BACKGROUND ON THE HINDU CASTE SYSTEM
Source for the first image: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/youtube-channel-gives-indias-untouchables-chance-be-heard-n168701
One of the most important concepts of Hinduism, the main religion of India, is its caste system, which divides Hindus into rigid social groups, or castes, based on their karma and dharma, two fundamental parts of the religion. In ancient India, the caste system was first created by the Laws of Manu – which was written in about 200 B.C.E. When the caste system was created, four main groups of society were implemented – the brahmins, or priests and spiritual leaders, the kshatriyas, or kings and warriors, the vaishyas, or merchants, and Shudras, or artisans. One last group, the dalits, are known as outcastes completely outside the caste hierarchy. While the caste system is illegal in India today, it persists and impacts many aspects of life in contemporary India. the lowest caste, the dalits, greatly mistreated in ancient india, are horribly mistreated today (McCarthy, 1). Given jobs such as cleaning and disposing of carcasses dalits suffer in many aspects of life as castes dictate marriage, social treatment and equality, and voting rights in contemporary India (Agarwal, 1). The legacy of Hinduism is quite evident today in the continuation of the Hindu caste system and the continued religious and tacit government support for discrimination deemed illegal by the state.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-18394914 – This picture shows a dalit women doing her job at the dump.
The Hindu caste system is still evident today because of the discrimination against dalits in India, across many aspects of their lives, including their jobs, economic mobility, access to community resources, and treatment by other members of their community. For example, four dalits were recently publicly beaten when they were skinning the body of a dead cow. They were falsely accused of killing the cow by their supervisors, and then were publicly stripped to the waist and flogged in the street (McCarthy, 1). Disposing of carcasses is a job that only dalits are forced to do, and it is similar to roles of dalits in ancient India. Dalits are given jobs and responsibilities that reflect the fact that they are not viewed as a part of the caste system. These include cleaning waste from the streets, unclogging sewers, and skinning dead animals (Agarwal, 1).
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/03/opinion/modi-and-indias-dalits.html?mabReward=&_r=1 – This picture shows a dalit revolt that occurred in August.
The Hindu caste system is still evident today because of the revolts that are going on due to discrimination, and the government’s response to these revolts. After the incident mentioned in the previous paragraph in which four dalits were publicly beaten, dalits have refused to handle dead animals. This has created sanitation issues, as untreated carcases are being tossed into open pits in garbage dumps. This also causes an unbearable odor throughout cities and villages in India. Dalits also organized a 10 day rally and march across India in August. Along their way, they chanted "Azadi", or freedom (McCarthy, 1). Another important dalit revolt was the suicide of Rohith Vemula, who hung himself from a ceiling fan in a friend’s hostel room due to caste discrimination. The Hindu government’s response to these revolts is through a government plan called the National Quota System, similar to a government mandated Affirmative Action program for dalits. The National Quota System reserves a number of spots in universities and jobs for lower class citizens. However, dalits only have mobility through the National Quota System. The ruling B.J.P. party is criticised for over-selling its success in Gujarata and it’s ability to provide economic opportunity, dignity, and justice for all castes (The NYT Editorial Board, 1).
As a result of my investigation, I have several new questions. Firstly, I wonder why the government has not had a bigger response to the equality problems facing India. After doing more research, I found out that some believe that the National Quota System has created too big of a quota already, and that it is unfair that dalits receive such an advantage over other citizens. If the government had a bigger response to inequality, there would be more riots and revolts throughout India (The NYT Editorial Board, 1). Next, I wonder why the Indian government has not addressed the sanitation problems resulting from dalits refusing to clean carcasses, in protest to a public flogging by cow vigilantes. Caste inequality in India is important to American students, because in India, which is one of the most populated countries in the world, the freedom, mobility, and democracy, which are cornerstones of American life, are nowhere to be found in India. People in India live as they did thousands of years ago, under rigid social castes with no mobility. While it’s not as severe as India, the US is still working to overcome the legacy of our own institutionalized discrimination (Agarwal, 1). The legacy of Hinduism is quite evident today in the continuation of the Hindu caste system and the continued religious and tacit government support for discrimination deemed illegal by the state.