Competitive Exams: Contemporary criticism of Caste System

Contemporary criticism

Kancha Ilaiah, a Buddhist and professor at Osmania University is known for his polemical attacks on Hindus and the caste system and is considered an anti-Hindu by his critics. Similarly, radicals such as Udit Raj, also a Buddhist, who have attacked Hindus in polemical speeches, have achieved some popularity among evangelical Christian groups such as the Dalit Freedom Network in their criticism of Hindism. The website Dalitstan (presently taken down), once banned by the Indian government, is an example of anti-Brahmin and anti-Hindu rhetoric by Dalit extremists, allegedly supported by Christian missions.

Many Hindus point out that the caste system is related to the Indian society, and not Hinduism (as is evident by presence of caste among Indian Christians and Muslims). Hindu Nationalist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have actively criticized the caste system.

Some activists consider that the caste system is a form of racial discrimination. The participants of the United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa in March 2001, condemned discrimination due to the caste system, and tried to pass a resolution declaring that caste as a basis for the segregation and oppression of peoples in terms of their descent and occupation is a form of apartheid. However, no formal resolution was passed to that effect.

India's treatment of Dalits has been described by some authors as “India's hidden apartheid” Critics of the accusations point out the substantial improvements in the rights of Dalits (former “Untouchables” ) enshrined in the Constitution of India (primarily written by a Dalit, Ambedkar), which is the principal object of article 17 in the Constitution as implemented by the Protection of Civil rights Act, 1955 and the fact that India has had a Dalit, K R Narayanan, for a president, as well as the disappearance of the practise in urban public life.

According to William A. Haviland, however: Although India's national constitution of 1950 sought to abolish cast discrimination and the practice of untouchability, the caste system remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture and is still widespread throughout southern Asia, especially in rural India. In what has been called India's “hidden apartheid” entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste. Representing about 15 percent of India's population or some 160 million people the widely scatter Dalits endure near complete social isolation, humiliation, and discrimination based exclusively on their birth status. Even a Dalit's shadow is believed to pollute the upper classes. They may not cross the line dividing their part of the village from that occupied by higher castes, drink water from public wells, or visit the same temples as the higher castes. Dalit children are still often made to sit in the back of classrooms.

However, such allegations of apartheid are regarded by academic sociologists as a political epithet, since apartheid implies state sponsored discrimination, and no such thing exists in India. The Constitution of India places special emphasis on outlawing caste discrimination, especially the practice of untouchability. In addition, the Indian penal code inflicts severe punishments on those who discriminate on the basis of caste. Anti-dalit prejudice and discrimination is a social malaise that exists primarily in rural areas, where small societies can track the caste lineage of individuals and discriminate accordingly. Sociologists Kevin Reilly, Stephen Kaufman, Angela Bodino, while being critical of casteism, conclude that modern India does not practice any “apartheid” since there is no state sanctioned discrimination. They write that Casteism in India is presently “not apartheid. In fact, untouchables, as well as tribal people and members of the lowest castes in India benefit from broad affirmative action programmes and are enjoying greater political power.”