Mains Answer Writing
- The caste system has been a persistent feature of Indian society for centuries. Due to its harmful and divisive effect on society, concerted efforts have been made to eliminate the caste system and its influence, such as:
- Constitutional provisions: Right to equality (article 14), right against discrimination (article 15), prohibition of untouchability (article 17), National Commissions for SCs, STs, OBCs (NCSC, NCST, NCBC), etc.
- Legal provisions: Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Protection of Civil Rights Act, Manual Scavengers and Rehabilitation Act, National Human Rights Commission etc.
- Political measures: Dr BR Ambedkar’s call for ‘annihilation of caste,’ affirmative-action based policies, initiatives from civil society organisations etc.
Despite efforts to eliminate it, the caste system has evolved and continues to persist in the following ways:
- Social discrimination: Lower-caste individuals face discrimination in various spheres of life, including individual rights, opportunities in education and employment, and access to public services and public places.
- Caste Inequalities: The caste system has created structural inequalities with certain castes being historically disadvantaged. These structural inequalities persist. As a result, development status has a rough parallel with caste status, as most of the impoverished masses of India belong to backward castes.
- Caste-based politics: Political parties treat caste groups as vote-banks. Parties form caste based alliances and coalitions to fight elections and form government. This caste-based politics reinforces the caste system and perpetuates divisions among different communities.
- Marriages: Caste continues to hold its sway in formation of marriage relations. Inter-caste marriages remain a taboo and face stiff opposition from society, in the form of social boycott and even violence including ‘honour killing.’
- Social Inertia: Certain cultural beliefs such as the notion of purity and pollution reinforce the caste system by associating certain roles, behaviours, and attributes to individuals based on their caste. E.g., employment of scheduled caste persons in roles of scavenging or use of caste-based slurs.
Following factors have contributed to the continuance of caste-based discrimination and inequality in society:
- Political Reasons:
- a) Mandalisation of politics: Politicization of caste due to ‘Mandal politics’ has made caste the deciding factor in politics.
- b) Periodic elections: Repeated cycle of electoral campaigning reinvigorates caste
consciousness due to caste-based political mobilisation.
- Policy inadequacy:
- a) Inadequate reservation system: The reservation system has not proved sufficient in either ending casteism or caste-based disabilities. Few dominant castes within the reserved castes corner the benefits.
- b) Legal Measures: A top-down approach of constitutional-legal structures fails at the ground level due to inadequate social conviction against the evils of caste-based discrimination. E.g., demands for changes in the SC-ST Act due to alleged misuse.
- Socialisation: Children absorb casteism from within families and relatives as they see them practice it in their behaviour and language.
- Structural Inequalities: Dalits and lower castes face resource poverty and lack of assets like land which remain in hands of dominant castes. Due to historical backwardness in education, literacy etc., backward castes face generational lag in availing opportunities.
In conclusion, the caste system persists due to a combination of social, economic, political, and structural factors. Annihilation of caste needs not only the element of constitutional and legal force, but also an ability to convert the hearts and minds of people.
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