Caste System Prevails In India Amidst Progress
By Jacob Cherian | June 24, 2013 11:10 AM EST
Signs of discrimination and divide appear to be void in the world's largest democracy, India. It has established itself as a global economic player and an emerging market for the world's goods. Free from colonial rule, India is a symbol of equality and free thought.
A rising middle class has opened the way for foreign investors and MNCs. The middle class in India can afford iPhones and dine out at fast-food joints like KFC and Pizza Hut. The average Indian now has more discretionary spending money than the working class in other countries. Despite these changes and a progressive lifestyle, the caste system continues to dominate the subconscious mindsets of Indians.
The vast disparity between the rich and the poor in India is a fundamental truth that underscores the existence of caste discrimination in offices and communities across India.
This is also evident in buses and trains, when one person decides not to share a seat with another person due to his assumed caste. Although no one talks about it blatantly, it is on everyone's mind.
Despite governmental efforts to redress historical wrongs, caste, religion and race can all be a platform for getting even for past injuries in India where emotions run high.
Communal riots and violence are common political expressions in India. In 2000, the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque, a disputed Hindu/Muslim territory in Ayodhya gave the world a glimpse of India's communal ties. And this is why the caste system continues to play a vital part in the daily life and political life of modern India.
The caste system has not released its firm grip on the nation, which is for the most part traditional and submersed in religious fervour. Just as religion in India - Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain or Sikh - ties people together into a closely knit social fabric, caste also shapes collective thought in politics and social activism.
The Indian caste is an order of hierarchy that places Brahmins at the top, followed by Kshtriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and Dalits at the bottom of the classification.
Media reports have created a more superficial social order, concentrating on new wealth sourced from IT, a blistering fast-paced economy that reached a peak of nine percent in 2010.
Talk of the caste system is uncommon. But the irony is that it is practised in almost every day to day activity. Essentially, this "rule of order" was ingrained into the lives of Indians like the Hamurabic code or the Law of Moses in the Jewish tradition. dictating their professions, interaction with others, and among themselves. Each class was clear delineated and assigned what they could do and what they could not. And this overarching mechanism of regulation began at birth.
For example, India is known for 'arranged marriages,' 'the dowry system', and 'child marriages.' These practices are held intact to create strong ties within each caste.
A Dalit is likely to marry in the same caste while a Brahmin boy is also expected to marry a Brahmin girl. The rise in inter-racial and inter-religious marriages are rising in metropolitan areas, but they have not put a dent into the ingrained psychological conditioning of India's strong sense of ethnic community. There is a high requirement to keep the standards of tradition high in India and the status quo is maintained.
The cast system and India's political response to it may be compared to the discrimination of African Americans that prevailed in the U.S before the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. Sixty years ago, discrimination based on caste was expelled from the country.
The sights and sounds, nonetheless, of poverty due to unfair treatment of "backward classes" is far too visible to ignore - whether it is children begging on the streets, walking through slums in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkota, or the homeless sleeping on roads or side-walks, these are indicators that wealth is distributed unevenly in a democracy where social division is still a force to be reckoned with. It still plagues the educational system.
Educational System and Technology Divide
Political parties in India have tried to redo wrongs from the past by enacting laws reversing discrimination experienced by the Dalit community and other lower classes.
As an example, Dalits are often provided with a 100% quota of admission in Universities so that education is made a priority for improving standard of living. When this type of 'reverse discrimination', similar to the quotas allotted to African Americans and minorities in the U.S., are implemented, the Brahmins might be the ones who are left without admission to further their education.
This can be a political problem with each caste having their designated candidate who will carry out the political agenda of the caste members and ignore or oppose the political needs of other groups.
Theoretically education can uplift lower classes, but the existence of the caste system ensures that a person of lower class might not be able to aspire to white collar professions and vice versa.
The digital divide is another blunt symbol pointing to the vast disparity between the socially privileged and underprivileged and underprivileged. The upper caste in India are flourishing with an influx of technology. At the same time, those who cannot afford iPods and X-box game players are caught up in the cycle of making a living, keeping up with the rat race to provide for their families.
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