Author: Shailvi Gupta, I year of LL.B. from University of Delhi
According to NCRB data a schedule caste person faced crime every 10 minutes in India in past years, cumulating a total of 50291 cases registered in 2020 an increase of 9.4% from the year 2020 to 2021. NCRB reports an alarming 7 lakhs atrocities against Dalit communities between the years 1991 and 2020. Among these numbers the significant amount of violence is inflicted towards the lower caste women, “We are victim of violence because we are poor, lower caste and women, so looked down upon by all” – words of 16% of female population of India (Dalit women). In a newspaper I studied years ago that a lower caste woman is the lowest step of caste ladder, the dominant group use them as an option to threaten the lower caste men. As perthe NCRB report, atrocities against scheduled castes have increased by 1.2 % in 2021(50900) over 2020(50291). Uttar Pradesh recorded highest number of caste atrocities against schedule caste accounting for 25.82% among which the most gruesome was Hathras Rape case followed by Rajasthan with 14.7% where a minor boy was thrashed by his principal for drinking water from his pot and Madhya Pradesh with 14.1% during 2021. And the latest case is of Institutional murder of a Dalit student at reputed IIT Bombay.
Such social disapproval and exclusion within one’s own country has caused marginalised people years of mental and physical trauma. Where they definitely have been given protection by special laws enacted for them to certain extent but still it will take them another 75+ years to live a normal life. In this Write-up we will discuss about the origin of caste system, what made this caste system exist for so long in our society and how this system has become the living hell for the oppressed.
Origin of Caste
Caste is a historically engrained vertical-hierarchical social structure, a form of social stratification deep-rooted in India since the origin of Hindu philosophy. In colloquial language Caste is derived from the Portugueseword ‘caste’ meaning species, race or kind.
According to E. blunt (a British civil servant in India during British rule and a scholarly writer)- “caste is an endogamous group bearing a common name, membership of which is hereditary imposing on its members certain restrictions in matters of social intercourse.”
This theory says that caste system is of divine origin. It propounds that caste system is the extension of Varna system, where four varnas were originated from the body of Brahma. At the top of hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly the teachers and intellectuals and came from brahma’s head. Kshatriyas or the warriors and the rulers came from his arms, Vaishya, or the traders, were created from his thighs. at the bottom were shards who came from Brahms feet. The sub-castes emerged later due to intermarriage between the 4 varnas. The proponent of this theory cite pursuit of Rigveda and man smriti.
HerbertRiley is the most ardent exponent of racial theory of the origin of caste system of origin of caste system. Other supporters of this theory are the scholars like Ghurye, mazumdar. This theory traces the origin of caste system from the clash of cultures and the contact of races. The Aryans came to India as conquerors because of their better complexion, physical appearance and physique of their body in comparison with the non-Aryans, the Aryans placed themselves over non-Aryans. Later due to the inter-mixing of Aryans with the non-Aryans, offspring born out of such irregular unions were titled as chandals and had the lowest position in the society
Dr.Ghuryesays, “caste is a Brahminic child of Indo-Aryan culture cradled in the land of Ganges and transferred to other parts of India”. The Brahmins added the concept of spiritual merit of the king, through the priest or purohit in order to get the support of the ruler of the land. With the increasing influence of priests in India Brahmins strong-footed themselves in the soil of India and closed the rank of highest-status in the society for themselves. The Brahmins held.” Whatever a Brahmin says is a social norm and the entire property of society belongs to brahmins”. The salvation of Individuals or society lied in the performance of religious rites by brahmins only.
Newfield regarded caste system as natural outcome of occupational division of Hindu-society. He held that “Function and Function alone is responsible for caste system”. Those who were involved in socially upright occupations such as educating people, fighting in the battlefield, trade etc were recognised as people belonging to superior castes and others were treated as inferior to them such as Shudras. With time this system became so rigid that those people who were born in an inferior caste were regarded as inferior for their lifetime even if they were capable of educating others.
Caste & Minorities
Minorities is the section of a society, briefly minority is based on numbers, a certain group which is well-off both socially and economically can be a minority. Eg- Parsis.
Minority is not ascriptive in nature whereas caste is as discussed above is highly ascriptive in nature even in the present scenario. Caste is relative i.e. it is based on sub-group eg- one can be a majority in one place &minority in other place. Whereas in caste system societal status is directly linked to the place where one was born.
History has recorded the caste movements in India and across the world from time to time and from region to region. By the end of 19th century several anti-caste movements emerged in different regions of the country. During colonial time Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar emerged as the leaders of depressed class who funded All India depress class association. Gandhiji actively associated depressed class with words like “harijan” meaning “children of god”. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar whose mere existence was the proof of defiance of occupational theory of origin of caste. He was born as a shudras but went on to write the future of India. He was of the firm opinion that Untouchability should be abolished, Caste system should be abolished. Movements like Satyashodhak samaj charioteered by Jyoti RaoPhule against the Brahminic domination. Self-Respect Movement founded by E.V Ramaswamy periyar which aimed for equal human rights in a caste-based society. Nair movement is another example of outcry against Brahminic domination. Such movements defined the repulsion in society created by rigid caste-based system and even today to an extent such movements are still active in India and few of these movements got as much attention as the Dalit Panthers, founded by NamdeoDhasal, JV pawar, this movement was ideologically aligned with Black panther party, a social organisation fighting against racism in us. There is parallel resurgence of the Dalit-Bahujan movement in India and the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
Role of constitution in Uplifting Dalit lives
The preamble aims to provide social,economical,political justice for all. To this end constitution has several provisions to protect scheduled castes and to improve their positions.DPSP directs the states to create laws benefitting the marginalisedsection in the society. Art.14, Art.15, Art.16 talk about the equal treatment of citizens in all the spheres of life. Art.15(4) empowers the state to enact special provisions for the advancement of any socially and economically backward classes of citizens. This particular provision was incorporated into the constitutionthrough the first amendment act of,1951 and has enabled several states to reserve seats for SC and ST in educational institutions, including technical, engineering and medicalcollege. Art. 21 which guarantees the Right to Life and Liberty. The Hon’ble supreme court of India has interpreted the right to include the right to be free from degrading the inhuman treatment, the right to integrity and dignity of the personand the right to speedy justice.
Art.46 which comes und er the chapter of DPSP comprises both development ad regulatory aspects and stipulates that.,” the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society and in particular the SC anST, and shallprotectThem fromsocial injustice and forms of exploitation.”
Art. 17 of Indian constitutionsays”untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is a punishableoffence”. At. 35(a)(ii) gave the parliament power to make penal laws for the offences mentioned under Art. 17. Consequently, the untouchability offences Act of 1955(renamed to the protection of civil liberties act) was enacted which provided penalties for preventing a person from entering a place of worship or from taking water from public wells.[i]
The establishment of national commission for schedules castes and a tribes under art. 338 of Indian constitution. Thus,organisation has been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the safeguards and protections which are given to STs are implemented. Source hrw.org- Failure to meet domestic ad international obligations: Legal obligations to protect Dalits
Role of legislation
In addition to constitutional provisions , the government of India has pursued a two-pronged approach to narrowing the gap between the socio-economic status of scheduled castes and the national-average: one-prong being involves regulatory measures which ensure the various provisions to protect their rights and interest are adequately implemented, enforced and monitored: the second focuses on increasing the self-sufficiency of the scheduled caste people through financial assistance if self-employment activities through development programme.
1. The Protection of Civil rights act, 1955
2. The schedule caste and Schedule Tribes act,1989
In all nothing remarkable can be achieved in a society without the change of mindset of the citizens without the broader outlook and without behavioural change. The caste system is still deep-rooted in India because of the mindset of the country and truth that upper caste people do not want to bridge this gap between them an inferior peoples. Since ancient times they are enjoying the high political and social status in society and wish to do so for another thousands years. Such outlook needs to be changed.
4. NCRB website
6. Report by HRW- Failure to meet domestic and legal obligations: Legal obligations to protect dalit.