Caste Sytem – Can we really abolish it?

Caste System has been prevalent in the hindu society for thousands of years. In most parts of the country your caste can be identified just by your name and if that is not obvious you are expicitly asked what your caste is?
Why does that happen? It happens because people make implicit assumptions about your personality/character and upbringing just by knowing your caste. This is so deeply rooted in the society that nobody even gets offended answering questions about their caste. Even those who get offended would not express it out aloud.
After being independent for over 50 years now don’t we know that how big an evil the entire caste system is? There has been efforts from the pre independence era to abolish it but we have not been able to do so. Why? Will we ever be able to abolish the caste system? Is it even right to think that something like this is even possible?

I say YES.

It is very much possible to uproot the caste system. What is needed is the political/social will and a systematic approach.

Before we try to come up with a means to abolish caste system let us answer the question Why is the caste system still alive?

The caste system in still alive because the so called “Upper Castes” won’t let it go away. It is alive because the politicians do not want it to go away. It is a very sensitive issue and in India every sensitive issue can be politicised to bag votes. It is easy to divide the people on lines of caste and create vote banks. These politicians have kept it alive. I have not seen a single political party talking about abolishing the caste system. All they talk about is how the “Lower Castes” have been oppressed and how they need more reservation in education and jobs. To keep the feeling among the lower classes that they are lower the caste system is alive. The political parties even fighting for the backward classes want their masses to remain backward so that they can easily count them within their vote banks. So in my view it is all political that the caste system is still alive.

How can we abolish the caste system?

It is such a deep rooted system that it cannot be undone in a couple of years. Any effort that starts today will show benefits only after a couple of generations. As with any big effort to bring about a change within the society, this will be met with a lot of resistance but this is about the right time to start the change because nobody in his right frame of mind will say “It is not the right thing to do”. There will be other arguments about how to then assure their welfare and so on but more about it later.

The first thing to do is to remove the notion of caste. Today there is a very stringent and effective law where anybody insulting anyone based on caste is punished heavily.

  • We need to have similar stringent legislation where nobody can ask anybody his caste and nobody is forced to tell his caste. After the legislation run an active campaign to make everyone aware of the law and the consequences.
  • Amend the constitution to state that caste system is abolished in place of the current article which says untouchability is abolished.
  • There must be no place on any application form or government document asking about caste.

Ponder over those points for a minute. If you don’t need the caste for those things then where do you need it? No where! If you don’t need the caste information then don’t ask and don’t tell. A couple of generations later they would not even know what their caste is because it is not important for anything.

Kill the purpose of the identification criteria and the identification criteria will die on its own.

Sceptics will argue that this will not happen and even after the two things mentioned above are done the caste system will prevail. I would disagree.
Take an example where you change the name of a city say Madras. It has been changed to Chennai. Every official document now shows Chennai, every sign now reads Chennai. A kid while growing up will see it as Chennai and will read in history books that it was called Madras once. From the kids perspective there is no value in knowing the city as Madras except academic or historical reasons.

Take another example of renaming a University and you will find the same thing. An engineering college gets renamed as IIT so and so. Over time it will just get that identity and people will accept it.

So if we give enough time and put the right procedures in place the caste system can get abolished. We would have achieved true social justice then.

What after that?

Questions will then be asked, how do you uplift them without knowing who they are? I would ask, who are you trying to uplift? In my view the obvious answer is, “The people who are not able and not well represented”. We are definitely talking about people who cannot earn a decent living and need education and support. Who are these people? These are the people who have an economic disadvantage.

After or even while abolishing the caste system we can totally focus on what is truly needed and that is programmes to provide economic benefit to the economically deprived. The economic justice can then be acheived with the right programmes for acheiving just that and not mixing it with social justice.

Remember, these things take time. Centuries old evil cannot be uprooted in just a few years. It will need perseverence from all of us.

July 17, 2006 В· Ajit В· 8 Comments
Posted in: Caste, Caste System, India

8 Responses

  1. Michael - January 22, 2007

    You start of by saying that in most parts of the country the caste of someone can be identified by their last name but then go on to say that laws should be put into place to make the revealing of someones class illegal. If last names are enough to identify someone how would that law make a difference. It the perceptions of people the would have to change and more specifically the perception people have of lower castes.

  2. Polite Indian - January 23, 2007

    The reason one can identify the caste by the last name is because the caste has some value and that is why people remember the last name vs caste correlation. People make decisions on it. There are still people, allthough a minority, who cannot identify the caste by just the last name. But such people care about the caste and have prejudices against lower castes. The law will make caste irrelevant and will increase this minority of people who eventually will not worry about caste.

    But I also understand abolishing caste is not that simple and straightforward.

    You are right though that the perception of people needs to change.

  3. Revathi - January 27, 2007

    In 2004 I was a consultant to a nanotechnology company in the US. The CEO (an american) asked me to identify the caste of one of the applicants from India. Well, for one, I dont know if would have been able to and also, it seemed unethical. This is just to show that India’s caste divide is getting wider attention than one would think.

  4. Chaitanya - January 27, 2007

    Thats a great start. All great acts are tough to envision. The caste system is so much a part of our system that it will take decades but it can be abolished. Its such a sad state of affairs to see people divided on caste. There are only decent & indcent people thats it. All that matters is you are human or not. That you respect others situations & lives or not is the key.Not if ure of an upper caste or lower. India is such a bane on itself.

    All it takes is selfless willful leadership & a group of similar followers to abolish the caste system & put everyone on an equal platform. Education is the fundamental force in making this happen.

  5. Polite Indian - January 27, 2007

    Revathi,
    I didn’t know companies in the US asked about caste! That is wierd. Did you ask the CEO why he wanted to find out the caste? Just Curiousity or he too had some prejudices?

    Chaitnya,
    Yes it will take decades to abolish the caste system. The important thing is to start talking about abolishing it. Even if the caste doesn’t get abolished, at least it should get neutralized.
    It will take more than a few followers and a willing leader. It needs a mass movement. A revolution and that is what is going to happen sonner or later.

  6. Revathi - January 28, 2007

    Polite Indian,

    I think that the CEO mainly wanted to know whether the candidate was from the general category or someone who got into the university because of reservation. He had heard it seems that admissions in indian universities was a complicated matter depending on who you are. I assured him that once people are admitted, there is no way of knowing how they were admitted and so one has to take a chance.

  7. Jonathan Wilson - August 31, 2008

    I would like to talk to you personally about this. Please email me as quickly as possible.

  8. Madeline Anderson - December 2, 2009

    I am writing an Anthropology essay on how the un has a tough job cut out for them on abolishing the caste system. I found the information you posted here helped me get more of an inside view. I live in America and don’t know all that much about inside view of the caste system. I just wanted to say you did a great job explaining it and giving some background on it and giving lots of inside feedback on how this can be done.

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