Caste-based Discrimination in India

A/N: Helloo! I started writing this report a while back because I’m very passionate about this topic. Coming from a position of wealth and privilege, I have never witnessed caste-based discrimination first hand, however I’m well aware of it’s impact on my country. I’m always willing to learning more about it and I’m trying my best to educate others as well.

I wanted to add that this report does not, in any way shape or form, devalue the situation in America right now. It’s disgusting and utterly vile that racism still exists in The United States. However, as someone privileged enough to be able to speak up on such a large platform, I wanted to raise awareness about the innumerable ways in which people are discriminated against in other countries. These cases are hidden from the spotlight and the rest of the world. They don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve. People are unaware of the caste system and are clueless when it comes to the inhuman practice of caste-based discrimination in India and many other South-Asian countries. This report is written in a strive to educate others and drive change.

I hope you guys can take some time out to read it and let me know what you think!

The term “caste” is derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word casta meaning lineage, race or breed. A caste system is a class structure hugely predominant in South Asian countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. In countries like India, it is the longest standing form of hierarchy, classifying people on the basis of the caste they belonged to. This has always been a primary cause of division and segregation amongst communities as a whole. Smita Narula in her report for Human Rights Watch says “Over 250 million people worldwide continue to suffer under what is often a hidden apartheid of segregation, modern-day slavery, and other extreme forms of discrimination, exploitation, and violence” (2). The sheer number of people all over the world divided on the basis of their birth never fails to astound those privileged enough to have never witnessed this divide. ‘Caste’ has also been used to justify the exclusion of certain individuals from day-to-day activities and occasionally from society itself. Members of lower castes are often oppressed and discriminated against by those belonging to higher castes. There have been a multitude of cases all over the world where discrimination has sparked caste-related violence leading to the deaths of thousands.

The Republic of India sees the majority of its citizens divided on the basis of their caste. This is a clear violation of Articles 1 and 2 as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. India’s history has been precarious as seen even today. While the country has not witnessed large scale wars, internal conflict and unrest grow with the introduction of highly controversial acts like the Citizenship (Amendment ) Act, 2019. Under this bill, the Indian government grants citizenship to refugees and immigrants alike. However, the bill excludes Muslims arriving from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. The pro-Hindu governing party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced this bill on 9th December 2019. It has been seen as a direct attack on Muslims all over the nation and has led to countless riots and protests.

The Indian caste system, present at the very roots of the country, groups people into four classes. The Brahmins or the dominant, priestly caste followed by the Kshatriyas or the warrior caste followed by the Vaisyas or the merchants. The lowest caste consisted of the Shudras or the labourers. However, for almost 3,000 years, there has been a caste that falls outside the system entirely and is generally composed of the people with no caste. For generations, they were known as the Untouchables or Dalits. 

While the caste system is much less prevalent in more developed metropolitan cities, it is widely accepted and has a profound impact on the lives of those living in backwards states. As said in a review of the caste system and the Dalits, “It is in many of these areas that the caste system remains strong and a normal part of everyday life and, where this applies, Dalits can only work jobs involving animal carcasses, leather, night soil, scavenging and the like” (“India’s Untouchables: The Dalits” 2). In India, Dalits are stigmatized and discriminated against due to their hereditary status in societal hierarchy. Although Article 17 of the Indian Constitution abolishes the practice of untouchability, Dalits continue to be oppressed throughout the nation. Amnesty International Report stated that more than 40,000 crimes were reported against the Scheduled Caste in 2016 (190). Scheduled Caste is the collective name given by the Indian Government to the Dalits or the disadvantaged, backwards classes. In a number of regressive states like Uttar Pradesh, inter-caste marriages are also taboo. People who marry someone from outside their caste are shunned by their family and by society. In numerous extreme cases, they are hunted and killed by members of the upper caste.

On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on. The public lynching was punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship. Despite a high incidence of egregious crimes such as these, the Indian government claims to have tackled the problem and maintains that is an internal matter (“Global Caste Discrimination” 1).

As depicted in the above article by Human Rights Watch, the Indian government often turns a blind eye to the inhuman, atrocious and utterly lawless acts committed by so many of their citizens. 

Due to increasing awareness regarding Dalit life and the impact of the caste system in a myriad of villages, NGOs have been established throughout India to empower these marginalised communities. Key ones include the Dalit Foundation and Dalit Solidarity. Both primarily focus on securing social change and protecting the rights of Dalits. ‘Dalit Solidarity’ does this by providing access to quality healthcare, education and empowering women and widows. Almost all children in remote villages attend school up to the sixth grade, after which they are expected to work with their families. NGOs like the ‘Dalit Foundation’ offer group scholarships to many of these individuals in a strive to empower them and their families. 

In addition, the Indian government in 1947 constitutionalised the ‘reservation’ system wherein seats in jobs, universities and schools were reserved for the backwards and underdeveloped classes. This was a major step forward as it gave people from lower castes the opportunity to study, work and lead better lives. While there isn’t much that the Indian government can do to eradicate such a deep-rooted system, it has often succeeded in working for its betterment.  

In conclusion, as portrayed by its history, India has always been divided on the basis of religion, ethnicity and caste. This has consistently affected religious or caste-based minorities as they have often been treated as low priority or have been overlooked entirely. However, I think it’s important to note how deep-rooted this system is. This system has been ingrained into the minds of all those living in poorer, regressive conditions. It is all they know. While activism and awareness are on the rise, it would take countless generations of educating the youth to see any real, significant change. People are trying, as they have been for decades, but to revolutionize a nation of 1.4 billion people, to ask them to reject the system that has been in place for over a millennium, will require much more than a few decades.    

Works Cited

“Amnesty International Report 2017/2018: The State of the World’s Human Rights.” 2018, http://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/POL1067002018ENGLISH.PDF.

“Global Caste Discrimination.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Apr. 2015,
http://www.hrw.org/news/2001/08/29/global-caste-discrimination.

“India’s Untouchables: The Dalits.” EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page,
Contemporary Review, 2008,
eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=7dcc1fbb-fd05-44af-a9ed-55e369f683bc%40sessionmgr101.

Narula, Smita. “Caste Discrimination: A Global Concern.” Human Rights Watch, 2001, www.hrw.org/en/reports/2001/08/29/caste-discrimination.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s