The Indian society is divided into various sects and classes. This is due of the prevailing caste structure in the nation. The caste system has its origins in the ancient Vedas, which divided individuals by varna or occupation. It has brought forth several social ills.
The caste system classifies Hindus into four major groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.
Varna is first mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit Rig Veda's Purusha Suktam verse. Purusha is the eternal being, composed of the four Varnas. Brahmins constitute the mouth, Kshatriyas from the arms, Vaishyas form the thighs and Shudras from the feet.
Indian society has suffered social injustice for centuries due to the caste system. Despite the fact that the system was originally designed to facilitate the division of labour, it gradually escalated into one that encouraged discrimination by the upper castes against the lower castes. Caste system is based on the idea of pollution and it promotes subjugation and social oppression of Dalits.
Civil Rights under the Constitution of India
Article 14-18 contains the right to equality provision. These articles influence equality before law, opportunity in employment, and prohibition of untouchability. “Untouchability" is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of "Untouchability" shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
The Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955 was enacted to eradicate harmful practises like untouchability. It seeks to offer equal rights to all people regardless of caste, class, or tribe. However, many continue to engage in untouchability. The laws passed by the government of India make a real change compared to earlier periods.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Act) has averted a broad variety of crimes committed against Scheduled Castes and Tribes. In Indian society, there are two marginalised groups: Dalits, who are officially classed as Scheduled Castes, and Tribals, who are legally categorised as Scheduled Tribes. They have been the victims of many atrocities since the beginning of time. Hence, this segment of the population is protected from discrimination and atrocities by the Act.
Caste in Contemporary India
As an ideology, caste was a system of values and beliefs that legitimised and strengthened existing social inequality systems. A typical Hindu's life was arranged in accordance with this viewpoint. It has not much changed today, it’s still very much prevalent in rural areas whereas it has diluted in urban areas owing to ongoing urbanisation. It has assumed a different characteristic in urban region, rather than being a divisive force it has become a cohesive force. Immigrants find solace in urban colonies dominated by their respective caste.
Apart from being an institution that distinguished India from other societies caste was also an epitome of the traditional society, a 'closed system', where generation after generation of individuals did similar kinds of work and lived more or less similar kinds of lives. Today merit has replaced caste, but as mentioned above the oppressed poor in rural areas failed to break free and are still stuck in the ancestral occupation assigned by birth. This is particularly true with regard to sanitation workers.
Almost every element of Hindu religious and social life has been governed by caste for generations, with each group maintaining a distinct position within this intricate structure.
Upper and lower castes nearly lived in separate colonies, water wells were not shared, Brahmins would not take food or drink from Shudras, and only members of the same caste were permitted to marry. Most Indian marriages are arranged by parents. Several factors are considered by them for finding the ideal spouse. One's caste is a crucial element in this. In recent decades, as secular education has grown and urbanisation has increased, the power of caste has diminished, particularly in cities where castes coexist and inter-caste marriages are becoming more prevalent. We can see that Caste has not totally faded away, it’s relevance has faded.
The constitution of independent India prohibited discrimination on the basis of caste, in an effort to correct historical injustices and level the playing field for the traditionally disadvantaged, the government announced quotas for scheduled castes and tribes, the lowest in the caste hierarchy, in government jobs and educational institutions.
Social reform initiatives led to the widespread progress . Despite the changes, caste identities remain strong, and last names nearly invariably indicate a person's caste membership and still matter.
According to political scientists, shift from the "politics of ideology" to the "politics of representation." A common identity of the SCs or untouchable communities is that of 'a constructed, modern identity which is mobilised by a new leadership that arose from within the Dalit groups, and uses the language of equality and democratic representation. Caste has in fact gained greater prominence in age of political democracy. Democracy has given rise to caste based pressure groups and political parties.
Caste is Complex. Today it’s difficult to comment whether it has faded or has become stronger in the face of democracy, but it can be certainly said that it has assumed a voice in the process of what Christopher Jaffrelot labelled as “the silent Revolution”.
Caste has adapted to the social changes that unfolded in the Indian Society. It still remains relevant though selectively. Thankfully, the Constitution of India and the other legislation that have been enacted have rendered its related ills ineffective. To establish social peace and cohesion, it is essential that caste-based disparities and divisions are eradicated.