[Campus Commentary]The injustice of caste-based distinctionsAlthough the Constitution of India states that all citizens are equal, I have noticed while studying here that there still exist deep inequalities, vestiges of this nation’s caste system.
Some people believe that the system keeps the society in order and prevents it from disintegrating or falling into chaos. The practice of caste-based discrimination is hardly found in urban areas but remains prevalent in rural areas, where people are less educated.
Child marriages and sati, burning widowed women with their dead husbands in the funeral pyre, still occur in some areas, practices that stem from the caste system.
In this context, it is interesting that students from many different cultures and nationalities get along with each other without any cultural barriers or racial discrimination. Instead I found out that there exists discrimination among Indians according to their caste or tribal origin.
After Mohandas K. Gandhi devoted himself to the abolition of the caste system, the government of India officially announced that the caste system no longer exists in India, as the Constitution states.
However, caste divisions still persist in people’s consciousness and even in the government, indirectly, which acknowledges the existence of the caste system in its affirmative action programs. A major example is the dalit, or in Gandhi’s term, the harijan, or “untouchables.” Paradoxically named harijan or, literally, “son of God,” by Gandhi, they remain the lowest caste in Indian society.
Even among them there is an upper and a lower class. Upper sub-castes among the dalit, like dhobi, nai and others, would not interact with lower-order bhangi, described as “the outcasts even among the out-casts.”
The Mandal Commission, a government board to “identify the socially or educationally backward,” was established in 1979 to secure quotas in certain social placements for minorities such as the OBCs (Other Backward Classes), STs (Scheduled Tribes) and SCs (Scheduled Castes). There is such a quota for students from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes at my school in Delhi.
On campus, self-described “general people” or those coming from neither the privileged classes nor the lowest caste, say they are disgruntled by the school policy.
There is also a foreigner quota for every department in every Indian college. You can find at least one or two foreigners in almost every class in the major colleges. Mostly they are from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Korea and China. The number of Korean students applying for Delhi University doubles every year.
But there seems to be no discrimination against foreigners, which shows that the discrimination issue is rooted in the domestic culture based on its caste system.
I find it unjust and inexcusable, just like racism, that a person should be judged by one’s origin and not by one’s ability and talent.
Undisguised discrimination against lower castes or minority tribes is visible all over India and there is no evidence that there is justice or fairness in the society as the government of India proclaims.
*The writer is studying philosophy at the Miranda House College of Delhi University in India.
by Park Min-hye