The not Untouchables (minority and casteism)
Governance: Doing the rights things in the right way
22nd Nov, 2022
- Even though India has completed 75 years of independence, casteism is still a divisive issue in India.
- From people in Haryana demanding reservation based on their caste to those in Maharashtra demanding a Maratha quota, India has not been able to uproot the caste-based notions that have been handed down through generations.
- Among Hindus, casteism has been differentiating between people based on their birth and work for more than 3,000 years now.
- The concept of 'Jaati' meaning 'birth' underlines this differentiation into thousands of groups and sub-groups based on lineage and kinship. Although constitutionally banned, casteism is still practiced in both rural and urban India, by upper castes and lower castes. On somewhat similar lines are the issues related to minorities which are often defined on parameters based on religion-specific indicators, linguistic indicators, socio-economic indicators, and basic amenities indicators, further creating compartments in the society.
- In India, people who follow Hinduism are in majority. The caste system has, fundamentally, originated in ancient India around 3000-4000 years back. In this system, the Hindus were divided into 4 rigid hierarchical groups based on their work/occupation. Casteism or Jatiwad is a practice in which a sense of superiority towards own caste prevails and members of other castes are seen with hatred.
- Casteism affects our thinking patterns and made us not only conservative but also a major threat to the sovereignty and integrity of society. Casteism is a bad outcome of an ancient practice. Casteism is the most unfortunate and abusive facet of a society where caste is given importance over merits and humanity. Every person belongs to a caste (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra), and considering his caste as superior, he looks at other people with inferior eyes. This mentality is the enemy of social unity.
Spread of Casteism
- By way of Dharma:
- Casteism was widely started spreading soon after it was given the force of Manu Laws (Institutions of Manu). Manu was a Hindu Brahmin who called himself to be the first son of Brahma. He authored the most criticized book “Manusmriti” in which he recognized four categories of Hindus as – Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras by comparing them with the different-different organs of Brahma (one of the major gods of Hinduism).
- By way of Education
- According to Manusmriti or that Manav Dharm Shastra, the Brahmins were placed at top of the Hierarchy whose major profession was teaching and giving academic/intellectual knowledge to the people.
- The Brahmins who strongly believed and accepted the Manusmiriti as their ideal or guide spread the caste-based disparity in the society through their academic institutions.
- By way of Politics
Other examples are:
- Allotment of party tickets during elections.
- Formation of cabinet or council of ministers in the states on caste lines.
- Caste conflicts between higher and lower castes or conflicts between dominant castes in various states like – Madhya Pradesh, UP, and Bihar.
- Violent disputes, dissents, and/or agitations over the reservation policy by a small group of persons or parties.
- Political leaders indirectly propagate casteism while showing love and faith for their own caste group in preference to the general national interest.
- Casteism is an outcome of the politicization of caste done by many political parties. Its various manifestations include:
- Formation and expansion of Political parties based on caste.
- The emergence of pressure groups based on caste.
Legality of Casteism in India
- Casteism is a practice where discrimination is done and untouchability is promoted based on caste or Jati.
- It is against the ideals of the Indian constitution and broadly violates equality rights as guaranteed by it under articles 15, 16, and 17. Under article 17 of the Constitution, untouchability is abolished and its preaching and practice in any form are forbidden in India.
- Now untouchability (Under the untouchability (Offences) Act, 1954) is a serious offense punishable for a term exceeding 2 years with a fine in accordance with the law. The Untouchability (Offences) Act, of 1954 was amended in 1976 and renamed “Protection of the Civil Rights Act”. Therefore, we can say that the present status of casteism is illegal and unconstitutional in India.
Important provisions againts Casteism:
Below are the initiatives of India to remove the practice of casteism in the country.
- In Part III of the constitution under “Fundamental rights”, the Right to equality was given to the Citizens of India. Basically, Articles 15, 16, and 17 are the articles that deal with casteism in India.
- Various other initiatives were taken into account and “Abolition of untouchability” was one of the major steps to remove casteism and untouchability in India.
- The Protection of Civil rights Act, of 1955 was introduced, and through it, the constitution of India legally abolished the practice of untouchability in the country.
- Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 also came into force to prevent the practice of discrimination in the country.
- Provision and concept of reservation in education and employment were also given to ensure equal opportunities and to maintain a fair representation of backward classes in educational institutes, Politics, and Public offices.
- National Commission for Scheduled Castes and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes was constituted to take take the affirmative approach and protect the interests of the members belonging to SC/ST communities.
- Provisions of the Ambedkar Scheme under the Special Marriage Act, of 1954 were made and the promotion of inter-caste marriage (Roti-beti sambandh) is also being done by many states to bring families of two different castes closer to each other.
Recent Trends in the Indian Caste system
- Increase in the Organizational Power of Caste: With the growth of literacy in India caste-consciousness of the members has been increasing to safeguard their interests. For example, the formation of caste associations such as Jat sabha.
- Political Role of Caste: Caste has become an inseparable aspect of our politics as elections are fought more often based on caste.
- Decline in the rigidity of the caste system: This is evident in the rising inter-caste marriages.
- Demand for a caste-based reservation: Recent rise in reservation demands by the Patidar community, and Kapu community are some examples.
- Protection for Scheduled Castes and other Backward Classes: The constitutional safeguards provided to protect the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have given a new lease of life to the caste. These provisions have made some of them develop vested interests to reap permanently the benefits of reservation.
- Sanskritization and Westernization: The former refers to a process in which the lower castes tend to imitate the values, practices, and other lifestyles of some dominant upper castes. The latter denotes a process in which the upper caste people tend to mould their lifestyles on the model of Westerners.
- Competitive Role of Castes: Mutual interdependence of castes which existed for centuries is not found today. Now, each caste looks at the other with suspicion, contempt, and jealousy and finds in it a challenger, a competitor
Problems of the caste system
- Against democratic values: Of course, the caste system is a social practice. It is ironic that even after more than seven decades of liberating the country, we have not been able to break free from the clutches of the caste system. Even in democratic elections, caste exists as a major factor.
- The problem for National Integration: The caste system not only increases disharmony among us but it also works to create a huge gap in our unity. The caste system sows the seeds of high, lowliness, and inferiority in every human mind since childhood. This eventually becomes a factor of regionalism.
- Disrupts the progress of development: The tension created by caste hatred or caste appeasement by political parties hinders the progress of the nation.
- Barrier to Economic Transformation: One of the biggest challenges India is facing today is “to generate a pattern of growth that produces jobs and inclusive development in the way most of the East Asian countries have done”. Caste might not be a residual variable but is an active agent which stifles economic transformation.
- General Biasedness:Caste facilitates economic mobility for some and erects barriers for others by mounting disadvantages on them.
Minorities in India:
- India has always embraced diversity, becoming a vast ocean of cultures, religions, ethnicities, beliefs, and practices. With such diversity, it becomes necessary to give each community its due, without inciting any conflicts. This plethora of diversity in our democratic nation makes minority communities at times vulnerable. Currently, only those communities notified under section 2(c) of the NCM (National Commission for Minorities) Act, 1992, by the central government are regarded as minorities.
- Despite the Supreme Court's 11-judge bench judgment in M.A Pai case, which clearly determined that linguistic and religious minorities must be identified at the state level rather than at the national level, section 2(c) of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act 1992 gave the Centre "unbridled power" to inform minorities.
Main Problems faced by Minorities in India
- Problem of Identity: Because of the differences in socio-cultural practices, history, and backgrounds, minorities have to grapple with the issue of identity everywhere which give rise to the problem of adjustment with the majority community.
- Problem of Security: Different identity and their small number relative to the rest of society develops a feeling of insecurity about their life, assets, and well-being. This sense of insecurity may get accentuated at times when relations between the majority and the minority communities in society are strained or not much cordial.
- Problem Relating to Equity: The minority community in society may remain deprived of the benefit of opportunities for development as a result of discrimination. Because of the difference in identity, the minority community develops the perception of the sense of inequity.
Constitutional and Legal Provisions Related to Minorities
- The term "Minority" is not defined in the Indian Constitution. However, the Constitution recognizes religious and linguistic minorities.
- Article 29: It provides that any section of the citizens residing in any part of India having a distinct language, script, or culture of its own, shall have the right to conserve the same.
- o It grants protection to both religious minorities as well as linguistic minorities.
- o However, the Supreme Court held that the scope of this article is not necessarily restricted to minorities only, as the use of the word ‘section of citizens' in the Article includes minorities as well as the majority.
- Article 30: All minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
- o The protection under Article 30 is confined only to minorities (religious or linguistic) and does not extend to any section of citizens (as under Article 29).
- Article 350-B: Originally, the Constitution of India did not make any provision with respect to the Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities. However, the 7th Constitutional Amendment Act, of 1956 inserted Article 350-B in the Constitution.
- o It provides for a Special Officer for Linguistic Minorities appointed by the President of India.
- o It would be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for linguistic minorities under the Constitution.
- National Commission for Minority Education Institution (NCMEI) Act, 2004:
- It gives the minority status to the educational institutions based on six religious communities notified by the government under the NCMEI Act, 2004-- Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians (Parsis), and Jains.
Despite affirmative actions from the state, the instances of class caste-loyalty, caste-identity, caste-patriotism, and caste-mindedness cannot be ignored. Efforts should be made through various policy measures and awareness programs to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic, and regional or caste diversities.
103rd constitutional amendment act, 2019 which has introduced 10% reservation for EWS over and above caste-based reservation is a welcome move by the government. Similar is the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities ensuring that the underprivileged and weaker sections of six centrally notified minority communities have equal opportunities for availing the various Government welfare Schemes and contributing to the overall socio-economic development of the Country. But without the inclusive efforts of all the segments of society, it is impossible to get out from the shadow and stigma of the two untouchables, ie. casteism, and minority.