The word caste has its root in the Indian system. The ongoing caste system means “an element of caste is dominant and that of system suppressed.” The reason behind this is majorly because caste is not a word of Indian origin.
When Britishers ruled India, the rulers used the word caste for different social groups [known as 'Jaatis' under "Varna System", which graded Hindu society into four groups on the basis of their aptitude and occupation]. The terms "Varna" and "Jati" refer to very ancient, indigenous systems that were only thought of, created, and practised in India. It is challenging for Westerners and others who have been heavily impacted by Western culture to comprehend what the "Varna/Jati systems" are and what the Jaati, or caste system as it is now commonly called, means to the average Indian.
Originally from North India, the caste and Varna systems later extended to South India. Later, it spread throughout South Asia. In addition to Hinduism, the caste system was also embraced by Islam and Christianity. Commensality (dining together), Endogamy (the practise of preferring to marry within one's own group), and Craft-exclusiveness are all characteristics of the caste system. However, there are also instances of rules being broken. Despite the gotra notion, social mobility could have continued in the Vedic Period to a larger extent (1500-600 B.C.E.). Birth was stressed as the foundation of Varna division during the Buddha Period (600–400 B.C.E.) through the development of Sutra literature by early Smriti writers. It laid the groundwork for "Jati's" ascent. The writing of the Manu Samhita, which took a strident stance against caste distinction, marks the Post-Mauryan Period (200 BCE–300 CE). In fact, at this time, there was a huge absorption of tribal and foreign elements into Indian society, endangering the institution of the caste.
The rigorous caste-based Hindu society and its foundation were first prepared in society during the Gupta Period and After (300 CE–1200 CE). Various guilds or skill organisations were changed into castes during this time; this system, known as the Yajmani system, or self-sufficient village economy. Castes then became more prevalent as a result of regionalism's growing influence. During this time, some professions experienced a decrease in their social standing, elevating those linked with them to the level of untouchables. In Katyayana Smriti, the word "Asparsha" (untouchable) is used for the first time. There was no room for a caste under this structure until Islam arrived during the Sultanate and Mughal Periods, yet Islam was unable to eradicate the caste system in India. It promoted a few phenomena during this time, including as the emergence of new professional groups due to new technology, which subsequently evolved into several castes, and the emergence of the caste system inside Muslim society itself. The caste system made Hindu society autonomous in practice, but it did not disrupt the social structure, and castes offered protection to those outside of family and close friends. Throughout every era, there were challenges to the caste system. The caste system was greatly challenged during the Ancient Period by the Buddhist and Jaina movements, and again during the Middle Ages by Kabir and Nanak. However, none of them were able to replace the caste system; instead, their adherents became a new caste.
In India, casteism is distinct and pervasive. Dr. Ambedkar said, “The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible.” He added that casteism has “completely disorganised and demoralised the Hindus”.
Over the years the situation was not favourable. It took many years to reduce the differences people have in their minds-based caste, religion, creed etc. During this whole time, the Constitution of India was a powerful weapon in reducing these differences. The Constitution is still the most powerful political tool available to combat casteism. H V Kamath supported the constitutional protections for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes during discussions in the Constituent Assembly. However, he added that in the future, Parliament might consider whether "it would be in the best interests of the country to totally abolish the distinction called Scheduled Castes or Tribes and there will be one big unified Hindu Community" after taking into account the advancement of historically marginalized communities. Even the constitutional protections were ineffective. The President was given the authority to enlist the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under Articles 341 and 342. Caste-based discrimination was intended to be replaced by supportive and uplifting state action through the use of special provisions like Articles 15 and 16. Untouchability was forbidden by Article 17. Untouchability was punishable under the Protection of Civil Rights Act of 1955. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which was later revised, made more atrocities against Dalits punishable. The so-called "honour killings" served as an example of the false pride held by India's higher castes. The caste system was not abolished by laws. Discrimination based on class transcends national borders. Furthermore, it is not just a primitive rural occurrence. Thus, the role our Constitution played in broadening the scope of castes in India is commendable.
However, caste in India is distinct from race or ethnicity elsewhere. It is the earliest form of exploitation based only on a person's uncontrollable birth. It makes sense why caste is exempt from the executive and legislative procedures other countries use to combat discrimination. Caste discrimination is either ignored or left unanswered when racial or gender-based prejudice is handled by strict regulations.
The UK decided not to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination based on caste in 2018. Many Indians in that country think that such laws are not essential because caste is not a dividing factor or an exploitative factor there. This is not the case at all. The downtrodden castes worldwide require legal protection from this threat because Indians have spread the prejudices of casteism abroad. Many people believe that discrimination transcends geographical bounds. Concerns about caste-related inequalities in the corporate sphere have surfaced among tech professionals. Caste issues still have a place in society, which needs to be acknowledged. The ancient caste system, which on the surface appears to be incompatible with the principles of a modern democracy, was one of the main obstacles that the drafters of the Indian Constitution had to overcome. This frightening evil continues to exist and threaten us. In India, there are thought to be 3,000 castes and 25,000 subcastes.
This article is written by Drishti Taank of Manipal University Jaipur.