Persistence of Caste in India By Nshera Tutu

These questions were under the general umbrella of caste, and how it has not ceased to ceased to exist, even though it has become illegal. This research originally strove first, to find the stigmas and thoughts that back the caste system and two, in what ways the caste system was criminalized in India.

A diagram of the castes as described in the definition provided in Ancient Hindu text; depicting the caste, its body part in relation to Purusha, the cosmic man.

Caste originated in the Vedas, an ancient Hindu text. They were originally nothing more than a way to divide labor in society. They also corresponded with a specific body parts of Purusha, the concept of the cosmic man. The highest caste called Brahmins, who were the head of Purusha, were the priests, teachers and spiritual leaders of society. Kshatriyas, the arms of Purusha, were tasked with being warriors and rulers and protecting the society. Vaishyas, the legs of Purusha, were the farmers, businessman and traders of society. Shudras, the feet of Purusha, were the carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers and laborers in general of the society. The Dalits, or Untouchables, were a caste not even depicted in the model. They were tasked with the lowest jobs of society, such as sweeping the streets, removing dead animals and cleaning toilets.

On the left is a historical description of the four main castes in Hinduism. On the right are children who are members of the Dalit caste, doing the undesirable work.

Caste has evolved to not only defined the types of work that a person could do, but it also affected their responsibilities, social status and even religious rituals that they could perform and have. People of different castes were not allowed to interact, and were kept separate even if they lived in the same villages. The notion escalates even further, with people not allowed to be friends with or marry someone over a lower caste. For example, in June 2010, a teenage girl and her boyfriend were tortured and murdered by her parents as a form of honor killing; all this being due to her boyfriend being over a lower caste. This is spurred by the thought that the upper castes were better and more superior to the middle and lower castes. This negatively effects the middle and lower castes very much.

Members of the lower caste protesting.

The middle and lower castes were and still are misrepresented in many aspects of society. For example, when the British government took over in India, they referred to these castes as "handicapped", "degraded" and "backwards castes". For a long time, they were denied civil rights; often being barred from entering temples that the higher castes worshiped in, drinking from the same well as the higher castes and other forms of intense discrimination.

Dalit clearing human waste.

This intense discrimination is felt all the way from people's homes to government officials. A journalist named Aatish Taseer wrote about the time he traveled to India and had dinner with a Brahmin family that invited him and his taxi driver. The fact that they had even invited him was an courtesy unseen in their culture, but they refused to wash the driver's dishes with their own hands because they feared they would contaminated.

Aatish Taseer, the journalist whom it happened to.

Another story chronicles the life of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D student at the prestigious Indian school, University of Hyderabad. He was a student from one of the lower castes, and his story should have been one showing that India could move on from their infamous history concerning castes. However, after he was accused of attacking a student of a higher caste, he committed suicide.

Rohtih Vemula, the student who committed suicide.

The lower and middle castes were not even exempt from the discrimination from the government. Police officers in India have been known to disproportionately target and attack members of the lower caste. They have even been known to more readily abuse citizens of the lower caste rather than citizens of the higher caste.

Police attack on members of the Dalit caste.

After years of protests by the lower class, the government finally decided to step up and change things. Caste is a very polarizing subject, because some see it as something that brings about solidarity, or something that causes stratification and conflict. The Indian constitution called for the "equality of status and opportunity", and allowed them welfare and administrative efforts to help better their lives. They were created to attempt to diminish the level of social inequality.

A cartoon depicting social inequality in India.

For example, people of lower castes were guaranteed government jobs and universities. These opportunities allowed chances for mobilization into classes higher than their own. It causes tension between the castes because the upper castes feel as though they must work harder for something lower castes get easily due to caste quotas. Through the attempt to eradicate caste through the government, it just began a feeling that the government preferred the lower castes over the higher castes; further separating the members of the castes.

A student protest going on at a university after the suicide of Rohith Vemula.

The persistence of caste even despite the fact that it is illegal in India is within itself, a legacy of Hinduism. This is because the concept of caste begun in Hinduism and although it has spiraled out of control, the roots of it can still be seen in the caste system today.

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