchable’ by Tom O’Neill, or Lydia Polgreen, ‘New business class rises in ashes of South India’s caste system, “The New York Times” dated 11th September, 2010 seems to present a biased views about the ground realities of present day India.

It would be worthwhile to ascertain in the context of present day situations, whether it is really the caste system in modern India, which is responsible or fault lies somewhere else? Is it correct to say “Branded as impure from the moment of birth, one out of six Indians lives -and suffers – at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. They are untouchable”.

Some of the biased views

One can clearly see a bias, when: –

  • The writer accepts that some developments and changes for betterment have happened before and after independence. Untochables do not look different from other Indians. Their skin colour is the same. They do not wear rags. Some of them wear “glittering” gold chains. But then he also says that Untouchables wear “a scarlet tatoo on their foreheads to advertise their status.” (p.13) (Quoted Sukhadeo Thorat, a scheduled caste faculty member in JNU in economics, National Geographic, p. 9)
  • After appreciating quota system, the writer says – “Mobs rioted for 78 days in 1981 … in Gujrat …. when a high caste Hindu was denied entry to medical school to make space for untouchable” (p. 14) About quotas, the US Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear, times and again, that affirmative action program will be invalid if : –
  • An unqualified person receives benefits over a qualified one,
  • Numerical goals are so strict that the plan lacks flexibility,
  • The numerical goal bear no relationship to the available pool of qualified candidates and could, therefore, becomes quota,
  • The plan is not fixed in length, or
  • Innocent bystanders are impermissibly harmed.

Saying that “though many quota positions go unfilled, particularly at universities”, (p.14) is not wholly correct. Quota posts remain unfulfilled, when selection committee does not find suitable candidate to fill the post. However, un-filled posts are carried forward for the next year.

The writer underestimates the recent signs of prosperity in the position of socalled ‘Untouchables’, as ‘outward signs of normalacy’. (p. 13)

Following comments also shows biased views –

  • The comment of earnings of US$ 2 per day gives a feeling of exploitation of the labour class. Two dollars per day or 100/- is an official rate for unskilled labor in India, in which a person can buy even in 2010, 25 pounds wheat floor or 20 pounds of rice. (pp6-7)
  • ‘Branded as impure from the moment of birth, one out of six Indians lives – and suffers – at the bottom of Hindu caste system. They are ‘Untouchable’. (‘Untouchable’ by Tom O’Neill, photograghs by William Albert Allard, p. 2, National Geographic, June 2003). Neither all of 18% Scheduled castes population is untouchable nor deprived. Many of people living below poverty line or victims of deprivation and discrimination belong to other castes as well.
  • Many of SCs people have become quite aggressive. They exercise great influence in rural areas. Many of them today hold good political, bureaucratic and economic world of India. A large number of ‘Untouchables” can be seen on influential posts in the corridors of power, -some after winning general elections, while others in the government, Public or Private sectors.
  • The allegation that caste system perpetuated the idea of purity and pollution. In fact, relations between various castes were expressed in terms of the idea of hygiene, cleanliness and purity.i Caste Hindus were very particular about eating dressed food, because it became stale very quickly. Undressed food or fruits were regarded pure, whatever hands it came from.
  • As far as Shudras causing pollution was concerned, Shore First Governor General of India (1793 to 1798) said that despite British being so powerful and the ruling community, the British were regarded at par with the lowest natives in point of caste. Yet a Brahmin in the service of Englishmen never hesitated in doing his duties. Certainly the lower castes are more tenacious on the subject of their caste than the higher. A low caste man, if asked for a drop of water from his pot will often refuse, A Rajput or a Brahmin will not only consent, but will show his respect by offering it decently. ii
  • It was also alleged that laws of punishment were mild for caste Hindus, but severe and horrible for Shudras.iii Shore said that it was impossible to say laws never were stringent for lower castes. Probably it might have occurred very seldom by a very bigoted prince or a bigoted Brahmin. The horrible punishment to lower class did not exist, in general, during his times, nor had they been, perhaps for centuries, held in any more estimation, terror or respect, practically than bull or anathimas issued by Pope Gregory the Seventh in England.
  • Many communities like Dhobi (washerman), barbers, Chamars etc are neither untouchable. Dhobi washes daily wear clothes on the river banks and does not handle items “polluted” by blood or human waste as. (p.5). In traditional society of North India, Dhobies, barbers play a very important role in Hindu marriage ceremonies and get a special gift for their services.
  • No job is derogatory. All the time unclogging a sewer can not be done by machines. Sometimes it needsto be done manually. Even in all the advanced countries, there are facilitators and service providers, who take up the the responsibility of keeping sewer lines clear or to provide coffins and other services to people after death. Their social segregation is almost the same as in India, because of the nature of their occupation. Cleanliness of public places is necssary for the whole society. Only thing is that enough steps and precautions should be taken to protect such people from it hygeinically.
  • It is not the Doms, but son or close family member of the dead person lights his/her funeral pyre.
  • The writer is concerned about untouchables, because their work involves physical contact with blood, excrement and other bodily ‘defilements”. Has the writer ever thought about women? Every woman performs within her family so-called “unclean” or “menial” work everyday, while taking care of her husband, infants, babies, elders and other sick persons of her family.
  • Saying that ‘caste system’ follows a basic precept: All men are created unequal’ is misguiding. (p8) According to Hindu philosophy, people differ from one another on the grounds of natural endowments, attitude and aptitude.
  • Taking literal meaning of the legend is faulty that from the mouth of Brahma (Aprimordial being) come the Brahmanas – Priests and teachers. From arms come kshatriyas -rulers and soldiers. From thighs come Vaishyas – merchants and traders. From feet come Sudras – laborers.” (p. 9) In this legend, words ‘mouth’, ‘arms’, ‘thighs’ and ‘feet’ symbolizes the characterstics of the jobs assigned to each group.

Concern for the miserable condition of weaker sections of Indian society quite appreciable,  but it would be worthwhile if first of all it is properly diagnosed, which sections of society come under weaker sections? At present it is the senior citizens and women in India irrespective of caste or creed, which need special attention of the society and the authorities, not the Dalits/untouchables.

Realities of present day India

In modern India all people are free to fulfill their aspirations. Process of modernization and industrialization, technological developments, especially in the areas of transport, means of communication and information technology and spread of education and awareness has made it a reality in modern India.

Untouchability a non-issue in Independent India – First of all, Untouchability is a non-issue in Independent India. It is legally banned and its practice is punishable offence. Socalled ‘Untouchables’ were earlier known as Shudra. They are now known as Schaeduled Castes or Dalits. Segregation of certain groups does exist, but in a very few pockets, that too not in urban areas, but in rural areas.

Superiority or inferiority – In real life, now-a-days a common-man hardly bothers what others consider about him – superior or inferior. What matters is happiness in personal life, well-being of ones own family, a good job and peaceful and congenial atmosphere at workplace. In today’s world, who has time to think about the abstract institutions like social hierarchy or abstract issues like equality, human rights or social justice etc?

Label of ‘Untouchability’ irrelevant for Economic prosparity – Labels of ‘Brahmins’ or ‘untouchables’ do not matter much now in matter of occupations and availing the benefits of modern avenues. There is no dearth of opportunities. At present, there are many outlets, careers and professions for individuals to make choices.

Ample of opportunities – Constitition of India and various laws have given ample of opportunities to all irrespective of caste or creed. Earlier, persons, who had dreams and potential to step out and perform well outside their traditional- occupations did not have access to opportunities.

Necessary qualifications required – For rising up one needs opportunity and necessary qualifications. An individual can achieve anything s(he) wants, if needs is clear about his choice, attitude, aptitude, and potential. Success in life depends on making a right choice at right point of time in life.

From all sections of society, people are acquiring necessary qualifications and are entering into different areas of their choice. And they are doing well in almost all the spheres.

Acceptance of society – Modern society has accepted the changeover to any profession a person wishes to pursue and for that he has to prove his suitability in the job market. Experience shows that all sections of society are progressing nd entering into area of their choice.

Awareness amongst untouchables- Awareness amongst untouchables has encouraged them to use the courts to fight acts of indiscrimination and violence and bring perpetrators of caste crimes to justice. Navsarjan intends to do. In recent years the reported cases of caste-based violence against SCs have increased as much as 25 to 30% in states like Bihar and Tamil Nadu, where large number of Scheduled-Castes population live.

Why such a confusion?

India is the Sixth largest nation in the world in terms of area, covering a territory of about 3.27 million sq. kms having second largest population in the whole world. It is a land of contrasts. Every day one can witness thousands of stories of both hope and despair/good and bad. One can find stray cases of all kinds in one or the other corner of the country.

It is not very difficult to show phoographs or give examples the examples of prejudice, high handedness or rude behavior of senseless people irrespective of caste or creed. All depends on what one perceives and how it is presented.

At present, many misconceptions or adverse opinions about caste-system or about ‘Untouchability’ based on half truths are being floated by media abroad around the world.

Apathy of British rulers

Initially, British rulers and missionaries had condemned the Caste system vehemently. The purpose was to perpetuate their rule in India, which was like a ‘jewel in the Crown’. British rulers during their domination in India redefined its social structure for its administrative convenience.

British rulers blamed Caste system for all social evils. It was described as adiscriminatory “iniquitous”, barbarous, uncivilized and highly stratifiedsystem, where multiplicity of communities and their cultures were exploiting each other for their own advantage.

Castewas held responsible for poverty, misery, deprivation, exploitation of weaker sections, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions, disparities of power, wealth and culture, mental and physical degradation of a large number of people.

Potryal of Brahmins as ‘Real enemy’ – British Rulers knew very well that educated Brahmins and upper castes people were becoming potential threat to British rule in India. To weaken the social structure, they pinpointed Caste system as one of the greatest scourges very conveniently and potrayed Brahmins and upper castes as the real enemy of weaker sections.

Non-Brahmins were also more interested in obtaining some legal rights and position of power through government intervention. It instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought amongst themselves.

Dalit Activists

Many views of the media abroad are influenced -or by the comments of Dalit leaders, political parties, Dalit Intelligentsia, Dalit literature etc. Now they are, as Ambedkar dreamt, well ‘educated, organised and agitated’ allover India. They have established links with foreign media. All of them are highly critical about Hindu systems and values and quite aggressive in attitude. The purpose is to seek forein intervention.

Untouchables at International platform

Dalits leaders are not satisfied even after having growing influence in ballot-box politics and attaining enough places in the government jobs. They feel that globalization and privatization has made it difficult for Dalits, tribals and OBC’s to compete on equal footing or find enough space in the job market within the country or abroad.

Therefore now their mission is to have Global alliance, global involvement and intervention of the international community to put pressure on the government of India to address the problem of marginalization of ‘Untouchables’. Therefore once again, the word ‘Untouchable is gaining importance, this time to attract and influence international authorities

Since the dawn of 21st century, Dalit activists are demanding with insistence inclusion of caste too in the list of main causes of inequality in the world. So far, UN recognizes religion, race, language and gender. They are arguing that Indian condition of untouchables is the same as was of Blacks in US till 1950.

Staunch supporters of Human Rights, some Scandinavian countries, Church organisations around the world and Lutheran World Federation have shown their interest in the issue of “untouchability”. They have expressed their solidarity with Dalits.

Some Dalit leaders belonging to All India Confederation are also seeking intervention of advanced nations like USA, UN, the British and EU Parliaments on the issues of ‘untouchability.’ In 2001, India was able in keeping caste out of the resolution adopted at 2001 Durban Conferernce.

In 2005, at the behest of the Republican Congressman from New Jersey, Chris Smith, the US Congress had held a hearing on 6.10.05 on the subject. A resolution on the issue – “ India’s unfinished Agenda: Equality and Justice for 200 million victims of the caste system” was prepared by the house committee on International Relations and US Human Rights to be tabled in the US Congress.

“Despite the Indian government’s extensive affirmative action policies, which aim to open government service and education to Dalits and tribes, most have been left behind by India’s increasing prosperity…. Much much more remains to be done.” The resolution says, “It is in the interest of US to address the problem of the treatment of groups outside the caste system… in the republic of India in order to better meet our mutual economic and security goals….”

Recently, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi pillay has commented that “time has come to eradicate the shameful concept of caste” and proposals of UN Human Rights Council’s or US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) to recognise caste as a form of discrimination ‘based on descent and birth’ appear not to be based on rational understanding of caste system.

Intensive lobbying by Dalit groups including followers of Ravidass sect succeeded in getting passed the Equity Bill on March 24, 2010 in the House of Lords. It empowered the government to include ‘caste’ within the definition of ‘race’.

Being a free developing nation, many Indian citizens find it difficult to appreciate foreign intervention on its internal social matters and problems. India is a sovereign democratic country offering enough freedom to air grievances at home. It is quite capable to see that nobody is left behind by its increasing prosperity, to take care of all its citizens and give to them social, economic and political justice.

Untouchables’ Journey for empowerment

(From ‘Shudras’ to untouchables to Dalit and again to untouchables’)

The lower strata of society initially known as Shudras/Untouchables have already travelled a long distance. They have already emerged as a powerful pressure group and are holding many influential positions in the cooridors of power at national level. Dalits have also established links with international community. Many of them have already earned name, fame, wealth and publicity in India as well as abroad.

Position of Shudras (Untouchables) in ancient India

In the past, either people who did not have acumen to do the work of Brahmins, kshatriyas or business-work, mostly engaged in menial work or conquered people were put in this group. They performed essential social and economic tasks of community or worked in agriculture. Mostly technologies for human survival -from agriculture to leather tanning to metal-work, were all developed by labouring sections that is by today’s standards the Dalits, tribals and backward classes. They were the life-line of the whole system, from whose labor and inventions the whole of the society got benefitted.

Usually Brahmins were at the top and shudras were put at the bottom. Considerations of self-discipline, hygiene, cleanliness, morality, knowledge, spirituality of different castes and usefulness of their work to the society as a whole were the factors to determine the rank of a group in society vise-a vise others.

Some castes, doing unhygeinic or unclean jobs for their livelihood were segregated. Even some Brahmins, belonging to ‘Mahabrahmins’ community, performing last rites, were also treated more or less like Shudras.

Initially, Varna system followed by caste system was quite fluid. When different castes emerged within each Varna, there was an ambiguity about their status. They were placed in between Brahmins and Shudras, which was acceptable to all concerned. it gave a large element of fluidity in the system. There was not much disparity between different castes before modernization and industrialization. Life style was simple. Local character of society made close interaction, interdependence and co-operation between different castes a reality.

History is the proof that there had been many instances, when people of lower ranks (Shudras) had established their kingdoms in certain areas – some Kingdoms having ‘Dom’ kings as well. Many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin had sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves.

Other than Brahmins including Shudra were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers. There were many learned or illiterate persons, who would be called ‘backward’ or ‘untouchable’ as per present yardsticks, but were honored by the whole of the society. Nand and Yashoda (Lord Krishna’s foster parents). Lord Rama, a king, who ate half-eaten berries of Shabri (an untouchable). Vashishtha, (son of a prostitute), the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism, or Vyasa of Mahabharata fame and Balmiki, the original author of Ramayana (both untouchables) all were revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers all over India.

Caste and untouchability during Medievial period

During medivial period, though there was a pressure on general public due to the feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of rulers, but it was not so glaring. It had increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled. But still common man was not affected adversely as much as he was during the British rule.

During medieval India also, Sant Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Malika, Sunderdas and several other saints, belonging to lower ranks according to present standards earned the same respect (may be more), as any higher caste saint. Teachings of Shri Chaitnya, Nanak, Kabir, Bhakti and Sufi saints lessened the suffocation due to rigid practices of caste system and gave the society breathing space during medieval period.

In general

  • There was not much disparity between forward or lower castes.
  • Ranking of different castes was independent from the government’s/rulers control.
  • Shudras had an independent identity of their own, but not a seperate one. Though given a lower status, they were very much the integral and important part of the Indian society.
  • Ignorance was bliss for them. They might be poor, but free from rat-race and were satisfied with themselves.
  • Society was more or less free from from inter-caste rivalries, caste wars or class clashes.
  • Not a single caste group was identified as a target of attack for dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat.
  • Laws remained unmodified and flexible enough to adapt to local customs and situations.
  • Inter-dependence of various sections and team-spirit were the special features. All castes, living in a local area -village or city- were bound together by economic and social ties. They had strong bond of mutual dependence. Rituals required the participation of all castes.
  • Decentralized self-regulated systems were the mode in the social, political, and economic life of the country. Each caste group, whether higher or lower, enjoyed freedom in respect of their internal matters, customs, rituals and life styles.
  • The plurality of castes provided automatic checks and balances. They acted as a balancing force and controlled the arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of power of single group.
  • Alternative ideologies and styles of life were available in India. Till medivial Period, there were many castes outside the four Varnas, which were socially and functionally interdependent. These floating communities like Kayasthas or Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers remained outside the four Varnas.
  • Monopoly of Non-Kshatriya peasantry in UP, Bihar and MP was a reality of the rural life of Medieval India. They were armed and strong. They were numerically predominant, economically and politically strong. They provided leadership to rural communities.
  • However, many floating communities like Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers, who remained outside caste system, had terrorized even them and kept a check on arbitrariness of settled agriculturists for centuries.
  • Till the 18th century, forests, which competed with arable land in size and importance, gave shelter and food to large sections of society and served as havens for those in search of escape from society.
  • The learned community of Kayasthas gave a tough competition to Brahmins in the field of learning and knowledge. It helped in controlling the arrogance of Brahmins.

As India moved on from medivial to modern period, irresponsible and arbitrary acts of some misguided and ambitious Brahmin individuals in the South and some persons belonging to Brahmins and Thakur cmmunity in the North added fuel into the fire.

They made compromises after compromices with their conscience and took advantage of the high status given by Hindu society. By hook or crook, these Indians tried to retain whatever control they could over rest of the people. They adopted practices of exploitation and extortion. Ignorance, superstitions and tolerance of masses encouraged them to further their mission.

Enslavement, ignorance, suppression and ostracism for a long time has shaken their confidence, pushed them backwards. Heavy taxation and economic loot during alien rule gradually stopped the growth lower strata of society. It made them completely dependent economically on others for their livelihood.

Untouchables during British rule

It was during British rule that issue of ‘untouchability’ was raised. It would be appropriate to look into the reasons that caused miseries to millions of people. Was it the ‘influence of caste’? How could that be removed?

Initially, it was the economic exploitation and economic drainand repressive attitude of British rulers and their supporters, that submerged millions of people in ignorance, enfeebled by diseases and oppressed by wants. W.T. Thortan had confessed that by 1880, the annual tribute, “tapped India’s very heart blood and dried up the mainspring of her industrial position.” Sir William Hunter remarked, “There remains forty million Indians, who go through life on insufficient food.”

Importance of ‘untouchables in political circle

  • Shudras, the lowest strata of Indian society, were conceptualized politically under the name of ‘Untouchables’ around 1909, when the Census Commissioner suggested to list ‘Untouchables’ outside Hindu fold for forthcoming 1911 Census (comprising of about 24% of the Hindu Population and 16% of the total population at that time). Immediately, it increased their importance in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too. It also instilled deep venom in minds of millions of unlettered Hindus against caste-system, especially against the Brahmins.
  • Political formations on Caste and community basis – British government encouraged political formations of different castes/ communities on basis of race, religion, caste, creed, or place. British rulers purposely allowed them to pursue their sectarian interests and encouraged them to raise voice in favour of their own claim to power and against Brahmin’s and upper castes’ upward movement.

By 1920’s, numerous caste organizations organised themselves into larger collectiveness by keeping contacts and alliances with their counterparts at other places; formed associations and federations at local and regional levels and emerged as a powerful pressure groups.

South Indian Liberation Federation was formed in Madras in 1916 and Justice Party in Bombay in 1917. It united numerous endogamous jatis lower and intermediate castes into region wise alliances. It increased their numbers and size. They acquired considerable amount of political clout in early 20th century, with the introduction of electoral politics.

Quota system – Quota system served double purpose for British rulers – getting credit for amelioration and protection of downtrodden and to them freedom to rule without much disturbance by keeping natives busy in their in-fights. It had opened up various channels of confrontation.

Quota system was started in the provinces of Madras and Mysore at the dawn of 20th century. It restricted Brahmin’s entry in education and Government jobs. It made them available to non-Brahmins communities by giving them financial assistance and preferences in education and Government employment at local and provincial level.

Reformatory efforts -During 19th and beginning of 20th centuries, the reformers got alarmed by the undesired trend of many Indians getting disassociated from their own culture. They put emphasis on education, moral regeneration and philanthropic uplift.

They made frantic efforts to improve the pathetic condition of untouchables. They told that segregation of lower castes was not so much on the grounds of economic position or incapacity to do intellectual work, but on cultural grounds – unhygenic/unclean occupations, poor mannerism, indisciplined life style, speaking foul and abusive language etc. They tried to improve the status of untouchables through Sanskritisation.

They clarified that ‘Untouchability’ was neither an outcome of purified Varna System/caste system nor an integral part of Hinduism It is an external impurity and sinful blot on Hinduism.

Stress on getting hold on political power –But Untouchable leaders desired more for political empowerment rather than their Sanskritisation. The leaders of the downtrodden like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh vehemently criticized Hindu hierarchical structure.

Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear that through political power, untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus. The followers of Ambedkar chose the word the ‘Dalit’ For ‘untouchables, a Marathi word meaning ‘suppressed’. The term was used proudly by Ambedkar’s followers under the banner of various factions of Republican Party of India (Formed in 1956).

Eradication of caste system – Eradication of caste system became major plank of Dalit movement. Dalit leaders regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of caste system. Therefore they inspired the lower castes to get united and work for abolition of caste system. To them, it was caste-system, which led caste Hindus to treat untouchables as lesser human beings, engaged them to forced labor or unsavory jobs, imposed many restrictions on them, prevented them from joining the mainstream and subjugated them in the name of religion.

Independent identity – For a long time, ‘Untouchable’s’ activities were combined with the non-Brahmin movement. Ambedkar provided Dalits the required leadership. He suggested Dalits to ‘educate, organise and agitate’ themseves. They insisted on their separate identity. He sought special legal protection and share in politics and administration on the basis of caste. By 1928, untouchables separated themselves from the intermediate caste and established their independent identity at national level.

The joint Select Committee of the British Parliament, while reviewing the South Borough Report on measures to secure representation of minorities or of backward classes for Indian Constitutional Reforms 1919, commented that they attached importance to the educational advancement of the depressed and backward classes.

In 1930, Starte Committee suggested to sub-divide the backward classes into untouchables, aboriginal hill tribes and other backward class.

Official acknowledgement of low social status of castes – So far, British Government in India had restrained itself from stigmatizing any group for their of their low social status by official acknowledgement.

It considered it unfair that Owing to the social disabilities, to which members of the depressed classes are exposed, it would be in the highest degree undesirable that any official authorization might appear to extend such qualification. The fluidity of social distinctions and the efforts of the classes lowest in the scale, aided by social reformers, to improve their status make it more desirable, that government should abstain from doing anything, which would tend to give rigidity to these distinctions.vii

However, political expediency and imperial designs to keep balance of power got victory over rational thinking. Through Communal Award 1932, British created a permanent split in Hindu Society.

Dalit Empowerment after Independence

Maharashtra played an important role in leading Dalit movement for empowerment after Independence. It has a longest and richest experience. The Mahars of Bombay (8%), Jatavs of UP (Half of the SC Population in UP) and Nadars and Thevars of Southern TN being numerically significant, played a decisive role in taking forward Dalit movement.

In mid sixties, an aggressive Dalit movement started under the banner of Shoshit Samaj Dal in Central Bihar, which has, presently, become a major center of Naxalite movement. Dal was founded by Jagdeo Mahto, who began to mobilize the lower castes against economic repression and exploitation of women by upper caste feudal elements.

In 1972, a distinct political party, in the name of Dalit Panther was formed in Maharashtra. One of the founders of Dalit Panther, Mr. Namdeo Dhasal widened the scope of Dalit by including SC, tribes, neo-Buddhists, landless labor and economically exploited people. Its orientation was primarily militant and rebellious. Dalit Sahitya Movement legitimized and reinforced the use of the term Dalit.

The new phase of Dalit assertion is most prominent in the most populous state of UP, where the upper caste domination has been challenged by BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) formed in 1984 under the leadership of Kanshi Ram and Mayavati. They redefined Dalit politics especially in north India. BSP has started pursuing power with militancy since 1990. Of late, BSP has made significant inroads in UP, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.

BSP’s approach to Dalit issues is more socio-political rather than economic. It has borrowed all their phraseology from Dalit Panthers. Most of its utterances are arrogant, revengeful and opportunistic. Political and economic vested interests of its leaders has aroused militancy among discontented youths all over the nation. Instead of demanding a share in power structure, equity or social justice. They now want to reverse the power equation and to transform the society by capturing all political power.

Dalit leaders are vehemently against cultural traditions of India, which according to them, are based on inequality and exploitation. They reject Vedic literature or the foundations of Hinduism openly and out-rightly.

At present, Dalits are united and well-organised. However, it is only the the followers of Dalit leaders, who have prospered. Now they command muscle, money as well as political power. They control a large vote bank. According to Annual Report of Ministry of personnel PublicGreivance and pension, 2007, out of 31,05,048 posts only in central government services, 5,50,989 are occupied by socalled ‘untouchables’ now known as SCs in independent India. In addition to it, many more are there in Provincial services, Public Sectors jobs as well as in Private sector.

Elites section amongst Dalits – There is an elite section amongst Dalits, which protects its turf under the banner of Dalits at the cost of poorest of Dalits, which does not care much about their poor brothern. For Dalit leaders, presence and miseries of large number of dalits is a recipe for Dalit vote-bank. For educated ones, the sufferings of large number of Dalits facilitate them to enjoy the benefits of affirmative action programs and other concessions given in the name of poor masses.

Of late, Dalits, backwards and Muslims are being wooed with vigor by all the political parties. Naxalite groups find in Dalits the allies, as most of their action squads are formed of Harijans. Widespread discontent among the people, due to the non-performance and half hearted measures taken by the successive governments to deal with the genuine problems have turned them anti-establishment and increased violence. It has threatened the unity of nation.

Dalits leaders are in no mood to play a second fiddle to any national political party. They are aware of their growing influence and crucial role as a kink-maker in today’s highly competitive and unstable political atmosphere. In order to increase their own political strength, all the three major national political formations – Congress’s UPA BJP’s NDA and National Front – are wooing frantically Dalit leaders and competing with each other to have a pre or post poll alliance with them.

What is Caste-system

Aristotle had said that a human being is a social animal. If he does not live with men or amongst men, then surely either he is a god or a beast. Caste system prepares a ground for people to live with like-minded fellow-beings.

It is an extension of social circle of a person. An individual is a natural member of a family, which is the unit of an extended family, extended family of Kula (clan), Kula of a Vish (tribe) and a tribe of a Jana or Jati (Caste).

This way, Caste is nothing else but a large extended family bonded by same language, customs, thinking and way of living. Caste is second only to the family – where a child learns his first lessons in human values and relationships- in widening a person’s social radius and in getting importance in his/her private and occupational life.’

In the present scenario, caste system still appears to a common man a very dear, natural, valid and useful social institution. Had it become obsolete for the modern society, it would have given way to some other system long back. Its very survival is the proof of its usefulness to our modern Indian society.

Strong Points of – Caste System

The creators of the Varna system could be called today’s super Management Experts who tried to maximize functional utility of the then available human resources of the society. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together kept India so fit and alive, that it was known as ‘Sone ki chiriya’ (a bird of gold).

Some of the strong points of caste system, which are being suppressed are –

Solid social structure – The system has given to India a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction, which still covers its entire social fabric. It has withstood the test of time. Downward filtration of knowledge, feeling of oneness, morality, discipline and sophisticated manners were important cotribution of caste system till it worked in social life. It led to the success of national movement and made the Independence of the country a possibility without use of force.

Inclusive not exclusive in nature – By organizing social structure along with performance of various functions, it gives people an atmosphere to lead a peaceful life, ensures social harmony and prevents rivalries and jealousies. Everybody, whether rich or poor/ or upper caste/lower caste, participate with equal zeal and enthusiasm in all festivals and social ceremonies giving almost the same amount of pleasure to everyone.

Withstood Test of time – The system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. It has always acted as a shield and saved Indian society from exteranal pressures. It has been a major force for the failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway in India even after mass conversion. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.

No forced conversion – Assimilation on the basis of caste system. Several castes and sub-castes rose within each Varna by assimilation of different social groups at different points of time. In order to save the society from confusion, the caste of a person is decided by birth. Convenience and role of family background in developing the knowledge and personality of a person have been the main reasons behind this change. It has been accepted by all and worked well till British rule started in India.

Strength in Basic tenets – The spirit of tolerance and firm belief in the principle, ‘Live and let live’ has always been the part of Indian ethos.Varna system believes in the principle, “To each according to his needs and from each according to his capacity”. Therefore, there was no rivalry or bitterness for pelf, power or position in amongst different sections of society in the past.

Adjusted to Changes – The caste system adapted itself to the slow changes time brought in. It took different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Once changed, it did not go back to its original form. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. It is different in context of village, locality, region or religion. Its shades have again changed with industrialization and modernization.

There had been periods, when it became weak, especially under foreign rules. It re-emerged every time, and whenever it re-emerged, it became stronger. It all happened due to basic tenets of Hinduism.

Uninterrupted living culture – Indian Civilization remained alive despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups. It had never repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep off its own established culture from its roots in the past. It presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

Incentive for improvement – Earlier there was an incentive for upgrading ones social status by observing better mannerism and practices. Now instead of moving forward, different castes are aspiring to be categorised in the lowest rungs in social hierarchy, so that through reservation policy, they get more benefits and concessions for upward mobility without much effort.

People in India understandably wish to make improvements in the tried and tested old system by removing deformities developed into it with time. A change is good for the growth of a society. But Changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions, present requirements and existing ground realities of the place and future prospects.

Pr. Bhiku Parekh comments on wisdom of caste-system, I loath the caste system and married a girl outside my caste…. Neither my wife nor I retained any contacts with caste members. Neither her two sisters… maintained close contacts with their caste. Recently my father–in–law died. Neither my wife, nor I, nor her two sisters knew how to organize the cremation or religious ceremonies and were deeply worried. But within hours of the death, a score of strange people gathered uninvited at our door steps. They were all from my father–in–law caste…. All that mattered to them that a death had occurred in their caste and needed a dignified, concerted and ungrudging response…. They dutifully spent several hours making all the necessary arrangements for the cremation. I was touched by the extent and depth of caste loyalty and support. This is not an isolated case. Six years ago my brother died and my distraught parents were helped out and visited daily for weeks, not by their countless friends, whom they have cultivated, but by members of their caste.

In another case, an Indian, who was visiting New York, lost his money and was desperate… He looked through New York telephone directory and rang up three totally stranger caste-fellows explaining, who he was and his situation. The help came immediately.

The story of thousands of penniless Patels, Lohans, Marwaries and others escaping from Amins Uganda to Britain and becoming affluent within less than ten years with the help and support of their caste-fellows already settled there, is another example of hidden strength and abiding appeal of caste.

Relations with other castes –lower or otherwise- also have been cordial in cultured families of India. The practice of calling maids, sweepers and other workers as mausi, amma or kaka by socalled ‘upper castes’ shows not only respect for the workers for them, but also the closeness of human relationship and inculcation of human values in the children of civilized families.

Don Martindale says, “… Caste and Hinduism succeeded in doing in India, what no state, no conqueror and no economy was able to do – the establishment of a single unified system of society throughout the whole of India.” Through caste system, India has simultaneously accommodated “it to an almost endlessly varied system of semi-autonomous community and at the same time brings considerable unity, harmony and condition of peace.” It “succeeded in wielding an enormously varied plurality of semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places and adopting themselves to many different conditions into a single system of society…”

Is caste-system responsible for Untouchability?If no then why?

The principles, on which caste system is based, are not discrimatory. ‘Varna‘ system followed by caste statifies society on the basis of ‘spiritual status’, not on ‘class-basis‘ based on ‘financial-status‘ of a person like other nations. It believes –

All people not identical –Principle of Varna believes that all persons are not identical in nature. They differ from one another on grounds of natural endowments like intelligence, skills, attitude, aptitude and other innate qualities. Their activities are the result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; passion (Rajas) coupled with comfort and action; and finally, dullness (Tamas) that is accompanied by ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.

Base for social stratification –The innate qualities determines physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dis-likes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals. It gives people direction for action. General similarities of taste, likes, dislikes, vocations, social status and such other factors bind them in closer bonds and leads to social stratification. People in general prefer company of people having common callings/occupations, common problems, and common solutions.

Well-marked Fourfold division of society –Hindu’s Varna system has classified Hindu society into for well-marked Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold. Based on natural instincts, attitude, aptitude and qualifications, Brahmins were assigned the work to pursue knowledge, Khshtriyas to protect the people from internal disorders and external aggressions, Vaishyas to do business and Shudras for all kinds of menial work under the guidance of other three Varnas.

‘Deeds’ not ‘Birth’ the basis –According to Bhavat Gita, it is the deeds, not the birth which determines, who is who. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God and now in the eyes of the law of the land. Hence, putting a label has no longer any meaning now. In modern India, there emerged numerous professional groups such as of politicians, army, doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, agriculturists, media people, people engaged in menial-works etcetc.

Ranking – In the past, higher a caste, purer it was considered, and greater were the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals. Usually Brahmin groups were placed at the top. Brahmins were given the highest place of honour not because of material successes, but because of their intellectual and spiritual qualities, their character, and ability to guide the masses. They were expected to keep themselves away from ignorance, illusions and lust.

Their duty was learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that the whole society could benefit from their knowledge. They were put under maximum self-restrictions and were debarred from indulging in the pleasures of material world.

Ranking of different groups is based on the nature of the work, they perform. Hindu Shastras very clearly emphasize that it is not the birth, but deeds, attitude and nature decide to which group one belongs.

Opprtunituies to improve status- Everybody belonging to lower categories could elevate ones own status or status of the whole group/caste by acquiring/dopting better human qualities of ‘goodness’ and ‘passion’.

Who were outcasted?-Out-casted were the people, who were anti-socials, adivasis living in far off places and foreigners. They did not subscribe to rules and values of the caste system. Therefore could not be part of the same.

‘Ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness’ responsible for miseries-It is the ‘ ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness’, which are responsible for deprivation and miseries of human beings.

Politicization of castes under British rule fractured the backbone of Indian society. Rulers divided the whole society into five water-tight compartments – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, Other Backward Castes, upper castes and minorities. It filled in them the feeling of ‘we’ and ‘them’ considering other section its ‘enemy’.

Caste before Second World-War –Earlier, during their rule in India, (1858-1945), while laying foundation of democratic institutions of India, rulers manipulated their implementation in such a way, that could help them to keep balance of power and to counter hold of any section of society in administration and perpetuate their rule in India as long as possible.

Policies that had changed the mindset and practices of traditional society of India, gave a boost to casteist tendencies, created rift in Indian society in order to ‘divide and rule’ and changed the inter-relationship of various groups are as following:

  • Introduction of Modern EducationModern Education system, introduced by Lord Macaulay opened up the doors of knowledge, widened the mental horizons of Indian intelligentsia, attractedthe attention of people towards many social evils such as pathetic condition of lower strata of society, and women.

With spread of modern education, lower strata of society organized their caste fellows and formed their own associations to pursue their political interests. It paved way for the entry of caste into politics and gave rise to casteism in social sphere.

  • Census Operations- For the first time, the Census operations drew the attention of the rulers, intelligentsia and public to the diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes throughout India. All castes were classified in a new way for its administrative purposes and conveniences. The whole exercise was done in a piece-meal and shrewed manner, taking full precautions for the safety and continuation of British domination in India.

Census Operation of 1901 redefined caste-system codified and standardized the system by placing all the castes into four Varnas or in the categories of outcastes and aborigines. Through the legal process, they gave each one a new separate and distinct identity and status.

Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, “We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems.…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste. ….. The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.” Caste-consciousness was “malleable amongst the lower”.

The process of Census enumeration under British rule was far from neutral. It destroyed the flexibility of caste system, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and led to frantic effort by each group to pursue their respective interests.

  • Issue of untouchability – Around 1909, for the first time, the lowest strata of Hindu Community was conceptualized under the name of ‘untouchables’ in the political circles, when Census Commissioner suggested to exclude untouchables from Hindu fold in the forthcoming 1911 census.
  • Electoral Politics and Casteism – By the end of the 19th century, movement against turned into a political movement. Acts were passed granting special electorate to Muslims and other sections of society. The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to “Power in numbers”. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin or backward castes on account of their numerical strength. Since then, their influence in politics has been growing continuously.

Government of India Act of 1909 was the first effective dose of communalisation of Indian politics. Introduction of ‘Electoral Politics’ on communal basis was started by Discriminatory Act of 1919 (Minto Morely Reforms).

  • ‘Policy of Reservations’ – Along with Electoral policy and Census operations, Reservation Policy helped entry of caste into politics, which was non-existent hitherto. It gave a big boost to casteism.

British rulers devised a novel method to distribute and balance power on ‘preferential- basis’. It was start of ‘quota-system’ in India. 1905 to 1940 was the period, when idea of Reservation/positive discrimination was conceived, experimented and established firmly.

  • New legal system – The establishment of nationwide civil, criminal and commercial legal system by British and its uniform application to all castes and communities on an all India level eroded the authority of caste tremendously. However, the expensive legal procedure involved in getting justice could favour mostly `haves’. Poor could hardly afford to appeal and seek justice. Muscle power became stronger in local areas, which exploited weaker sections of society without fear.
  • The new settlement policy – The new Policy of Permanent Settlement for revenue system led to the rise of a new class of absentee landlords, lliving in luxury in towns and fleecing the tenants at will. It compelled the cultivators to live at the mercy of landlords, for the fear of eviction. Marginal farmers became landless laborers.
  • Industrialization – Industrial revolution has changed work-culture and taught humanity to escape from menial work. The more a person withdrew from physical labor, the more civilized and qualified he was regarded by modern society.

Such an attitude developed apathy towards menial work, indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations pushed millions backward in a very subtle manner. It tended people to leave their traditional occupations and join newly created White-collared jobs in organised sectors, irrespective of their background, aptitude, skill and knowledge.

Industrialization led to the decay of village industries as the competition was directly with the cheap machine goods. The British rulers also discouraged local genius, cottage industries and fine arts. It made many traditional occupations obsolete. The vast majority of people belonging to peasants, artisans, sunk in poverty and misery.They were caught into the clutches of moneylenders. It also led to urbanization. Many new occupations emerged giving choice of occupation.

  • Modern means of transport – The modern means of transport and communications shortened distances and made interaction and mobility faster and easier. It changed the traditional pattern of interdependence, closer bonds between different castes and automatic system of checks and balances. Earlier confined within a small area earlier, caste organizations emerged, grew in size, embracing a much wider area than before and entered into region-wise caste alliances.changed the local character of society.
  • Choice in occupation – It was felt that caste system gave no choice to people in the matter of occupation. It had killed initiative, creativity, innovation and caused unconscious avoidance of new activities. It prevented people from taking any risk. Industrialization and modernization had opened up the vista of new occupations/jobs giving everybody freedom of choice in matter of occupation.

The plus point of traditional system was that it kept everyone employed in one or the other job made them contribute something directly to the society and saved them from confusion of making wrong choices. Professor Shah says, Caste system has a long range and permanent plan embracing every class of society. If applied to every individual, regardless of age and other conditions, no one could be unemployed. Nor could have one worked inappropriate to one’s ability, training, environment, aptitude and attainment, nor could any work be inadequately remunerated.

Importance to white collared jobs – Gradation of modern professions was based on its being intellectual (white-collared) or menial. Accessability to ‘White collared jobs’ was based on modern education and degrees. Therefore mostly it was inaccessible to poor and illiterte masses.

On surface, everything appeared fine, but in reality, Indian society got divided along the lines of race, religion, caste, creed, or place.

Anathema to Aryan-Sanskrit

In the South and Bombay Presidency, the non-Brahmin leaders voiced forcefully against caste system and domination of Brahmins in government jobs and other modern callings. Their leaders insisted for special attention of the government for giving them enough space in electoral politics and government jobs. They succeeded in developing anathema to Aryan-Sanskrit, Brahmins, and northern culture amongst the people of South India. The reasons were –

  • The caste demography of the South was quite different from the North.
  • The modern sector was almost the monopoly of 3% Brahmins in the South.
  • Though Varna came comparatively late in South, the succeeding centuries saw the gradual hardening of class, until South Indian Brahmins became stricter than their counterparts in the North, in their ritual observances.
  • Tamil Brahmins’ rigidity, arrogance and contempt for others had aroused the sentiments of non-brahmin communities there.
  • In South (also in the west) untouchables were more debased than their counterparts in North.ix They were not even included within four Varna, but formed Pancham Varna, which kept them out of the Hindu order.
  • In contrast, anti-Brahmin currents could not dominat the scene in the North. Caste demogrphy of North India made it difficult to ignore upper castes, which formed over 20% of the population, Brahmins being 10% of the total population.
  • Continuous foreign invasions from 7th century onwards disturbed the normal life of North India.
  • The Hindu-Muslim divide was sharper in the North inhibiting the rise of Non-Brahmin.
  • Northern India exhibited with far more clarity the dynamics of caste-system. All the four groups were socially active and occupied an important position in the modern society.
  • Feeling against Brahmins domination in education and jobs was much more paramount in the South than the North. Modern opportunities were shared in the North with diverse groups like Kayasthas, Banias and elite section of Muslims.
  • Brahmins constituted a heterogeneous pack, ranging from dominant elite to middle class peasantry and poor living below poverty line.
  • Shudras and untouchables were never considered outside Hinduism. They formed the integral part of Hindu social order.
  • The influence of Hindu ideology was mingled with elements of every day life. The cultural impact of brahminical rituals was accepted by lower castes as well.
  • There were large areas in the North, where upper castes were dominant, as against scattered upper castes in the South.

The net result was that being non-militant by nature and very small in number, Brahmins in South yielded to the pressures of non-Brahmins without much resistance and moved out from there to other parts of the country, where non-Brahmin movement was either weak or non-existent.

All these development gave rise to a new infrastructure and start of a new kind of inequality. The emergence of new classes with new education, job and legal profile coupled with changed behavior of old surviving classes added to confusion and made Indian society A complicated organism with extremely variegated and antagonistic social forces struggling for their respective interests within it.x

Caste and ‘Untouchability after Independence

Reform movements of nineteenth and twentieth centuries, attempts of constitution-framers, spread of modern education and growth of awareness among masses, modernization and industrialization have brought many changes in thinking, attitude and aspirations of People.

At Policy level – The forefathers of the Indian Constitution urged to upper castes to be more sensitive towards the submerged people, work to bring to an end all social ills developed into the system during centuries of alien rule. They also guided people to stop exploitatation of weaker sections of society, make them educated and aware and empower sections of society politically, economically, socially and culturally.

After Independence in 1947, the Constitution of India itself declared discriminatory and inhuman practice of “Untouchability’ illegal. Preamble of the Indian Constitution has promised to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination on grounds of caste, race, religion, gender or place of birth; Article 16 gives equality of opportunity in matter of public employment, Article 338 creates National commission for Scheduled Castes to safeguard their interests etc.

Legislations in favour of untouchables –A number of amendments in the Constitution and legislation are being passed day in and day out to remove the disabilities of backward people. Un-touchability has been declared a crime. Bonded labour is abolished by law. Civil Rights Act, 1955, aims to eliminate injustice against weaker sections.

Amendment to Prevention of Atrocities Act (SCT) 1989 provides for stern punishments for offenses committed against SCT by Upper Castes. Special Courts, under SCT Act, have been established for punishing officials, if found guilty. Caste is no longer a barrier.

Decade after decade, reservations for SC, ST are being extended for another 10 years by amending the Constitution.

Status of caste in independent India –Despite of weak implementation of such laws, slowly but steadily, caste has become more liberal and less restrictive in all walks of life. It no longer enjoys legal or religious sanctions. Expulsion from castes means little, while earlier it meant complete social ostracism. Old style of authority and power exercised by caste-elders has already diminished.

Restrictions or interactions between different castes arising due to considerations for purity and pollution are fading away from public life even from rural areas. Traditional barriers on marriage, hereditary occupations and commonality are loosing its importance. Inter-caste marriages are increasingly performed in Modern India.

After 1990, Liberalization and Globalisation proved to be an antidote to the caste conudrum for India, which was so far riddled with caste-based discrimination.

Since independence, India has continuously been making efforts to improve the position of all its submerged people including ‘untouchables’. Two experts on poverty, Gaurav Datt and Martin Ravallion on the basis of consumption-based poverty measures from 1950 t0 2006 and 47 rounds of National Sample Surveys concluded that the post-reform process of urban economic growth has brought significant gains to both rural and urban poor. Even though agricultural growth has been relatively weak since 1991, overall high growth has positively affected the lives of rural masses.

India’s high economic growth since 1991 is indeed pro-poor and has decisively helped the poor. They believed that the reforms would create a more efficient and productive economy, which would raise the overall growth rate and transform both urban and rural society.

Such a transformation occurred in the West during nineteenth century and in East Asia in the second half of the twentieth century. Now is the turn of India. (Quoted from – Paper on “Has India’s Economic growth become more pro-poor in the wake of economic reforms?”)

Now there are many SCs, who are occupying important places in power corridors of government or Public or Private sectors. Jagjivan Ram, Mayavati, Meera Kumar and a large number of bureaucrats at all the levels of government services are well respected persons like any other from higher castes.

Pathetic condition of Dalit masses in 21st century – Despite all the empowerment, the condition of majority of Dalits is still precarious. They are still victimized. They are poor, illiterate, ignorent and suffer from consequential disabilities. They suffer due to low wages, non-payment of even minimum wages prescribed by authorities, bonded labour, non-payment of fair share of agricultural produce, forced harvesting of crops, forced eviction from their land and house-sites and disputes over land-ownership.

Over and above it, their sufferings have multiplied due to deteriorated law and order situation, continuous price-rise, increasing number of crimes and incidents of violence. Now and then weavers or farmers commit suicides because of their economic condition.

Why caste-system became a target of criticism

Despite of all developmental activities done by the government and political parties to improve the socio-economic condition of the masses of Dalit community, is pathetic, fault lies somewhere else.

Fault lies somewhere else

Roots of present problems –The roots of the present socio-political and economic turmoil, and sufferings of majority of Shudras/Dalits/untouchables population lie not in distant past, but only about 150 years back. History is the proof that the position of shudras was not as bad as it is now. Policy of ‘divide and rule’was adopted by British rulers and implemented in piece-meal and shrewed manner taking full precautions for the safety and perpetuation of British domination as long as possible. It is said that British divided the country and ruled. Indian politicians are dividing but misruling the country.

Therefore, it is not the “Varnashram system/caste system that is keeping 750 million untouchables poor, subjugated and humiliated”. Such as –

Unprincipled Politics– Sheer opportunism and valueless power politics have gradually taken over the place of principles and idealism after the independence. The politicians have become very practical. Political expediency has become the order of the day. They place themselves above the law of the nation. They are closely associated with goons and pamper anti-social elements, which openly practice terror politics.

The last fifty years have seen the emergence of many pressure groups pushing forward sectorial demands and brushing aside interests of the society as a whole or of the nation. Both the leaders and people must realize that development of society as a whole is necssary for the development of the nation. Otherwise all efforts will remain lop-sided and ineffective.

The traditional compartments of the society, which were earlier inter-dependent, have now been energized by the politicians as the vehicles for insisting for separate political identities. In order to earn public support, the leaders depend more on passions than principles, be it castiest, religious or otherwise.

Politicization of caste – At present, caste is the single most important factor in politics. General public is being treated as merely vote-bank. It is unfortunate that people understand it, but finds them-selves unable to find solution for the tricks of political parties.

After consolating their autority in India, British rulers, bureaucrats, missionaries and educationists considered it necessary to weaken India’s social structure. Their main target became the caste system, which was running through its entire social fabric.

Principles of Varna (later on giving birth to caste system in order to assimilate numorous communities desirous to join the main stream), Dharma and Karma have been the foundation stones of Hindu society providing it a solid social structure. It has given Hindu society a distinguished identity and with a system of thought, way of life, and sense of direction.

Politicization of caste – Politicization of caste has de-generated the work culture. Rising expectations, political ambitions and economic interests have aroused the militancy among the discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation. It has divided the Indians into innumerable unbridgeable groups.

Entry of ‘caste’ into politics has given rise to casteism. At present, caste is the single most important factor in Indian politics. The politics of vote-banks and advantages of reservation policy have made lower castes more tenacious on the subject of their caste than the higher/upper castes. Its unchecked growth has resulted in the increase of caste and communal conflicts. There is a difference between ‘caste-system’ and ‘caste-ism’.

There is complete centralization of control systems in the hands of a few Individuals, families and groups irrespective of castes or creed. They have money and muscle power. Usually they seek support of the criminals and in return provide them protection. Together they control destiny of millions and have say in almost every walk of national life. Under-currents of caste politics have made the government incapable to solve the burning national issues. It has made the task of governance of the nation ineffective. ‘Caste-politics’ needs to be arrested at its earliest.

Inter-caste and intra-caste rivalries – Dalit assertion on the other hand has given rise to inter-caste and intra-caste rivalries. Worst effected is Bihar. For last 30 years, a radical land reform movement has been led by militants known as Naxalites. They fight high caste landlords’ violence with violence. Private upper-caste militants have sprung-up to retaliate.

Inclusion of different kinds of identities into politics gave birth to politics of divisiveness/otherness, which is harming Indian democracy. It is taking governance in a different direction from what was conceived by the framers of the Constitution… For reasons of real-politik, identities are handy tools for politicians to divide people of India.

    Vested interests -Vested interests of some pressure groups are causing enslavement, ignorance and suppression of the majority of Shudras/Dalits/untouchables.

     For politicians, ‘Untouchable’ caste-identity is a recipe for organizing their own pressure group and creating vote-banks. Elite section amongst lower castes protects its turf under the banner of untouchable. Educated untouchables want backdoor entry into bureaucracy through quota system. The interest of both lies in keeping the poor masses ignorant, insecure and out of mainstream. And here lies the crux of present day’s casteist politics.

    As Middleton had pointed out “Caste, in itself, was rigid among the higher castes, but malleable amongst the lower.” But now, the lower strata of society clings to their caste identities very strongly. Instead of moving up in the ladder of caste hierarchy, the various pressure groups insist for their status to be recognized officially at par with untouchables, so that they could enjoy more special privileges/benefits of affirmative action programs.

    Mockery of Social Justice Since Independence, subsequent Governments both at centre and provinces levels are continuously thrusting upon the public many discriminatory/lofty/populist rules, regulations and policies in the name of ‘Social Justice’ or helping the “poor masses”.

Public sentiments are aroused and its attention is being diverted by floating in political world abstract ideas like indiscrimination, equality, social justice, affirmative action or Reservation policy, secularism etc. In the name of these principles, sectional interests are being promoted openly, making mockery of these noble ideas.

The authorities are so preoccupied with growth rate (for last five years its being 8% to 9%) and rising sensex that they have totally ignored all other crucial issues.

Real issues like mass-scale illiteracy, poverty, unemployability due to lack of skills and opportunities, ownership-rights over land, inflation, deteriorated law and order situation, increasing violence or general coarsening of moral fiber of the Indian society are pushed in the background. These are the factors responsible for the miseries, low-status, sufferings, exploitation, clashes and violence or exclusion of a large number of people from the mainstream.

Not a single common-man belonging either to lower caste or higher caste finds any respite. Masses suffer due to alarming disparities of power, wealth and culture. Attempts for social changes has made a virtue of narrow loyalties of caste and religion, generating sub-cultures like favoritism, lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism, bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments. It is spreading in-discipline and lawlessness in the society.

Common-man belonging to upper caste also feel threatened, helpless and suffer from discriminatory policies of the government. It has caused brain-drain.

To them, it seems as if once more, India got partitioned. Earlier in 1947, the land was partitioned, uprooting millions of families from their place. Again, Globalization coupled with faulty implementation of policies has divided many families – youth settling abroad in advanced countries like America or England to explore greener pastures, to get free atmosphere to work, job satisfaction and enough ennumeration for their hard work, leaving behind old parents here to take care of themselves on their own.

Protective policies and laws – The exclusion of a large number of people from the mainstream for a long time has stopped growth of their personality and made them completely dependent on government’s paternalistic policies and on other prominent sections of society for their survival. It shook their confidence, deteriorated severely their condition and made them to suffer inhuman treatment by others.

Instead of helping the poor masses, Protective policies and laws have increased lure power easy money. It has encouraged lethargy. Also, it develops amongst people of certain sections tendency of life- long dependency on crutches provided by the government for each and everything.

     Protective policies and lawstouch the problems superficially. It can neither convert an iniquitous Society into an equitable one nor bring sustainable development of vulnerable, oppressed and submerged masses.

    Ineffective governance – Inefficient governance has caused misery to a common man. Delays, corruption, lack of coordination between different departments and influence of money in political circle have slowered down the developmental process. Rapid population growth has added fuel into fire. Awareness of its rights, rising aspirations and demands of people is putting increasing pressures on the government machinery and its development plans.

     Capture of political, administrative and technical decision-making power and to secure more space in the power echelons have become a matter of crucial importance for all the newly emerged competing social and economic groups, everyone seeking a bigger share of the spoil in one way or the other. It has become one of the big challenges for the present and future governments, both at national and provincial levels to reconcile the claims of growth with the claims of equity.

      Too much stress on the identities – Too much stress on identities based on caste, gender, religion or region has generated sub-cultures like caste-ism, favoritism, corruption, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism.

      It has completely polarized the peoples’ opinion, divided them into numerous unbridgeable compartments. It led to the mushroom growth of self-proclaimed messiahs and emergence of numerous pressure groups pursuing sectoral interests and sharpening communal and castiest divide.

      Some bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments, while pusuing sectional interests spread cause law and order problem. It increases cut-throat competition between different sections of society creating rift between different sections of society.A few groups with numerical strength have become very vocal and assertive.

     The organised intolerance of such groups, which are over conscious of their racial, regional, cultural and religious identities and feel to be threatened by others, has grown out of proportions, perpetuating agitation and violence. Political authorities fear to annoy them and, therefore, concede to their demands openly or discreetly, while in power.

     Recently, Government is at dilemma over the demand of ‘Gujjars for separate 5% reservation. The benefits of reservations are cornered by politically and economically influential Jats. Hence, Gujjars initially insisted to be included in STs category. Their agitation for reservation has dirupted the normal life and forced Centre to dispatch paramilitary troops to restore law and order.

    Quota system – After the Second world-war, the govt has taken the responsibility of poor and vulnerable sections of society. However, its paternalistic policies have yielded disappointing results), because these policies are:

  • Usually framed with an eye on vote-banks.
  • Top-down schemes devised by self proclaimed leaders and administered by faceless bureaucrats some of them being insensitive and corrupt.
  • Not rooted in local priorities or skills.The beneficiaries do not choose, design and implements the projects.
  • Often represented patronage networks of those doling out the money.

     The benefits are often captured by rural elites and close associates of politicians. In India also, it has brought prosparity to a few individuals, families and groups only. They are flourishing and get a say in important matters. Ossification of authority has fallen into the hands of power brokers and vote guzzlers, who virtually control destiny of rest of their poor brothern.

    Corruption – Corruption has increased tremendously and has become a major/perennial impediment to implement various developmental schemes. Unscrupulous people, irrespective of caste or creed have monopolised money, muscle and political power. They give protection to criminals. Tax-payer’s money allocated for various developmental purposes is either being siphoned off to foreign banks or spent on luxurious life style of so-called ‘representatives of people’ or goes into the pockets of their supporters.

     Ignorance and pessimist attitude of masses has made corrupt persons bold. Whenever public would become vigilant and would raise its voice against arbitrary/corrupt behaviour/actions of authorities, all corrupt practices, discrimination and malpractices would first get controlled, then would automatically vanish.

Erosion of value system – Aversion of people from human, moral or traditional values and hard work has aggravated all the problems. The total concentration of people is on pursuit of money and materialistic pleasures by hook or crook. Ruthless competition based on chase of materialism has escalated undesired trends of favoritism, in-discipline, violence and corruption. Political expediency and opportunism has made sectional forces more vocal and assertive/aggressive in persuing their sectional interests. All these trends together have given sharp rise to disparities and discrimination.

Virtues like compassion, sensitivity, equality or fraternity can not be imposed or enforced (it may cause social unrest) by any outside agency or authority. It has to be in-built in the social economic and political system of the country through education and awareness to all – education, which is the source of knowledge and power; and awareness, which comes from availability of information.

And now the morals of those yielding power have started vanishing. People have forgotten about life of austerity and self-restraint. Once a compromise is made, there is no end to it. One after another compromise is made to enjoy pleasures of money and get name, name and power.

Today a common man has become so inured that any amount of harassment, violence of human dignity and human rights, bloodshed, caste-wars, carnage, riots, corruption, scams or scandals hardly fazes him anymore.

One feels secure, until not affected personally. The growth of literacy and awareness, trend in consumerism, increasing consciousness of their rights to the determent of the duties, responsibilities attached with each right and the tall promises by politicians have already aroused the expectations of the people.

There is a wide gap between the expectations and opportunities to fulfill them. Therefore, there is frustration, venom against each other, agitation and violence, which threatens to shake the system and its structures.

Government has so far failed to take stringent measures against the exploitators of weaker sections and punish them their inhuman behaviour.

And Common man is fed-up by hate-filled antics or fiery speeches of casteist politicians, who regard caste-system deeply flawed and blame upper castes for each and everything be it oppression of lower castes, minorities, poor or women; discrimination; poverty; illiteracy or unemployment.

On one hand, it resulted in agrarian distress, farmers-suicides, inflation, unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities, increasing unemployment, systematic intitutionalized corruption etc.

On the other it is increasing the bank-balance of unscrupulous persons in authority and their associates in business, bureaucracy, media etc. And also with it, is increasing the number of scams and scandals most recent being that of Adarsh Housing Society and 2G Spectrum scam involving a sum of Rs1.76 crore loss to exchequer or CAG .

Community empowerment

Recently the world over, community empowerment is becoming once again a buzz -word. People now prefer to to bypass government mechanisms and go strait to communities. People feel that it would cost far less than centrally planned ones. Also it would check corruption and waste, to take arbitrary power away from politicians at central, state, even at local level, also to build the skills of targeted groups through learning by doing and to empower them as decision-makers.

It is felt that good values are inculcated at home, in the family and the community rather than in school. Values cannot be taught like texts nor tested in written examinations. They are learned by living.

Western societies are seriously concerned about the erosion of family values and decay of ‘community life’. There people and leaders regularly call for their restoration.

In India, community-based forums have always been powerful. In India, the Christian and Parsi communities are practicing community-based approach for a long time.  The institutions run by Veerashaiva mutts of Karnataka, the Ramakrishna Mission, RadhasaomiSatsang, Satya Sai Baba, Sadhu Vasvani and others provide far better municipal, educational and medical services than the government. The social capital in these communities ensures good governance. Altogether, they have an infinitely better performance record than government schemes.

During 21st century

Once more, the term Untouchablility came into limelight at the dawn of 21st    century’s India. It is surprising, that this time, the concern was shown by global society, which For political leaders, caste system has kept a large number of people away from education, prosperity and honour.This time, it is being done not at national level, but at international forum and by the media of western countries.

For the growth of a self-contained and self-regulated society, it is necessary to encourage education amongst the masses, all the occupations be given equal importance, people not be forced to adopt their hereditary occupations and difference of income derived from various occupations be narrowed down to the minimum.

Winding up

Indian society does not owe its exaltation to any outside force or need to depend on any foreign aid for its amelioration. It has capacity to eradicate social evils developed in the system without any foreign intervention. It has capacity to look inwardly and correct it by itself.

In its long period of evolution, some undesirable practices developed into the system. Whenever society got suffocated due to rigid social customs or practices, there arose alternative ideologies or styles of life, which gave it breathing space.

Rise of Buddhism in Ancient India lessened the harsher effects of caste system, inspired people to have sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings and initiated system of organised education. In mediaeval India, around 10th century, Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus brought mutual understanding and communal harmony. Both these cults and taught a simple path of faith, devotion, brotherly love and fellowship.

Teachings of Shri Chaitnya, Nanak, Kabir, Bhakti and Sufi saints emphasized need for mutual appreciation, tolerance, and taught people to love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed. It rejected practice of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions. Both Buddhism and Islam provided an alternative to people, wishing to opt out of caste system.

Reform movements of 19th and first half of 20th centuries tried to build a modern, open, plural, culturally rich, prosperous and powerful India out of a fragmented, poverty stricken, weak, indifferent, backward and inward looking society. “Arya Samaj Dharma”, “Achutodhar”, Rama Krishna Mission or Theosophical Society of India told people to look inwards and take corrective measures as India is endowed with a vibrant culture and a rich history.

Now, uplift and empowerment of really submerged sections of society neither lie in letting down the upper castes, which is not interested in confrontation either with intermediate castes or with Dalits. Nor does it lie in pursuing Reservation Policy or other paternalistic policies, which have not so far yielded the desired results.

Liberalization and Globalization has opened up many new opportunities in job-market for all. What is required for their prosperity is learning, acquiring required knowledge and skills, hard-work, wisdom, confidence, will power, courage to face the challenges and move forward without crutches.

There is need to educate, make them aware of their rights and duties, facilitate enough employment opportunities and other civic facilities like health, education and training etc at the grass root level for the sustainable growth of backward communities.

Change in the mindset of younger generation

It is upto young educated persons, irrespective of caste or creed, to lead with faster pace the growth of the Indian economy and other developments for better future. They have everything with them education, a strong technology base, awareness of the global world and what all is happening in India plus a desire to put India at the top. And there is rich cultural base that could bind them together. With all ingredients of a fast track move-forward available in the respect of development, what is required is fire, a movement or a revolution – a revolution of ideas and ideologies with a follow up. To ignite such power is needed involvement, commitment and a little sacrifice.

At present, Indian society is passing through an era of transition/rapid changes in systems and values of modern society. Everything appears to be in tumoil in the society. People are getting away from their roots. They are not aware of their own customs and traditions and nuances of Indian way of life.

The gap in knowledge and traditional values and culture is because of modern education system, influence of western culture, and atmosphere stiff competition, materialism/consumerism, in which they live. It becomes important to brigde this gap. Everybody is free to form one’s own ideas and lead life in way, one wants. But there is no harm in trying to make youth aware of the basics their own culture, as it is they who hold the present and the future too. Elders cangive directions /guidance only.

Until and unless some harsh measures are not taken against those persons, who are found to be engaged in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, it would be difficult to make any improvement. Work permit/licence of such people should be cancelled. Persons holding responsible public posts should be asked to resign immediately or face suspension/removal.  Culprits of anti-social activities and criminal acts should be punished sternly without much delay.



i Srinivas, MN, Social Change in Modren India,

ii Shore, Ibid. Pp 567-477

iii Ward, cited in Shore, p 66.

iv Tarachand, History of Freedom Movement in India, Vol.I, pp283-84.

v Annie Besant, India – A Nation, pp98-99.

vi Fisher FB, India’s Silent Revolution, pp37-38.

vii Indian Statutory Commission, 1930, VI, p 341.

viii Shah TK, Ancient Foundation of Economics, p 3, Times of India, dated 10.4.94.

ix Basham P.189)

x Desai AR, Social Background of Indian Nationalism, p176.


December 19, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |


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  2. The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I know it was my choice to read, but I actually thought youd have something interesting to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you could fix if you werent too busy looking for attention.
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    • Thanks for feed-back and sorry for disappointing you. For your kind attention, I am neither interested in name or fame. It is just a humble attempt just to bring into light some of the strengths of Indian value system, which have been suppressed by the vested interests in the recent past by highlighting its weaknesses. During last few centuries, many misconceptions are being spread around the world about values and systems in India by intellectuals living abroad and also by people living in India, but deeply influenced by ‘West’.
      Half cooked information, half a truth, partial or incomplete knowledge with a purpose to let down somebody is harmful for the whole global society. Many a times it turns out to be a great lie. Reality is much deeper than what is seen on the surface. One should not form an opinion or take a decision without analyzing rationally the whole scenario.

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