The caste system of India is one of the main historical dimensions which attempts to distinguish and differentiate people on the basis of their religion, sect, occupation, language, and lifestyle. Although the caste system differentiated in each and every Indian society, not incentivizing to give rise to integration among the masses, it apparently overlapped resulting in condescendence and outcasting of various underprivileged sections of the society.
As a result of this, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) are among the most disadvantaged socio-economic and cultural groups in India.
Scheduled Tribes in India –
Scheduled tribes of India are the indigenous, actual natives of the country. People belonging to this community are engaged in petty labours and businesses, and follow rudimentary techniques and methods which in turn, does not suffice them to lead a self-reliant and financially stable life. In worst cases, they live a hand-to-mouth existence. Scheduled tribes are usually found on the outskirts of the city, isolated from other communities. These communities are conservative and prefer to follow their own distinct anachronous culture.
G.S. Ghurye, in his book The Scheduled Tribes (1963), defines them as:
“The Scheduled Tribes are neither called the ‘Aborigines’, nor the ‘Adivasis’, nor are they treated as a category by themselves. By and large, they are treated together with the Scheduled Castes and further envisaged as one group of the Backward Classes.”
Scheduled Castes in India-
What is caste?
Caste is something that is determined by the birth of an individual. According to D.N. Mazumdar – ‘Caste is a closed class’ i.e. class refers to people based on property, business, occupation i.e. one cannot change his own caste system but can change the class system and can be a member of many classes at the same time.
The Indian caste system is a classification of people into four hierarchically ranked castes called Varnas, viz – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
Brahmins were considered to be the superior and priestly caste;
Kshatriyas were political leaders and soldiers;
Vaishyas were the merchants;
Shudras also called as the lower castes, were manual labourers.
Scheduled caste communities were the ones who were considered as avarna as they were outside the existing varna system. They were considered to be a section of people in Hindu society who are not from the four major varnas; Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishyas, and Shudras. These communities, later on, adapted the name Dalits and Harijans.
Problems, issues, and discrimination faced by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Ancient India-
The Hindu law books insisted that there were only four Varnas and never a fifth, which was used as a reason to not accept the tribal people of India, considering them as untouchables.
- Social Status – The people of these communities were outcasted by the society and were even opposed to using public services such as drawing water from wells, using the public washrooms, have meals with the upper castes.
- Occupation- In turn, they were forced to engage into occupations that predominantly involved sanitation, disposal of animal carcasses, cleaning of excreta, and other tasks that involved contact with ‘unclean’ materials.
- Discrimination on the basis of food- Restrictions were also imposed on their consumption of food as the members of the higher caste would only eat Pakka food (cooking in ghee) whereas, the lower caste would only eat Kaccha food (cooked in water); also, the members of the higher caste were not allowed to take food from the lower caste.
In worst-case scenarios, they would even face criminal charges if they polluted certain things with their presence, for example, a man will face criminal charges if he enters the temple he is not entitled to.
- Religious issues – They had no right to worship the Gods and Goddesses in the temple. Lower caste people were also forbidden to enter the area or the colonies in which the upper caste people used to reside.
- Deprived of education – Traditionally, the untouchables were also deprived of getting an education and hence, were not allowed to use public educational institutions neither did they have any right to own a property.
The sole purpose of their existence was to serve the upper castes through the system of Caste.
- Economic issues- In ancient times, people did not have the privilege to choose to practice an occupation of their choice. Instead, they were mandatorily made to follow the occupation of their family and take their legacy ahead. Henceforth, we can say that the caste system had a detrimental impact on the economic conditions of the society and also didn’t yield a chance for the lower castes to improvise their economic, social, and cultural conditions in the society.
Problems faced by the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in modern India –
After the 6th century, people from the lower castes adopted Buddhism to get out the umbrella of the atrocities they were facing in the Hindu society. Their conversion did help for their betterment but changes were only noticed to a considerable extent.
- Labour- According to recent reports, there is more agricultural labourers from the SC/ST community than any other section of the society.
- Talking about child labour, it is reported that out of the 60 million child labour in India, 40 % come from SC families. Such evidence lets us infer that people from communities such as SCs/STs are more inclined towards labour rather than educating themselves.
- Problems of women Even today, Dalit women face a lot of problems and fall prey to caste-specific atrocities at every point of their lives. They are looked down even in their workplaces, and also is very onerous for them to get out of their community and be independent, which their respective families don’t incent them to.
- Caste in Politics- Recently, caste has also become enclosed within a certain kind of politics, especially after the policy on affirmative action – taking the form of fixed quotas or “reservations” in public sector employment and higher education which was formerly limited to the Scheduled Castes. In this actuality, nowadays, violent upper castes are striving and protesting to congregate their caste in the category of the lower castes in order to gain undue advantage of the privileges offered to them. Sometimes even such discriminations prove to be a boon for the political leaders who are advantaged because of the chauvinism existing in the society, which they exhort in order to gain votes and maximum support from the masses by manipulating them on the grounds of emotions and religions; and this does no good to the society.
- Poverty and exploitation- In comparison to the urban centres where people term each other on what they achieve and not ascribe, exploitation on the basis of caste is more witnessed in the rural areas. One barely witnesses any sort of discrimination in metro Politian cities, but in villages, people have to put up with tormentation, both economically and socially. Problems with higher caste money lenders, financial instability, etc are few of the menaces of lower caste people towards their holistic development.
- Suicide and crimes – Due to constant exploitation and lack of monetary and technological facilities, we witness many Dalit farmers and students finding their escape in death. This goes in line with the type of suicide explained by Emile Durkheim. This suicide theory is called Anomic Suicide. This type of suicide is due to the certain breakdown of social equilibrium or suicide after bankruptcy.
According to a report, during 16 years between 1981 to 2000, a total of 3,57,945 cases of crime and atrocities were committed against the SCs. This comes to an annual average of about 22,371 crimes and atrocities per year. The break-up of the atrocities and violence for the year 2000 is as follows: 486 cases of murder, 3298 grievous hurt, 260 of arson, 1034 cases of rape and 18,664 cases of other offences. -Report from Marxist Communist party
- Education- The efforts from Government and other leaders don’t seem to suffice as a solution to the dynamic problems of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Lack of proper education, absence of the teacher, insufficient facilities, or availability of only basic facilities does not allow the youth of these castes to stand in line on intellectual grounds with the upper caste financially competent crowd. This diverts them from the educational arena and provokes them to take up petty jobs in the cities.
Sociological Theories on social inequality-
- Conflict theory– conflict theorists view religion as an institution that helps maintain patterns of social inequality. The feminist conflict theorists focus on the topic of gender inequality when it comes to religion. Theorists on the other hand, also believe that the stratification brought up by religion is dysfunctional and harmful in the society as it benefits the rich and upper caste and exploits the lower castes.
- Functionalistic Theory on social stratification- Functionalists believe that stratification serves an important function in society. Sociologists Davis and Moore believed that an unequal distribution of society’s rewards is necessary to encourage people to take up more complicated and important work in society.
This theory does not attempt to elucidate and analyze the caste system but focuses and hereby supports the idea of social stratification existing in the society.
Efforts were taken by the Government on the issues of SCs/STs in India-
Article 341 of the Constitution gives the President the power to issue a public notification and place-specific groups or communities within the scope of the Constitution’s definition of ‘Scheduled Caste’ for protecting and promoting their rights.
The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was passed to address crimes and wrongful omissions against the people of lower castes, imposing strict punishments on them.
Article 17 abolishes the practice of ‘Untouchability’ and enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offense punishable in accordance with the law.
The Government organizes various campaigns, lectures addressing these communities, making them aware of their rights. These efforts have turned out to be fruitful in some sections of the society but widely, the problem still persists.
- I would like to conclude with a quotation of a great leader who has immensely contributed to what our country is today-
Religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules, it ceases to be a religion, as it kills responsibility which is an essence of the true religious act. -Dr. B.R. Ambedkar