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Caste system in India

This topic covers the information related to caste system in India.

The Indian society is divided into various sects and classes. This is because of the caste system which is prevalent in the country. The roots of the caste system go back to the ancient Vedas dividing people on the basis of varna or occupation. It has brought many evils in the society. The Government is constantly striving to overcome the harms of the system and bring about true equality among the people.

Caste System in India

The caste system is the bane for the Indian society. It divides the Indian society into sectarian groups and classes. Even today, it plays a predominant role in our society despite the growth of culture and civilisation.

  • The terms ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (SC/ST) are the official terms used in government documents to identify former untouchables and tribes. However, in 2008 the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, noticing that the word ‘Dalit’ was used interchangeably with the official term ‘Scheduled Castes’, asked the State Governments to end the use of the word ‘Dalit’ in official documents by calling the term ‘unconstitutional’ and to replace it with the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ instead.
  • The roots of the caste system are traced back to the ancient ages. While one view discriminates between the castes as upper and lower castes on the basis of their origin, another view traces the origin of the castes to varnas which classifies the caste system on the basis of their functions. Since then, it was found that undue advantage was taken by the section of people having an upper hand and a say in the community, leading to discrimination and exploitation of the weaker sections of community.
  • The people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, referred to as ‘untouchables’ form one-sixth of India’s population or 160 million; they endure discrimination and segregation.

Evil faces of this system

Untouchability

Many villages are separated by caste and they may not cross the line dividing them from the higher castes. They also may not use the same wells or drink in the same tea stalls as higher castes.

Discrimination

They often do not have the facility to electricity, sanitation facilities or water pumps in lower caste neighbourhoods. Access to better education, housing and medical facilities than that of the higher castes is denied.

Division of labour

They are restricted to certain occupations like sanitation work, plantation work, leather works, cleaning streets, etc.

Slavery

They are subjected to exploitation in the name of debt, tradition, etc., to work as labourers or perform menial tasks for generations together.

Government Initiatives

The Indian Government has enacted laws to remove untouchability and has also brought in many reforms to improve the quality of life for the weaker sections of society. Few among them are:

  • Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights
  • Abolition of ‘ untouchability’ in 1950
  • Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
  • Provision of reservation in places like educational institutions, for employment opportunities etc.
  • Establishing social welfare departments and national commissions for the welfare of scheduled castes and tribes

These measures adopted by the government have brought some relief to the weaker sections of society. The urban areas have shown good amount of impact and some improvement. However, people in rural areas and villages still face extreme discrimination. We indeed have a long way to go in achieving the objectives set to eradicate and abolish discrimination, on the basis of caste and creed. It now depends on our efforts and a change in our mindset is sure to see a perpetual change, bringing about equality for all.

Right to Equality

The fundamental fights are guaranteed to protect the basic human rights of all citizens of India and are put into effect by the courts, subject to some limitations. One of such fundamental rights is the Right to Equality. Right to Equality refers to the equality in the eyes of law, discarding any unfairness on grounds of caste, race, religion, place of birth sex. It also includes equality of prospects in matters of employment, abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles. Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India highlight the Right to Equality in detail. This fundamental right is the major foundation of all other rights and privileges granted to Indian citizens. It is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution of India. Thus, it is imperative that every citizen of India has easy access to the courts to exercise his/her Right to Equality.

Various articles under the Right to Equality are explained as follows:

Equality Before Law

Equality before law is well defined under the Article 14 of the Constitution which ensures that every citizen shall be likewise protected by the laws of the country. It means that the State will not distinguish any of the Indian citizens on the basis of their gender, caste, creed, religion or even the place of birth. The state cannot refuse equality before the law and equal defense of the law to any person within the territory of India. In other words, this means that no person or groups of people can demand for any special privileges. This right not only applies to the citizens of India but also to all the people within the territory of India.

Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas

The right of Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas is clearly mentioned under the Article 15 of the Constitution of India stating that no person shall be shown favoritism on the basis of color, caste, creed language, etc. Every person shall have equal admittance to public places like public wells, bathing ghats, museums, temples etc. However, the State has the right to make any special arrangement for women and children or for the development of any socially or educationally backward class or scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. This article applies only to citizens of India.

Equality in Matters of Public Employment

Article 16 of the Constitution of India clearly mentions that the State shall treat everyone equally in the matters of employment. No citizen shall be discriminated on the basis of race, caste, religion, creed, descent or place of birth in respect of any employment or office under the State. Every citizen of India can apply for government jobs. However, there are some exceptions to this right. The Parliament may pass a law mentioning that specific jobs can only be filled by candidates who are residing in a particular area. This requirement is mainly for those posts that necessitate the knowledge of the locality and language of the area.

Apart from this, the State may also set aside some posts for members of backward classes, scheduled castes or scheduled tribes which are not properly represented in the services under the State to uplift the weaker sections of the society. Also, a law may be passed which may entail that the holder of an office of any religious institution shall also be a person professing that specific religion. Though, this right shall not be granted to the overseas citizens of India as directed by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2003.

Abolition of Untouchability

Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolishes the practice of untouchability in India. Practice of untouchability is declared as a crime and anyone doing so is punishable by law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (and now Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) states punishments for not allowing a person to enter a place of worship or from taking water from a well or tank.

Abolition of Titles

Article 18 of the Constitution of India prohibits the State from granting any titles. Citizens of India are not allowed to accept titles from a foreign State. Titles like Rai Bahadurs and Khan Bahadurs given by the British government have also been abolished. Nevertheless, academic and military distinctions can be conferred upon the citizens of India. The awards of ‘Bharat Ratna’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ cannot be used by the beneficiary as a title and is not prohibited by the Constitution of India. From 15 December 1995, the Supreme Court has sustained the validity of such awards.

To conclude, the ‘Right to Equality’ should not only remain on papers. This right should be properly exercised; otherwise it will lose its essence if all the citizens of India, especially the weaker and backward classes do not have equal rights and equality before law.

Source: Portal Content Team

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Swati Kumta Jan 24, 2018 01:06 PM

Caste system in India is major hurdle against progress. It is against humanity. It causes detrimental effects on nation's progress as well. It is common practice in India to discriminate people by caste which is really meaningless and against humanity. Caste less India will be very ambitious dream , but not impossible.

Ramamurthy ponugupati Aug 02, 2017 05:26 PM

As so many writers expressed in India caste system started originally based on occupation or activity performed for the survival of society. In the course of period some educated, people possessing property and position have taken higher position in the society and created rules and systems classified as upper class and lower class. The lower class in the service to upper class was made as dependents and servants to upper class and they became helpless and un developed. The upper caste have position and property and made lower class to depend on them and prohibited their education, acquiring property and position and were placed away from society.

After Independence the constitution has given them fundamental rights and reservation facility in education, employment and electoral to improve their living standards. Even 70. Years passed still there are incidents of discrimination and struggle in their life. Some section of people are opposing reservations. The caste system has not been removed in the mind of upper class and often clashes and inequality happen in the Indian society. Govt. also could not achieve satisfactory results in this area. Other hand some section of people and politicians are using this Caste clashes /differences for their vote bank and benefitting at the cost of country's stability and unity. Unless the mind set is changed it is not possible to eliminate these differences. Unless these differences are removed equality or total development can not be achieved in India.
Our constitution only has to show some remedy to this problem and solve permanently. The inequality is only due to caste system in India. The constitution has allowed for change of person name, place, political party, including Religion in this country. So like if change of CASTE also granted in the Indian Constitution ,this Caste system will automatically be abolished, dissolved and disappear in Indian society during course of period. I strongly suggest to parliament to pass an act to this effect. Else the upper class or the people in power has no interest to solve this problem and development or unity of India.

T SATISH Apr 02, 2017 12:56 PM

Firstly I would like to stand in line with the statements made by Shiva Kumar what u said is exactly true sir ,govt giving reservations in the name of caste means it's noting but previaling caste system, untouchability, discrimination this is what was going in present society I saw so many Facebook comments to remove reservation but no one comment to remove caste system I can say if caste system was removed then everything will be in right direction then development starts with that only

Shivam kumar Oct 17, 2016 11:53 AM

The concept of equality is in itself ambiguous. when we are talking of equality first we need to understand what is inequality. inequality means division or discrimination among human beings. is that equality only mean having equality in term of financial aspect or equal status in the society. isn't it the discrimination between the clerk and the judge of the same caste amount to be the inequality in term of the their affluence and the status in the society, and the discrimination between the same caste. So by creating division or giving reservation in the name of caste and religion the government is indirectly establishing or promoting inequality. Division on the basis of caste, religion and sex always promote inequality rather than establishing equality in the society.

Zainab Khursheed Oct 03, 2016 08:48 PM

Equality means treating everyone equal in the society and this can only happen if we give equal treatment to everyone by not discriminating them on the basis of gender, religion and caste . Secondly by having a good mindset which is really important for the development of one country.

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