Are bandages enough to heal the stab wounds that are caused by caste discrimination?

discrimBy B Jeetesh*

The Madhya Pradesh assembly passed a bill on the 23rd of July which would improve the OBC quota in government jobs and education from 14% to 27%. [1] This is just but one of the numerous quota bills that have been passed in India in the past 70 years. Upon independence, B.R Ambedkar had a vision that these quotas would help the people from the lowest rung of the societal ladder be heard and seen in a country that had not dare touch them for centuries. 7 decades later, the status for communities has barely changed. Representation in many parts of the society is still very low compared to their population. Case in point – the representation of SCs and STs in government jobs in 2012. [2]

Even our politicians who claim to be working hard towards better representation of disadvantaged communities have not been putting their money where their mouth is. [3]

Has the government been too lax in dealing with this problem dalit under-representation? Politicians have been pushing the agenda of quota for many years, but the irrefutable fact is that it has not worked as well as it supposed to. In fact, one could say that it has rather turned into a lever for appeasing vote banks.

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The question we need to ask ourselves as a society is that “What more can be done to erase this persistent menace? It is no longer a viable stance to sit back and hope that quota would ma

gically mend the ways of a centuries old practice. More creative solutions need to be explored.

Alternate ways:

Unlike Race, caste cannot be differentiated based on mere observation. Caste surnames have been one of the most direct catalysts for a system based on caste discrimination. These surnames allow people to gain knowledge on their fellow citizens’ caste status. Without surnames, caste discrimination would become exponentially more difficult to carry out.

E.V. Ramasamy a.k.a Periyar decided to test out this theory when he headed the self-respect movement in 1925. The movement aimed at achieving a society where backward castes have equal human rights and encouraging backward castes to have self-respect in the context of a caste-based society that considered them to be a lower end of the hierarchy. [4] As a part of this movement, he started agitations telling people to remove caste names from all sign-boards across the state which included the names of shops, roads, buildings, restaurants, etc. After that, he instructed everyone to also remove their caste based surnames as that gives people a reason to be prejudiced as soon as they hear someone’s name.

This was a monumental movement in all aspects and colossally affected the way the people of TN viewed caste. The effects of this movement can be seen even today – Most of the TN people do not have a caste name as their surname. Any surname TN surname you see would mostly be a patronym (Father’s first name as surname]. The two dominant ruling parties of TN – the DMK and ADMK have both stemmed from the Self-respect movement’s ideology.

Despite such forward strides being made by the movement, it is yet to be examined whether the movement actually made an impact towards decreasing caste-based discrimination.

An Analysis:

Ambedkar in his famous undelivered speech “Annihilation of Caste” is quoted as saying the following:

“I am convinced that the real remedy is intermarriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes paramount, the separatist feeling—the feeling of being aliens—created by caste will not vanish”

Inter-caste marriage can be considered as excellent indicator to find out whether the boundaries between castes have truly been erased out of existence.

According to the National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) we can see the rates of inter-caste marriages in various Indian states. [5]

discrim2
Percentage distribution of women marrying men of different castes

Notice something unusual? All of all the states listed Tamilnadu is the state with the 4th least lower caste marriages with only Mizoram, Meghalaya and Chattisgarh having lower rates. It is also the state with the 2nd highest % of same caste marriages. This is extremely weird for a state that claims to still follow the practice of abolishing caste based surnames.

Another measure is the incidence of violence against Dalits including SCs and STs. [6] We can see that Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar seem to be the places worst affected by violence against dalits. By looking the infographic below, one thing becomes apparent – The literacy rate seems to be inversely correlated to the incidence of violence.

Taking both these data and also the 2011 census data for literacy rate [7] into account, we can see that the states of Kerala, goa, Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh with relatively high literacy rates have some of the lowest Dalit violence rates among Indian states coupled with high rates of lower caste marriage rates.

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Inference:

These inferences all point to the fact that the best way against caste-based discrimination are not the forceful laws and powerful movements but rather grass roots level education and awareness. It is imperative that the government takes steps towards improving the literacy rate in India especially among the younger generation. The education system should have an innate focus towards secular and caste-blind learning with diversity among genders, religions and castes encouraged and rewarded.

One simple recommendation would be to make it compulsory for all children to go to school below a certain age, with the parents being liable. This is similar to the regulations that already exist in many Western nations including the USA. Another initiative could be to provide access to education to smaller towns and villages, thereby trying to cut the source of disparity right at its roots.

With the recent increase in crimes against dalits it is necessary for the government to wake up and take some drastic actions for the welfare of disadvantaged society. Otherwise, the government’s inaction could just result in 60 more years of shameful repression.

References:

  1. Press Trust of India (2019). Madhya Pradesh assembly passes bill giving OBCs 27% quota. Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/madhya-pradesh-assembly-passes-bill-giving-obcs-27-quota-1572760-2019-07-24
  2. DoPT annual report. Source: https://dopt.gov.in/sites/def.ault/files/AR2012_2013%28Eng%29.pdf
  3. Roshan Kishore (2016). The many shades of caste inequality in India. Source: https://www.livemint.com/Politics/ino3tfMYVsd6VVGUdWXB8H/The-many-shades-of-caste-inequality-in-India.html
  4. Vedika Agarwalla (2018). The Self-Respect Movement — The Emergence of South Indian Politics. Source: https://www.indianfolk.com/self-respect-movement-edited-anupa/
  5. Kumudini DasKailash Chandra Das, Tarun Kumar Roy, Pradeep Kumar Tripathy (2010). Inter-caste marriage in India: has it really changed over time? Source: https://epc2010.princeton.edu/papers/100157
  6. Ajit Kumar Jha (2016). The Dalits | Still untouchable. Source: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/the-big-story/story/20160215-dalits-untouchable-rohith-vemula-caste-discrimination-828418-2016-02-03
  7. 2011 National Census. Source: http://indiafacts.in/india-census-2011/literacy-rate-india-2011/

*PGP second-year student at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

One thought on “Are bandages enough to heal the stab wounds that are caused by caste discrimination?

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