DEAR PRIME MINISTER SIR,
The relationship between caste and politics in Indian society has been subject of intensive study for many years. Grass-root political arenas as well as political parties have always remained and continue to remain dominated by elites of castes which compete with each other to form caste coalitions of supporters strong enough to maximize control over local resources and enhance opportunities to become players in political system. A survey reveals the crucial role played by castes in politics and awareness of the lower castes of their political gains. It has been found that the higher caste groups had lower political interest and low castes higher political interests. Political awareness was high among the higher castes and was low among the lower castes. Lower castes by organizing themselves in pursuit of collective interest were able to emerge successfully. The involvement of these castes organization in politics has changed their position in hierarchical pattern of Hindu society. Caste solidarity and political power helped them to achieve higher social, economic and political success. Caste has become one of the most formidable elements of group formation within political parties in India. The patronage and pecuniary resources available to the political leaders enable them to create a coalition of factions on caste basis, whose leaders are bound to political elites in power in a complex network of personal obligation ties. Each of these leaders had a group of followers tied to him in accordance with the same set of caste principles. The personnel of these castes factions may vary but whatever may be their social composition they demand and to a higher degree receive from their members full support. Political parties gamble caste support in various ways. Power shifts from one dominant caste to another and the focus of power shifts from one caste itself to another on caste basis. The loyalties of castes are exploited in voting. New alliances cutting across castes are also formed.
Three factors-education, government patronage, and slowly expanding franchise (including 18-21 year old young persons in electorate)-have penetrated the caste system because of which the caste system has come to affect democratic politics in the country. Economic opportunity, administrative patronage, and positions of power offered by the new institutions and the new leadership drew castes into politics.
The involvement of castes in politics resulted in two things: the caste system made available to the leadership the structural and the ideological basis for political mobilisation, and two, leadership was forced to make concessions to local opinion and organise castes for economic and political purposes. Political parties also mobilise caste support. In fact, the problems of mobilisation of masses today are the same as they were four decades ago. Just as in the 1930s and the 1940s social reformers believed that without the awareness of masses, their organisation for political activity was not possible, similarly today also politicians try to get support from the caste leaders and at the same time drive home to them the utility of political means in achieving their goals. Caste has become a determinant factor of ‘political elite’ status. Studies conducted on political elite by scholars like Sirsikar, Sachchidananda, Ram Ahuja, S.K. Lai, etc, have all pointed out that in the emergence of elite, higher castes have an extraordinary advantage over the middle and the lower castes. Before independence, generally the upper caste groups occupied the centre of the political stage in the Congress party engaged in the freedom struggle but after independence, individuals from the middle and the lower castes also entered political power field.
The reservation policy enabled individuals from the lower castes to emerge as leaders, while elite from the middle castes emerged due to their improved educational and socio-economic status. Thus, caste system which had only ritualistic function assumed the new role of regulating political behavior of the people.
Ethically, caste and democracy differ from each other and cannot co-exist because caste advocates fragmentation of society whereas democracy stands for the unification of society. Caste is leased on inequality by birth. Democracy is based on principles of equality. Caste advocates social exclusion and democracy advocates social inclusion. Caste provides wealth, power and status to specific groups but democracy provides equal chance to all categories irrespective of bias. But, the peculiarity is that both caste system and democracy co-exist in Indian society.
Caste discrimination and repression exists in India since ages. The caste prejudices still plague our society and even become influential factors at the time of elections. Politicians encourage and exploit their attidues for their own gains. Discrimination against low-castes is widely prevalent and has kept a large percentage of our copulation backward. It is perhaps one of the main causes of India’s backwardness.
Many social reformers such Raja Rammohan Roy, Swami Dayanand Saraswati tried to end caste discrimination. People acquired great awareness and the caste system is not followed so rigidly today, particularly in the urban areas. The developments of science and technology and progress in industry have changed the outlook of the people to a great extent.
Casteism poses a serious obstacle in the functioning of democracy. Many of the professional politicians exploit Casteism and at election time ask the people to vote for them on caste considerations and they also succeed in their evil designs. Even illegitimate and immoral practices are resorted to in securing the interests of one’s own caste. By promoting narrow loyalties, Casteism has weakened the modernization of the polity. By retaining outmoded caste cohesion, Casteism has stood in the way of the building up of a secular society. Casteism has become pervasive. It has entered into the marrow and bones of a sizeable section of the society. Its root has gone deep into Indian soil. It cannot be uprooted overnight. It is in the interest of both the individual and society that Casteism should be eradicated from the Indian social matrix at the earliest.
Caste-based discrimination is the most complex human rights issue facing India today. To date, the tools used to assess its status have been divided by discipline-human rights, legal and social science. Although significant contributions toward understanding untouchability have been made in each of these areas, it is difficult to comprehend the scope and pervasiveness of the problem without combining the tools of all three. It is a form of discrimination prohibited by international human rights law. Although it may not be equated with racism, it is quite clear from several references made by several UN treaty and charter-bodies that this issue warrants due recognition as an example of gross human rights violation that needs to be taken into consideration by all human rights mechanisms available in the UN system. The Indian constitution makes clear the “principle of non-discrimination on the basis of caste or gender”. It guarantees the “right to life and to security of life”. Article 46 specifically “protects Dalits from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”. It is a familiar Indian story: judicial indifference (as well as cost, lack of access to legal representation, endless red-tape and obstructive staff), police corruption, and government collusion, plus media indifference causing the major obstacles to justice and the observation and enforcement of the law. Unlike middle class girls, Dalit rape victims (whose numbers are growing) rarely receive the attention of the caste/class-conscious urban-centric media, whose primary concern is to promote a bollywood shiny, open-for-business image of the country. Indian mind is pregnant with Victorian gender stereotypes, fuelled by a caste system designed to subjugate, which trap both men and women into conditioned cells of isolation where destructive ideas of gender are allowed to ferment, causing explosions of sexual violence, exploitation and abuse.
According to an opinion edit page on Hindu dated May 11th, 2015, “Political justice – achieved in some respects over time by means of affirmative action -managed to overcome social injustice at all? After all, the Constitution guarantees the right to equality of all citizens and affirmative action for Dalits. Years of following the policy of affirmative action has yielded a high degree of participation and representation of Dalits in politics and in governance. But without progressive social consciousness permeating society at large, constitutionalism, state actions and political equations simply do not suffice. It would help if the political actors who have accommodated Dalits among their party and governance structures, due to the their sheer weight of numbers as a representative section, also believed in and worked as conduits for social transformation. Perhaps if Dalits were not merely accommodated but were accorded leadership roles in parties, that could aid this process of social activism. “
Caste discrimination has not been totally rooted out. We can put an end to this evil by spreading education and creating awareness among the people throughout the country. Only education coupled with economic improvement would erase the discrimination. This might take one more generation. But it will go away surely. Let’s extend our helping hand in spreading education, as it is the only solution of most of our problems.
ADV SIDDHARTHA SHANKAR MISHRA,