Due to ethnic blending, geographical expansion, and the diversification of crafts, which gave rise to new occupations, the later-Vedic theory of the four-fold division of Hindu society was further fragmented into various sub-castes.
According to the Hindu chaturvarnashrama idea, a person's caste established the position and relative purity of distinct sections of the population. Caste regulated who could acquire education or own landed property, what kind of job one should pursue, who one could dine with or marry, and so on. In general, a person's social affiliations were determined by caste even before birth. The caste component governed everything: clothing, food, place of habitation, sources of water for drinking, and entry into temples.
The 'untouchables,' or scheduled castes/Dalits as they were later referred to, were the hardest afflicted by the discriminatory institution of caste. The handicaps imposed on them were humiliating, inhumane, and based on the notion of inequality by Birth.
“A just society is that society in which ascending sense of reverence and descending sense of contempt is dissolved into the creation of a compassionate society” - B.R. Ambedkar
Factors Contributing to the Decline of Caste-Based Discrimination
1. British rule
It fostered conditions that eroded caste awareness to some extent. British reign in India released certain forces, sometimes directly through administrative measures, sometimes indirectly through the development of favourable conditions. Though these policies had a detrimental impact, they also had a good impact. For example, the establishment of private property in land and the free sale of land undermined caste relationships. As village oligarchy dissolved, the strong relationship between caste and vocation could not survive.
Furthermore, contemporary trade and industry gave rise to a variety of economic channels, while increasing urbanisation and modern modes of transportation increased people mobility. The British administration introduced the principle of equality before the law in a universally implemented legal system, dealing a serious blow to social and legal inequities while removing the judicial duties of caste panchayats. Administrative services were made available to all castes, and the new school system was based entirely on secular principles.
2. Social reform movements
Sought to dismantle caste-based exploitation. From the mid-19th century on, numerous organisations and groups such as the Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission, the Theosophists, and the Social Conference, as well as individuals, worked to spread education among the untouchables and to remove restrictions on their access to temples, ponds, and tanks. While many of them defended the chaturvarna system, some expressed reservations about untouchability. The social reformers criticised the caste distinctions' rigorous hereditary basis and the rule of karma, which served as the religio-philosophic justification for the undemocratic authoritarian caste institution. They urged individuals to work for improvement in the physical world in which they lived, rather than pursuing salvation after death. For example, the Arya Samaj, in its crusade against Hindu society's breakdown into many sub-castes, sought to restore it to its original four-fold division and to protect the right of even the lowest castes to study the scriptures.
3. The national movement
It was motivated by the ideas of liberty and equality in opposition to forces that sought to divide society. National leaders and organisations campaigned against caste privileges, fought for equal civic rights, and fought for the individual's unfettered development. Caste differences were weakened, albeit temporarily, as a result of widespread participation in rallies, meetings, and satyagraha struggles. After 1937, the Congress governments in various provinces did some beneficial work for the upliftment of the depressed classes; for example, in some provinces, free education for Harijans ('untouchables') was introduced, and the rulers of states such as Travancore, Indore, and Devas took the initiative in proclaiming the opening of all state temples.
Gandhi was consistently focused on the goal of rooting out untouchability. His thoughts were centred on humanism and rationality. He contended that the Shastras did not endorse untouchability and that, even if they did, they should be disregarded, as truth cannot be contained inside the pages of a book. He created the All India Harijan Sangh in 1932.
With the expansion of educational opportunities and a general awakening, there were stirrings within the lower castes themselves. This awakening evolved into a powerful movement for the defence of their rights and resistance to upper-caste persecution. Jyotiba Phule, born from a low-caste Mali family in Maharashtra, led a struggle against Hindu society's brahminical oppression.
In 1873, Phule founded the Satyashodhak Samaj (Truth Seekers' Society), which was led by members of the backward castes, malis, telis, kunbis, saris, and dhangars. He placed a premium on education for lower castes, particularly girls, for whom he established multiple schools.
Babasaheb Ambedkar, who had been subjected to the most heinous form of casteist discrimination throughout his youth, campaigned against upper-caste tyranny throughout his life. Ambedkar began publishing a bimonthly newspaper, Mooknayak (Leader of the Voiceless), in the 1920s. He claimed in the Mooknayak that if class divisions are disregarded, a nationalist consciousness cannot grow. The newspaper contextualised the untouchables' plight within the backdrop of the caste system. He also founded the Bahushkrit Hitakarani Sabha in 1924 with the motto "teach, agitate, and organise," with a particular emphasis on public mobilisation. It ushered in a new socioeconomic and political movement dedicated to achieving equality for downtrodden classes. Bahishkrit Bharat was another publication he founded with the goal of promoting the rights of the oppressed classes (1927). Ambedkar created the All India Federation of Scheduled Castes in 1942, while several other depressed class leaders founded the All India Depressed Classes Association in the 1920s. Ambedkar denounced the hierarchical and insular caste system in its entirety and argued for the abolition of caste in order to achieve true national progress.
Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar organised the Mahad Satyagraha in March 1927 to protest the caste Hindus' backward habits. He emphasised the importance of eradicating 'high' and 'low' concepts and instilling self-elevation through self-help, self-respect, and self-knowledge.
E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker, a Balija Naidu, launched this movement in the mid-1920s. The movement's sole goal was to reject brahminical religion and culture, which Naicker saw to be the primary tool of exploitation of the lower castes. To undermine the status of brahmin priests, he formalised weddings without the presence of brahmin priests.
Temple Entry Movement
Sree Narayana Guru and N. Kumaran Asan had previously made significant progress in this approach.
Indian society has been plagued by caste-based disparities that result in widespread discrimination. The struggle began after the onset of British rule that created consciousness against ills of caste among people, various social reformers have spearheaded the movement questioning the irrational beliefs.
Various leaders such as Ambedkar and Phule were instrumental in bringing about the shift by instilling consciousness in the lower strata. It was recognised that the concept of a united India cannot exist without social democracy. Cohesion within a society is necessary for harmony. The same heritage was carried forward by the Constitution framers, who prohibited untouchability and advocated for equality.