Caste System

Mains Marks Booster     3rd August 2023        

The term ‘Caste’ comes from a Portuguese word ‘Casta’ which means race, breed, or group. In India, caste refers to a group which have common traditional occupation, common culture, and common social identity.

Features of the caste system

  • Vertical and horizontal classification: There is both vertical and horizontal classification of these groups, in fact it is based on birth, therefore social mobility is impermeable.
  • Varna system: The ‘Varna system’ is the basis of this hierarchical categorization and the Brahmins are placed at the top of the hierarchy, followed by the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras.
  • Untouchability: It is based on the concept of purity and pollution. Untouchables/Dalits are the people which are considered outside the caste system and they are kept below the Shudras.
  • There are restrictions on interactions among the members of different castes and inter-caste marriages are prohibited.
  • Traditionally the caste system also assigned occupations to the members of different castes (e.g., manual scavenging), but this has changed with time.
  • Endogamy: Endogamy refers to marriage within the caste.

Role of the Caste system

Recent Changes in the Caste System

  • Decline in supremacy of Brahmins: With the advent of scientific temper, secularization, and modernization the supremacy of Brahmins has declined. In the past, the Brahmin occupied the topmost position in the caste hierarchy.
  • Inter caste marriages: With rising literacy rate and urbanization, there is a rise in inter-caste marriages. The Union Government launched the Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for social integration by incentivising inter-caste marriages.
  • Abolition of Untouchability: Indian law does not permit the practice of untouchability. Article 17 of the Constitution of India bans the practice.
  • Social mobility: Social status of certain castes has improved resulting from the process of Sanskritization. Sanskritization is the phenomenon of adoption of lifestyle of higher castes (e.g., vegetarianism)
  • Urbanization and Industrialization has changed the Traditional occupational structures and created Interdependence among different castes. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar held the traditional village structures responsible for perpetuation of caste-based discrimination.
  • Weakening of the caste system: Modern education system has imparted values like equality, democracy, and secularism, which has further weakened the caste system.

Despite efforts to eradicate the caste system, the problem persists. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of caste-based violence and discrimination cases, both in rural and urban areas. This has led to a lot of unrest and tension among different communities.

Dynamics of Caste system

Caste today is active in three main ways.

  • First, it is a system that regulates the distribution of material opportunity or life chances, and hence it is a source of enduring inequalities.
  • Second, it remains one of the primary modes of political mobilisation, even though caste politics is now far more disaggregated, complex and uncertain than it used to be.
  • Third, and perhaps most elusive, for everyone except a small upper-class, upper-caste elite caste continues to be a form of community offering a sense of kinship, belonging and identity.

Recent Incidences/data of Alleged Caste Based Discrimination:

  • In February 2023, a Dalit student at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT Bombay) died by committing suicide allegedly after suffering caste discrimination on the campus.
  • Recently tensions erupted between Dalits and Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu over entry to the shrine.
  • In 2021, more than 50,000 cases of crimes against Scheduled Castes (SCs) were registered.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, over 130,000 anti-Dalit crimes were registered between 2018 and 2020.
The social reform movements, British policies before independence and rights & safeguards provided in the Indian constitution have somewhat led to changes in the caste system.

Caste Bases-Reservation in India

  • The reservation system in India promotes social justice through affirmative action for historically disadvantaged communities based on caste, tribe, and other criteria.
  • It includes reserved seats in education, employment, and politics, but faces debates and challenges.
  • Ongoing evaluation and focus on socio-economic development and equal opportunities are crucial for its effectiveness.
  • Constitutional Provisions:
    • Article 15(4) capacitates the State to create special arrangements for promoting interests and welfare of socially and educationally backward classes of society.
    • Article 16(4) empowers the state to provide reservations in public employment for SCs, STs, and OBCs to ensure their representation in government jobs.

Fighting Caste Based Discrimination: