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Caste System is Assuming New Identities and Associational Forms

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  • Last Updated : 12 Jan, 2022

The Caste system and division have been the most dominant and the most prevalent way to practice social stratification in India. The traditional system has categorized and labeled people according to different Caste and Sub-caste. Historically traced, the caste system in India divided people based on occupation. At the earliest, people were hierarchically classified into four caste groups called varnas. The highest position was given to Brahmans, usually priests and scholars. Following them in the caste pyramid were the Kshatriyas, or political rulers and soldiers. The Vaishyas, or merchants, were ranked third. The fourth was the Shudras, who were usually laborers, peasants, artisans, and servants.  

Throughout history, various political movements and leaders have tried to bring exponential reforms in the society to promote greater inclusion among different castes and communities. Nonetheless, this type of social division has also been an overused political sentiment to earn the trust of voters. In modern India, we can witness the implementation of positive discrimination policies. The reservation for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in education and employment is an example of affirmative action. Affirmative action is defined as those actions taken to safeguard the interest of disadvantaged communities. Thus, individuals also have a caste identity that has its own political and legal interpretation. There are a lot of scenarios through which we can comprehend that casteism in the nation has not been totally disbanded. It is rather an active component of political issues and has been emerging in new forms.  

1. Politicization of Caste

The trend of politicization of caste has been dominant in the context of Indian politics since the 1990s. The rise of the support for the regional parties that advocated the interests of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) contributed to this. Leaders of different political parties take advantage of the existing casteism for mobilizing support from those considered to belong to lower castes. The voters, at the other end, choose people that belong to their castes with anticipation that their fellow caste leader would advocate their social and economic aspirations.

2. Social upliftment through a quota system

The contentious issue of reservation for lower castes including Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is the simplest and clearest way to conclude caste system has not been fully eradicated from not only the Indian society but also its politics. An example of a caste based political party in India is the Bahujan Samaj Party. The BSP was primarily formed to bring social justice and upliftment of the Bahujans, that is, the depressed classes.  

3. Caste based organizations and  movements  

Various pressure groups based on caste play an influential role in Indian politics. These groups and movements play an important role in shaping an informal public opinion and pressurizing the ruling party to consider their interests. One example of a pressure group based on caste in India is the Shiv Sena.  

In conclusion, caste as an institution of its own limits the identity of an individual. However, given the various constitutional safeguards and remedies available at the disposal of the citizens, the threat of caste based discrimination has been nullified.  

The caste system is thus backed by constitutional as well as political support. However, attributed to various powerful and external factors, the caste system in India is in the due process of rapid transformation. With the growing modernization, the occupational division based on caste that existed in the traditional Indian society has diluted. The advent of globalization also contributed to the mitigation of the caste system.  

  • Creating political space for depressed classes: The formation of the third tier system of government has immensely contributed to the intermixing of people divided by the constraints of casteism. Because of the quota system, lower caste groups are acquiring leadership positions at local government units. This has significantly contributed to creating spaces to articulate their voices in politics.
  • Western trends and influence: With economic development and the influence of western technologies and ideas, the lower caste groups have shifted their employment. They are no longer dependent on feudal land for their subsistence.
  • Welfare programmes: Various welfare and development programmes have been implemented with the purpose of improving the prospect of educational and job opportunities for the dejected strata of society.
  • Important constitutional provisions: The Government of India in its constitution provided protection to the lower caste groups and emphasized an egalitarian society. For instance, Article 17 has completely abolished the practice of untouchability.

The interaction of different castes in society, the active participation of lower caste people in electoral bodies and the constitutional mandates aimed at strengthening these marginalized groups indicate that these divisions cannot be easily erased from the society. The caste system which is assuming a new identity is nothing but it being completely reformed for the betterment of the society and the upliftment of the oppressed sections. Its transformation from a social institution to a political one indicates that it is not possible to fully eradicate its traces. Various reforms brought up in post-independent India have forced the prevailing caste system to work as security got some. Thus, caste is not a factor fragmenting the society. 

Caste is an important sentiment exploited by political parties for vote bank. In response to this, there exists an urgent need to regulate its usage in electoral campaigns. There is no doubt that policies like quota and some constitutional provisions and acts have helped to transform the mentality of the traditional Indian society into modern and radical thinking. Despite the overall improvement, there is still a long road to travel for India to completely root out the structures of caste based politics.  

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