India's Inbuilt Inequality - Rhea Singh
India is a country that is renowned for its rich heritage, cultural diversity, and most importantly, for being a secular nation. However, a longstanding misuse of our cultural and religious beliefs have also become the root cause of the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy, better known as the caste system. The caste system has been a part of Hindu scriptures for over 2000 years and encompasses an ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity. A person born into a specific caste remains in that caste from birth to death, and is bound to professions only considered “suitable” for the specific caste. According to this system, Hindus are divided into four classes based on their “varna”, which quite literally and abhorrently, means colour: the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (rulers, warriors), Vaishyas (artisans, traders, farmers), and the Shudras (manual workers). People falling outside of these 4 castes are classified as Dalits, and are considered “untouchables”. This segregation of people based on their caste is often justified by the doctrine of Karma, where a person’s position in society is determined by the deeds of their past life.
Despite the constitutional abolition of the idea of “untouchability” in 1950, caste system and social ostracization based on one’s caste continues to plague both rural and urban India. There are entire villages of Dalit communities who are physically isolated due to their caste – they are not allowed in the same places of worship as the “upper caste”, are not allowed to use the same wells, or enter certain areas simply due to their caste. This disgusting system continues to be silently enforced by politicians, who continue to install and upgrade facilities in the “upper caste” areas and regions, yet actively avoid and isolate communities, and are actively forbidden from access to essential amenities and services. Casteism goes as far as to limit inter-caste marriages. The condemnation for inter-caste marriage in many rural and urban communities is horrific, and goes as far as publicly torturing, humiliating, and lynching. Lower castes are also limited to work that consists of manual labour or is considered “filthy”.
Despite the fact that Dalits make up around 1/6th of India’s population, their voices are continuously silenced. Dalits face a disproportionate amount of police brutality and are in no way, shape or form actively protected by the law, despite the abolishment of such discrimination. Political systems and the police force continue to remain complicit in their oppression, and the media does not show the same – or even similar – outrage for the murder of a Dalit that they would show for the death of a celebrity. The silencing and continued oppression of this community continues to be of little importance because somehow, the struggles of 16.6% of India’s population is not “trendy” or news-worthy enough.
2020 is a year where society has begun actively tackling issues that have been long ingrained in our society. We are fighting for justice for the Black community in America, for the LGBTQ+ community in Poland, for the end of war and famine in Yemen, and so much more. So how is it that we fail to look at our own country and recognise the struggles of those around us? The reality is, every 18 minutes in India an act of violence is being committed against a human being because they were born a Dalit. By the end of one week, 13 Dalits have been murdered, five Dalit homes have been torched, six Dalits are abducted, and 21 Dalit women have been raped. We need to raise our voices for Vikas Jatav, Payal Tadvi, M. Sudhakar, Arvind Bansod, and the countless other Dalit lives who are discriminated against, but are still not covered by mainstream media. If people in power refuse to step up and take accountability, it is up to our generation to use our voices to amplify the voices of those who are not being heard. We need to say their names, know their stories, and fight with them for a more equal society. We can continue to take pride in our culture and heritage, but we have to realise that just because something has been a “tradition” and an ancient practice does NOT mean it is just or right.
"#DalitLivesMatter: Why Are Atrocities Against Dalits On The Rise?" Feminism In India, 11 June 2020, feminisminindia.com/2020/06/11/dalitlivesmatter-atrocities-against-dalits-increase/.
"CASTE DISCRIMINATION:." Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide, www.hrw.org/reports/2001/globalcaste/caste0801-03.htm.