Is Casteism Really a Thing of the Past?
People always say that caste-based discrimination in India is a thing of the past. But, is it?
India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification. The system divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on ‘karma’ and ‘dharma’. ‘Manusmriti’, regarded as the authoritative book on Hindu law ‘justifies’ the caste system.
The caste system that forced untouchables to clean public toilets was outlawed; yes, the importance of caste was vanishing as India grew more middle class but caste clung to all of us in one way or the other. Surnames denoted caste, political parties were created to cater to castes, and marriages were based on castes. So basically, castes stuck together.
Independent India’s constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste. Since India’s ‘lower castes’ had been systematically disadvantaged for so long, the government created special quota under affirmative action, mandated by the constitution.
By 1990, the quota rose to 49% and it applied to groups that were classified as OBCs, SCs and STs. The reason behind these reservations was to create more opportunities for these oppressed groups at social mobility. This affirmative action was put out as the bedrock of Indian democracy as a way of reversing unjust systems.
In recent years, there have been demands from several communities to be recognized as OBCs- in 2016 there were violent protests by Jaat community in Haryana and the Patel community in Gujarat in 2016 demanding access to caste quotas. Both are prosperous and politically dominant communities but their argument was that a large number of people in their community are poor and suffering. Despite their relative wealth, the grievances of communities like the Patels and Jats are not imagined. Many struggle for jobs and advancement. Many worry about the dwindling influence of land owners.
Writing about the Patel movement in August, the social scientist Christopher Jaffrelot described in The Indian Express how a fast-changing India has been difficult for rural Indians.
Despite affirmative action and caste-based discrimination being constitutionally illegal, caste based discrimination is still prevalent in universities and schools. Physical exclusion and indifference of the faculty towards the plight of marginalized students is pushing many to suicide, and despite measures being in place, administrations are doing little to address the issues.
The prevalence of caste-based discrimination in Indian universities has been an open secret for decades. While some Dalit student suicides have been more widely reported in recent years, away from the headlines, direct and indirect systemic discrimination continues to suffocate the lives and thwart the education of Dalit students across the country. Rajini Krish, as his friends knew him, had documented on facebook the stories of his struggle as a student facing discrimination. Just a few days before his death, in his last public post, he wrote: “There is no Equality in M.phil/phd Admission, there is no equality in viva–voce, there is only denial of equality.”