Casteism: Meaning, definition, causes and impact on society

Casteism: Meaning, causes and impact on society

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Casteism or Jatiwad is a practice in which a sense of superiority towards own caste prevails and members of other caste are seen with hatred.

Actually, casteism is a kind of mental illness that does not only affects our thinking patterns and made us conservative but also is a major threat to the sovereignty and integrity of society.

Casteism is a bad outcome of an ancient practice. Casteism is the most unfortunate and abusive facet of a society where the caste is given importance over merits and humanity.

Every person belongs to a caste (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra) and considering his caste as superior, he looks at other people with inferior eyes. This mentality is the enemy of social unity.

In this article, we will know what is casteism, its definition, meaning, causes and negative impact on society in detail.

Casteism meaning

Casteism, basically, means prejudice or discrimination against a person or community on the grounds of caste. It also includes any kind of exploitation of a group or community based on its caste.

What is Casteism

Casteism is a bad practice of considering one caste superior over another caste.

A great thinker Chandan Singh Virat has termed casteism – “A serious mental depravity that negatively affects a person how he feels, the way he thinks and acts over another caste or community“.

Origins of Caste System

The caste system has, fundamentally, originated from ancient India around 3000-4000 years back. In this system, the Hindus were divided into 4 rigid hierarchical groups based on their work/occupation. This work was prominently translated as the term “karma”.

Spread of Casteism through Dharma

Casteism was widely started spreading soon after it was given the force of Manu Laws (Institutions of Manu). Manu was a Hindu Brahmin who called himself to be the first son of the Brahma.

He authored the most criticized book – “Manusmriti” in which he recognized four categories of Hindus as – Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras by comparing them with the different-different organs of Brahma (one of the major gods of Hinduism).

Casteism: Meaning, causes and impact on society

Manu publicized his Manusmriti as “Manava-Dharma-Shastra” and gave the force of Dharma to casteism. In this book, he acknowledges and justifies the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society.

Despite its popularity, the Manusmriti was considered one of the most controversial books promoting the social prejudice in the justice delivery system where the Brahmanas and Kshatriyas were given paramount privileges while awarding the punishment for misconduct, however, the Sudras were given the least privileges but the harshest punishments even for less gravity of contraventions or offenses.

Manusmiriti receives worldwide criticism as it justifies the oppression of women and suppression of lower castes by superseding the Constitutional principles of the Country. Manusmriti provokes violation of the “Right to equality” guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Articles 15, 16 and 17.

Spread of Casteism through Education

According to Manusmriti or that Manav Dharm Shastra, the Brahmins were placed at top of the Hierarchy whose major profession was teaching and giving academic/intellectual knowledge to the people.

The Brahmins who strongly believed and accepted the Manusmiriti as their ideal or guide spread the caste-based disparity in the society through their academic institutions.

Spread of Casteism through Politics

Political leaders indirectly propagate casteism while showing love and faith for their own caste group in preference to the general national interest.

Casteism is an outcome of the politicization of caste done by many political parties. Its various manifestations include –

  • Formation and expansion of Political parties on the basis of caste. For example – Justice Party, Kerala Congress, DMK, Republican Party, BSP or Bahujan Samaj Party etc.
  • Emergence of pressure groups based on caste. For example – Nadar Association, Kshatriya Mahasabha, Harijan Sevak Sangh and so on.
  • Allotment of party tickets during elections.
  • Formation of cabinet or council of ministers in the states on caste lines.
  • Caste conflicts between higher and lower castes or conflicts between dominant caste in various states like – Madhya Pradesh, UP and Bihar.
  • Violent disputes, dissents and/or agitations over the reservation policy by a small group of persons or parties like – Sapaks Party India and so on.

Causes of Casteism

We know people from different caste live together in a society. It is a fact that there could be a probability of developing a sense of superiority in a particular group or class of people in lack of proper ethical sensibility.

Self-centric people often tend to rely on unfair things and try to create dominance over another class or group of people so that a fake impression is created in society.

People belonging to minority caste are then exploited or oppressed by these self-treated superior classes. This exploitation gives birth to discrimination and social prejudice which is often referred to as casteism.

Casteism: Meaning, causes and impact on society

The major causes of casteism are –

  • Sense of Caste Prestige
  • Caste Endogamy
  • Impact of Urbanisation
  • Increase in the Means of Transport and Communication
  • Illiteracy
  • Belief in Religious Dogmas
  • Social Distance

Generally, different castes have their own customs, dress, food, and language, and this diversity reveals the difference between them. The problem starts when the people of each caste start giving too much importance to their own culture considering their own traditions to be paramount, actually, this is another main cause of casteism. Even in the modern era, incidents like casteism are seen very often in society.

Initially, it was seen that the caste of the Brahmin clan was given topmost place, after that Kshatriya, Vaishya and then Shudra.

The rural communities were arranged in an order that was basically based on caste. The upper or superior caste was always lived in a segregated place far from the lower class.

The lower caste has been deprived of education, suppressed, exploited and atrocities have been also subjected to them. The water wells were not shared with them, their entry into the temple was completely banned.

A person from the lower class was not allowed to touch anything of the upper caste. And did not have the right to use public places or sit in a chair in front of a person belonging to the upper caste.

Along with that, Brahmins would not accept food or drink from the Shudras, and one could marry only within one’s caste. In this way, the life of the lower caste was demarketed within a line of actual control that was regulated by the upper caste.

The lower caste has no equal rights like the upper caste.

The Bhimrao Ambedkar was the victim of this casteist practice. He worked really hard and fought against this system. Later, he authored the Constitution of India and talked about “equal rights” to all.

For his outstanding contributions, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar is also called the “Father of the Indian constitution“.

Casteism is considered a most dreadful social evil that should not be given any place in society. It works to divide the society and break the integrity of the Nation, it is a huge blot for modern civilized society.

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Casteism in India

Unlike a civilized society where merit and individual personality are given importance, the Indian society gives more preference to Jati or the caste. Casteism is a term that is popular as – “Jatiwad” is one of the major obstacles to the development of India.

Indians still often identify themselves by their Caste or Jati they belong to and caste is still a major factor in marriage selection. If we go to remote areas we witness casteism at the grass-root level. People of the lower class are still not treated with quality.

In India, casteism is given a prominent place in every election, each party tries to cast votes in its favor on the basis of caste. In Indian history, caste is given an important place from the very beginning, people have been divided on the basis of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra from the beginning. At present, discrimination is done on the basis of caste.

We see a social disparity almost in every state in India, where the election tickets are still allotted to a contestant by taking the caste-based majority of voters into an account.

For, instances in the Uttar Pradesh elections, Yadav votes are made an issue on the basis of majority. Similarly, Patels are targeted in Gujarat and representatives are also selected keeping in mind the people of the multi-caste.

Despite the above, India is a country with a huge population, people of different caste and religions live together in India, many variations are seen in this caste, customs, dress, food and drink.

The practice of casteism is less seen in developed states of India than backward states like Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and so on.

We are, here, seeing gradual positive changes. A scholar M. N Srinivas has termed this mobility in the caste system as “Sanskritization”..

To gain a position in this process, a lower jati often copies the habits and behavior patterns of the upper caste or Ucch jati in the area. This includes a lower jati changing his name, surname or the way of life to one of a higher jati, adopting vegetarianism and culture, observing more orthodox religious practices, building a temple, and treating its women in a more conservative way etc.

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Legality of Casteism in India

Cateism is a practice where discrimination is done and untouchability is promoted on the basis of caste or Jati. It is against the ideals of the Indian constitution and broadly violates equality rights as guaranteed by it under articles 15, 16 and 17.

Under article 17 of the Constitution, untouchability is abolished and its preaching and practice in any form is forbidden `in India. Now untouchability (Under untouchability (Offences) Act, 1954) is a serious offence punishable for a term exceeding 2 years with fine accordance with the law.

For the removal of the doubts, it is necessary to mention that Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1954 was amended in 1976 and renamed “Protection of the Civil Rights Act“.

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It is a bad practice that has no legal force behind it therefore we can say that the present status of casteism is totally illegal and unconstitutional in India.

Casteism is organically associated with communalism. It hinders the process of national integration by ignoring human values and social welfare spirit within and beyond the border of the country. It does not only play a detrimental role in elections but also harms the democratic spirit of the Nation.

Laws, articles and provisions that deal with it

Below are the initiatives of India to remove the practice of casteism in the country.

  • Various other initiatives were taken into account in which “Abolition of untouchability” was one of the major steps to remove the casteism and untouchability in India.
  • Provision and concept of reservation in education and employment, were also given to ensure equal opportunities and to maintain a fair representation of backward classes in educational institutes, Politics and Public offices.
  • Provisions of Ambedkar Scheme under Special Marriage Act, 1954 made and promotion of inter-caste marriage (Roti-beti sambandh) is also being done by many states to bring families of two different caste closer to each other.

Ill effects of Casteism

  • Casteism perpetuates the practice of untouchability / discrimination and becomes an obstacle in delivering social equality and justice.
  • Casteism proves to be a major threat to social order, stability, peace and harmony, in any society
  • Prevalence of casteism in society manifests that the people are conservative and orthodox in thinking.
  • It acts as an obstacle in national unity, sovereignty and social unity.
  • Casteism has become a tool in the hands of political leaders. Many of them try to procure votes during elections, on communal and caste basis, rather than their own merits and capabilities.
  • Casteism creates an atmosphere of rebellion and revolution, it gives rise to indiscipline by resorting to non-violence.
  • It is dangerous for the democracy of any country, it is a threat to the spirit of fraternity.
  • Casteism divides society into different segments and, sometimes, results in severe conflicts and tensions in and between these segments.
  • It harms the development of any country, due to the rebellion and violence spread by casteism, there is also loss of life and property, which hinders its development.
  • It, indirectly, can be the cause of corruption. Members of a same caste try to give all perks and facilities to the persons belonging their own caste, and in doing so, they do not hesitate to involve in the most corrupt and dishonest activities.
NCERT – Infrexa

Way forward

Numerous collective initiatives were taken by the Government and Private stakeholders, to get rid of the practice of casteism, in this context, a gradual positive impact can also be seen in the society, however, it needs still some extraordinary efforts and solutions to eliminate this Jatiwad completely from society like –

  • Providing value-based education to children from childhood can mitigate the problem of casteism to some extent.
  • Various social agencies like family, school, and Mass media must be given the moral responsibility to develop a proper, broad outlook among children, that will negate the feelings of casteism, such as, creating awareness about the ill-effects of preserving the traditional caste system and so on.
  • Object-oriented literary programs must be driven up in rural areas as the caste feelings, which further perpetuate casteism and untouchability, are more prevalent in rural areas. These feelings of casteism can be reduced by the provisions of social education among rural population.
  • By encouraging roti-beti sambandh / inter-caste marriages, the feelings arising out of casteism can be weakened as these marriages attains the objectives of social integration and bring two families of different castes closer to each other.
  • Provision of social, cultural and economic equality among different sections of the society reduces the potential possibility of jealousy and competition. Thus, economic and cultural equality can play an important role in eliminating casteism.
  • According to V. K. R. V. Rao, in order to put an end to casteism and to deprive it of its very basis, the creation of some optional groups is necessary through which the communal tendencies of the individuals can be manifested and organized. As these increase, casteism decreases because the individuals will have the chance to express their instincts and motives outside the caste.

Apart from the above, every country should avoid the effects of casteism, only then they can protect their sovereignty and become a developed, financially and socially strong nation.

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