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Srinivas: “What caste do you belong to?”
Srinivas: “But you eat non-vegetarian, right?”
Amit: “Yes, Brahmins in our state do eat non-vegetarian.”
Srinivas: “Hmmm….Great. BTW, I am a Reddy.”
What are the chances that the above conversation is a fiction? Also what is the probability that this conversation took place between urbane, educated individuals? Finally, what is the possibility that this conversation has taken place in our generation? While you find honest answers to the above, let me discuss about the menace called “caste” in India. The caste system in India evolved primarily from the Hindu religion but followers of other religions too happen to practice the caste system.
If we look at the origin of the caste system we see that it evolved from the “Varna” system which basically divided the society into 4 classes based on their profession: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. It was never mentioned initially that a Brahmin’s son will be a Brahmin, etc. The Vedas recognized that different people have different skills and qualifications, and it is not by birth but by guna [qualification] and karma [work] that they are to be categorized. But over the centuries this system of classification became lineage based and turned into a system the way it is today. This resulted in some of the terrible problems that we are facing today.
The reforms against the caste system first began with reformers like Buddha and Mahaveer Jain. Later some of the Saints of Bhakti movement denounced the caste system. During the British Raj first real movements against the caste system was launched in the form of Arya Samaj and Bramho Samaj. Mahatma Gandhi along with Dr. B. R. Ambedkar had worked towards the emancipation of the ‘Dalits’ whom Gandhiji named as the ‘Harijans’. Currently the practice of ‘Untouchables’ has been abolished by the Government of India. The Indian Constitution recognizes only Schedule Caste (SC), Schedule Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), for the purpose of reservation.
It is shocking to see the celebrated and established people from media talk about caste knowingly about the menace it has created in India, maybe a little more in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, but it is equally prominent in the southern parts of India too.
“In order to bring to focus the issue of caste discrimination in the state and bring out the actual reality, the Kula Vivaksha Vyatireka Porata Sangam (KVPS, which translated into English means organisation in the fight against caste discrimination) decided to conduct a statewide survey. 8000 activists, divided into 3070 teams fanned out to 11,000 villages and conducted this survey over a period of 15 days. The teams conducted meetings in the dalit pockets in villages and towns and conducted the surveys. Some Of The Major Findings Of The Survey Were: Caste discrimination was practiced in 57 forms, among which included the infamous two-glass system in hotels, bar on entry into temples, denial of access to drinking water in common ponds, wells etc, denial of haircuts by barbers in villages, ban on wearing chappals, riding bicycles, not being allowed to sit in village centers etc. Some examples of the discrimination in towns are: refusal to give on rent accommodation to dalit employees, insulting dalit students etc. After thorough discussions with the community members, representations were formulated at village-level and submitted to the government. After this, roundtable meetings were conducted throughout the state with intellectuals, activists, mass organizations, dalit organizations etc to highlight the survey findings and to take their inputs. The findings and the inputs of round-table meetings were widely publicized. KVPS organized all-caste lunches, all-caste tea- parties whereby people belonging to all castes were, in a symbolic gesture, seated alongside to eat food/drink tea. This programme helped in raising the consciousness of the people to fight caste discrimination. Fight for The Constitution of a Commission: The organization then formulated a main demand that the government must appoint a commission to enquire into the prevalence of caste discrimination in the state and to make recommendations for ending such discrimination. Centered on this demand, the organization conducted meetings. Dharnas at the Mandal-level, padayatras in villages, formation of human-chains in towns, discussions and seminars at mandal, division and district headquarters, and picketings of collectorates at district centers. Over one lakh dalits participated in all these programmes.” (source: http://sficec.org/content/fight-against-caste-discrimination-and-lessons-experience-andhra-pradesh)
Initiatives like the above have been taken to do away with the Caste System but from time to time the politicians of India have been playing dirty politics by employing caste issues as the vanguard to garner votes. Factually, some political parties are solely surviving by polarizing the Caste Based population. They are increasingly using these gimmicks as a weapon to implement the doctrine of “divide and rule policy”. Time and time again, we have seen people going to polls without understanding the significance of their act, a Dalit will vote for Dalit, a Brahmin will vote for Brahmin, the neighbors consult each other and just ape the rights which should actually be based on proper reasoning. Why is it so important to segregate ourselves according to our caste? We have reached in such an era where such things should not matter. One only needs to know that every person can be knowledgeable, they don’t need to be a Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vaishya or shudra to show their strength and power, just hard work and showing their worth is important to live in a polite society.
Moreover the policy of reservation by itself has become a problem than a solution. All this “vested interest” is pushing back the war against the Caste System. Yet with an increased inter-mingling of the population, awareness is increasing and it is only through increased awareness and focused enlightenment that the issue of Caste System I believe will most certainly recede in the longer run. Also, I would like to consider my feel that our future generations will not engage themselves in such trivial conversations like the one at the beginning of the article, ONLY IF we the citizens of TODAY pass on the right lesson to them.