Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Gender Studies: Caste

Indian society is structured along the axis of Caste, Religion and Gender. Do you agree? Explain with contemporary examples. 

“Unity in diversity” which has often been used to describe the Indian society, might have some loopholes. The Indian society stands, on a complex conjunction of multiple facets of division where one can call caste, religion, class, gender, ethnicity, etc., its various pillars.  However, over the years, these pillars have collectively managed to shake the foundations of the Indian society from time to time. 

Thus, the Indian society is structured along the axis of Caste, Religion and Gender. Here’s how. 


Gender Studies Caste, Gender and Religion

Though social inequality persists around the world, within the Indian institution, is perhaps, most daunting. Our nationalist leaders hadvision post independence; avision that sought to create a state free social discrimination of any sort. The profound practice of “un- touchability “ against minor caste groups was a major cause. To eradicate this, the lawmakers bestowed upon the country a socialist, secularist and democratic framework, which separated caste from religion. 

Indian society is a hierarchical one; therefore, caste also exists in hierarchy. Castes are ranked, named, endogamous (in-marrying) groups, membership in which is achieved by birth. There are thousands of castes and sub-castes in India, involving hundreds of millions of people. These large kinship-based groups are fundamental to South Asian social structure. Caste membership provides a sense of belonging to a recognized group from whom support can be expected in a variety of situations.

Traditional occupations have often been associated by caste;such as priests, potters, barbers, carpenters, leatherworkers, butchers, manual scavengers and launderers. Members of higher-ranking castes tend to be more prosperous than members of lower-ranking castes, who often endure poverty and social disadvantage. The so-called “Untouchables” were traditionally relegated to polluting tasks. Since 1935, “Untouchables” have been known as “Scheduled Castes,” and Mahatma Gandhi called them Harijans, or “Children of God.” Today, the politically correct term for these groups, who make up some 16% of the population, is Dalit, or “Oppressed.” Other groups, usually called tribes (often referred to as “Scheduled Tribes”) are also integrated into the caste system to varying degrees.

In the past decades, Caste had been used by the Colonial British to sustain them in India. This pre-modern era holds keys to current caste scenarios too. It’s also important to note here that the caste discrimination that was primarily restricted to rural villages earlier has now permeated throughout the country, thereby blurring the gap between urban and rural. Even though the urban middle class claims which is about (50-70%) of the Indian population, claims to have overcome caste barriers, the statements are not very convincing. 

In 1963 C.T Kannan did a full-length study on inter-caste marriage. He states:

"Just 25 years ago the instances of inter-caste marriage were very few; and those individuals who dared to marry outside the caste had to undergo truly great hardships. Today the situation is altogether different. Not only has the prevalence of inter-caste marriage become considerable, but even the difficulties the inter-caste couples have to face have become comparatively quite mild" (Kannan, 1963).

Kannan does talk about a prevalent factor that existed in the society; however, his study consisted of many sub-casts and a small number of couples. The results were, hence, not very accurate. Following this, inter-caste marriages do exist, and have shaped the society into new forms and instructions. However, they still tend to be the province of a liberal few. For much of the country, with its penchant for arranged marriages and close family ties, caste is still a primary determinant in choosing a spouse.

Politics also that plays a significant part in shaping the Indian society, has in fact given a new name to the caste-game. Majority of the voters are concerned with the caste of their politicians, or their political parties – and this includes both the educated and the uneducated ones! 

To curb caste-gaps in institutions primarily with respect to eradicating “imbalance” in the job and education sector, the lawmakers, came up with the idea of “RESERVATION”. This program has been effective, in a fairly hit-or-miss fashion. Some say that nearly all university seats are reserved for lower castes, effectively blocking Brahmins from higher education. Others point out that the vast majority of high paying jobs are still in the hands of the top three castes. Taking example from the media industry, most Dalit journalists quit their jobs or start their own enterprises to avoid discrimination. 

The Government has gradually under amendments included new castes those that were not included in the original schedule and the percentage under reservation (for education and job opportunities in Government Organisation)also gradually increased from 20% to 27.5% both this two issues have gradually built resentment (why 27.5% reservation for 16.5% scheducale caste and tribe population) among those not covered under the caste based reservation and those already covered and still expecting for more. 

There are many other incidences of caste-discrimination and caste following that shapes the Indian society. In spite of rise of Mayavati, a women dalit leader of the BSP, DravidaMunnetraKazhagam party against the Brahmin platform in Tamil Nadu,  Ex-governor SurajBhan, etc., most backwards castes are still looked down upon. This affects the paradigms of stability, yet our policy makers create superficial balances, which may or may not help.

Independent India has witnessed caste-related violence. According to Government's report, approximately 110,000 cases of violent acts committed against Dalits were reported in 2005. The economic significance of the caste system in India has been declining as a result of urbanization and affirmative action programs. Upon independence from the British rule, the Indian Constitution listed 1,108 castes across the country as Scheduled Castes in 1950, for affirmative action. The Scheduled Castes are sometimes called Dalit in contemporary literature. In 2001, the proportion of Dalit population was 16.2 percent of India's total population.

Structure of Caste in Society

Thus, Indian society is structured on the axis of caste, that for now, has found its balance. A country where even the media is not free from caste-bounds, to establish a balance is difficult but not impossible.