- How India tackles the problems of the caste system
By: Dr Rajkumar Singh
Living within the embrace of the Indian nation are vast numbers of different regional, social, and economic groups, each with different cultural practices. Throughout the country religious differences can be significant, especially between the Hindu majority and the large Muslim minority, and other Indian groups– Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Jews, Parsis, Sikhs, and practitioners of tribal religions– all pride themselves on being unlike members of other faiths. The framework of politics in any democratic society is characterised by the general and specific features of the interaction between politics and the social structure. The general feature of politics in all democratic societies is that it intervenes to influence society and that it also reflects the social reality.
Role of State in changing society: In contemporary Indian society all basic changes are initiated by the state. The Indian state is the agency of change in society, and for performing such a role the state seeks its legitimacy through the democratic verdict of the people. Politics in India is a pre-eminent factor in societal changes, and this alone is responsible for the complexity of the interactions between politics and society. Further large masses of the people suffer from social and economic discriminations and they look to the State functionaries for protection and for survival. While those who belong to the vulnerable strata of society seek protection from the state, the privileged and powerful seek to control state institutions and resources for the protection and promotion of their material interests. Although while keeping in mind the complexity of the relationship between politics and society it may be stated that the polities of transitional societies reveals more complexities than the polities of polarised ones. In all transitional societies the social structures, institutions, relationships, roles and identities are in a state of flux and the new and emerging social categories and linkage are involved in a continuous struggle with established social norms and relations. The relationship between politics and society can be neatly observed if the society has reached a stage of polarisation rather than in a society where numerous levels of relationship are involved in a struggle between the old and the new. In the context India is attempting a reconciliation between a modern democratic political system with a social system which has its firm foundation in ancient culture.
The process of shredding the old and accepting the new dispensation creates problems of adjustment. In India too there are many areas in which Indian society is experiencing a variety of problems. Some of these problems have their roots in our colonial past while others are related to demographic changes, socio-political conditions and cultural processes. India with its diversified culture, civilization, natural resources, technology and huge skilled human power is among the fastest developing countries of the world. The issues and challenges of modern and postmodern India are such that some loudly declare with authenticity that these cannot be solved just by government policy and schemes but can definitely be addressed by people’s wholehearted participation and willingness to commit themselves to social values, equality and education
Wide support of Constitutional provisions: At independence, the society of India remained for a long time as it was in the pre-Independence period. As earlier, caste, religion, and language continue to be strong factors fostering subnational identities. Horizontal and vertical cleavages have made it difficult for the civil society to develop the size and cohesion necessary to interact as an equal with the political and economic power of the state. In independent India the constitution makers were highly influenced by the feeling of social equality and social justice. The term “justice” in the Preamble embraces three distinct forms- social, economic and political, secured through various provisions of Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles. In fact the entire social issues were understood in proper perspective and the demand for reservation was made to get rid of social injustice committed earlier in India. Under the system of Varna-Jaati, the Brahminical upper castes have undue, unearned and unjust privileges, whereas the Sudra and Panchama castes suffer from suppression, neglect and discrimination. Because of the graded inequality practiced, based on the mere incident of birth of a person in a caste group, the lower castes were denied educational opportunities and a share in the administration by the priestly and ruling classes.
In those circumstances, the reservation policy is one of the constitutional means adopted by India to address the problems of centuries of discrimination inflicted on certain groups resulting in all types of inequalities. It is an arrangement to make up for the handicap or disability from which the lower castes suffer due to the caste system. Reservation in education and job opportunities is not of the various means that could act as a corrective to the historical disadvantages. No one treats reservation as a substitute for social justice. Reservation is an arrangement, an aspect of policy, whereas social justice is a basic principle that lays emphasis on equality of opportunity and welfare of all by dispensing with inequality. The policy has been in existence for more than half a century and it has seen many difficulties as well as twists and turns. In this context, education too is most important as it transforms a person to live a better life. It is only the education which promotes good habits, values and awareness towards anything like, terrorism, corruption and much more. It is the only fundamental way by which a desired change and upliftment in the society can be taken into effect.
Needed reforms in British system: After Independence, The British legal system was basically maintained and a new constitution put in place that combined the principles of liberal democracy with socialist aspirations of general equality and welfare. But over the decades the role of th Indian judiciary has gradually got a face-lift and today a strong ambivalence clouds the public image of the Indian judicial system. On the one hand, judicial activism is seen as a sign of hope to set shortcomings right. Social awareness, insistence on human rights and the attempt to check governmental lawlessness are said to have ‘transformed the Supreme Court of India into a Supreme Court for Indians’. On the other hand, symptoms of inefficiency haunt the courts as they do other state institutions. The courts are not free of corruption. The legal process is even said to have become more and more intractable, dilatory, whimsical and protective of the criminal and lawbreaker having influence or financial clout. There are serious complaints of widely reported allegations of judicial misconduct and a disconcerting compromise of integrity and impartiality. Especially, backlog and delay in the resolution of civil disputes in India erode public trust and confidence in legal institutions, and act as significant barriers to India’s chosen path to social justice and economic development.
To conclude, every society continues to changes with time. The process of shredding the old and accepting the new dispensation creates problems of adjustment. In India too there are many areas in which Indian society is experiencing a variety of problems. Some of these problems have their roots in our colonial past while others are related to demographic changes, socio-political conditions and cultural processes. India with its diversified culture, civilization, natural resources, technology and huge skilled human power is among the fastest developing countries of the world. The issues and challenges of modern and postmodern India are such that some loudly declare with authenticity that these cannot be solved just by government policy and schemes but can definitely be addressed by people’s wholehearted participation and willingness to commit themselves to social values, equality and education.
The author is head of the Politicall Science Department of the B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar, India, and can be reached at [email protected]