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International

Published on April 25th, 2013 | by Sanat Misra
Image © Perulmanadar

5

Indian Caste Sytem

The origins of the Indian caste system are highly debated. It seems to have been embedded in history that spiritual and cultural awareness was highest at the top of the hierarchy, and unsurprisingly those at the top also claimed ‘better’ professions. The caste system divided society into four in the following order; Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Shudra. Those excluded from this hierarchy were labeled ‘Dalits’ or ‘untouchables’.

I fail to understand why prejudice towards caste still exists in our society. We live in a global community; diverse and progressive where I see no room for such prejudice. Following a survey in 2009 and a report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, it came to attention that prejudice against lower casts was prevalent in the United Kingdom. Last month, the House of Lords proposed to make caste discrimination an unlawful act (backed by a respectable 103 majority vote against the government). However, last week in the House of Commons, Members of Parliament voted against an amendment to the Equality Act (with a majority of 64 votes) and it was only this week that the government u-turned on their stance. This is an important step forward in the right direction, as we move to supporting those who suffered from the pernicious effects of caste prejudice (as shown on Newsnight).

The government previously preferred education as a route to increase awareness and sensitivity of the issue. This step, also proposed by NIESR report, is beneficial to an extent but wouldn’t tackle the issue of a lacking legislative net for those cases where caste discrimination played a role.

It is against the law in India to discriminate against some one because of their caste. As it should be; someone’s ‘caste’ much like someone’s ‘class’ cannot and should not be used to discriminate against a person in a professional and/or social sphere. Arguably, this does not change the fact that in certain parts of India (as highlighted here) discrimination still exists. But, legislative backing emphasises that the act of discrimination based on caste is unlawful and is to be met with full force of the law in court.

The amendment to the Equalities Act passed will tackle the issue of caste discrimination in the public sphere. But, hopefully a day will come when the word ‘caste’ is lost from the social sphere altogether. Understandably, however, it could be used as a cultural tool if needed. People should have the freedom to take pride in their family history and community (which may be rooted within a caste). But to extend that to society and discriminate against an individual causing them indefinable grief is something we have to fight; whether that is with education or the legislative backing of the Equalities Act. Either way, it’s high time we cast out the ‘caste system’.

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About the Author

Sanat Misra

graduated from the University of York in 2012 where he read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He is starting a masters in International Political Economy at Warwick in October 2013. He is interested in political and economic issues in the domestic and international stage. Follow him on twitter @sanmisra



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