Caste Sytem in India: Is It Different from Racism?

Attacks came from all quarters condemning racist acts against Indians in Australia. It was marked by vehement verbal opposition from everyone who has had some access to geography books and is familiar with the boundaries of the Western world. Diplomatic envoys framed volumes of messages to the Australian government asking them to tighten their belts and crack down on those involved in the grievous crimes. Racial profiling is seen as a crime against humanity. The advocates of universal human rights cry their throats sore raising the banner against “inhuman acts undermining the dignity of a human”. Many Indians have asserted that it is the insecurity engrained in the minds of Westerners suddenly seeing the very people who, just about 2 decades ago, used to do their dirty jobs for them sitting on managerial seats that has fermented this unrest. Match it with what is synonymous with our home turf and the word ‘hypocrisy’ rings loud and clear.

Blurry images splashed on newspaper pages and flashed on national television of little ones picked out and forced to sanitize their schools because apparently their caste commanded them to do so was heart wrenching. For once, the lack of sanitation workers in government schools in rural India got pushed to the background. And what came in its place was pure crime – a continuation of the caste based social hierarchical system, rooted deep and complicated, in India. For young students in some rural villages in India, the day starts not with morning prayers, but with cleaning the premises of their temple of learning. This includes dusty corridors spat at with Paan for the ‘upper and middle caste’ student. The dirtiest of jobs are reserved for the Dalits (reservation of another kind altogether). They are made to clean the toilets. This gross violation of children’s rights seems to have been under the approval of the schools’ principals who professed belief in the age old caste classification in India.

Even outside the schools, Dalit children are constantly reminded of the dump that their caste is supposed to be in – at the very bottom of the rickety yet established caste system. They are required to double up as scavengers in the event of death of small animals in the villages and are forced to drag and dispose off the carcasses. Insult and abuse is thrown at them at a gale’s speed.

Given the appalling conditions in the schools, is it any wonder that the dropout rate among Dalits is spiraling? Maybe if we give them a conducive environment for studying, the issue of allotting quotas to the backward classes would die a natural death. Proper education will make them enabled to sit for any exam and grab at any coveted white collar job in India. It might even save us from the rise of another Mayawati who would milk the Dalit angst to water her vote bank. This is a country where a godman gets away with making a public sermon on how making a salaried Brahmin maid clean utensils is the sure way to secure a place in hell. This is also the same country where a T.V actor has no qualms about making known to the world his self-proclaimed caste based superiority over others, while attached to a lie-detector. A recent talk show on T.V brought to the fore how psychological trauma undergone by Dalits since childhood can propel them to exploit or abuse a high upliftment but their own selfish goal of staying in power.

The anger and humiliation is brewing in young uncorrupt minds against the differential treatment meted out to them opposed to the preferential treatment extended to others in their peer group. They have designed and performed in road shows depicting their plight in the one place that is supposed to be their second home – their school.

Human dignity is to be valued. Caste, like they say, is class in India. What began as a truly profession-based entity has taken the form of an identity today. Though even in the staunch Vedic times, people were permitted to take up professions other than the one running in the family, caste was here to stay and solidify – to the extent that ‘Dalit’ became a dirty word. Coming from the educated ‘illiterate’ class (teachers), caste based discrimination is uncouth and unacceptable. If the clot in our minds regarding caste distinctions is not dissolved soon, the development of our country will hit many more bottlenecks.

Shruthi Venukumar

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