This was an assignment given to us . It is in context with “India untouched” short film.
Question: Would you agree with the Hindustan Times headline that reads “Development overrides caste in Bihar battle”
Does development override caste in other parts of the country?
Substantiate your argument with examples from the film and recent news stories or experience.
In Bihar and in other parts of the country or in India as a whole, Caste is undeniable and it is a reality in India. I do not agree with the headline because it is the other way round. Caste is ingrained in Indian society. For example: Once a baby is born, he or she is termed as someone belonging to one particular caste, named according to the rituals followed in that caste and the caste tag follows him or her throughout his or her entire life including death.
Caste was based on the division of labour. But, in the film, “India Untouched”, the chief priest says that Brahmins evolved from God’s head, Kshatriyas from shoulders, Viashyas from knees and Shudras from foot. There is a contradiction to this in Mahabharatha,(as stated in Amartya Sen’s book “The Argumentative Indian”) when Bhirgu tells Bharadvaja that caste divisions relate to differences in physical attributes of different human beings , reflected on skin colour. Bharadvaja responds not only by pointing out to the considerable caste variations in skin colour within every caste, but also puts a more profound question: “We all seem to be affected by same kinds of emotions like anger, desire, sorrow, fear, worry, hunger and labour, how do we have caste differences then?” Also, the Bhavishya Purana says that “Since members of all the four castes are children of God, they all belong to the same caste”. Therefore, children of the same father cannot belong to different castes.
However developed we are as a nation, in terms of technology, economy or industries, caste overrides development. For example: In the film, a doctor working at “Safdarjung Hospital” is not recognized as a potential for that profession and neglected by his higher officials only because he is from the Scheduled Caste. In his words, it is “hi-tech discrimination”. Another example: The Dalita Govindam program proposed by the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam (TTD) in Tirupathi for Dalits was one that caused lot of resentment among Dalits. A separate temple was constructed for them in Tirupathi and other religious ceremonies were performed separately for them.
When it comes to reservations, in the film, there were protests against reservations, but reservations are the only way to give the oppressed and the neglected, an opportunity to be recognized. But in a way “reservation perpetuates caste”.
The prevalence of caste system itself contradicts the very fundamental right in the Indian Constitution which is “right to equality”.
While considering development, it is very important to consider the economic status of different sections of the society which is “class”. In ‘The Argumentative Indian’, Amartya Sen states that there is a greater impact on lower-caste families if they happen to be poor and landless. “Even the violence associated with caste-related conflicts tends to involve a great deal more than just caste”. Caste and class are inter-related.
For example: ‘Reserved’ posts often go to relatively affluent members of disadvantaged groups.
Another example: In the film, an old man from Punjab talks about a dalit Sikh who tried to enter the room from the side where the non-dalits are supposed to enter and he was beaten up by an iron ladle on his head. Similarly, the honour killings and Khap Panchayats, inclusion of caste in census – these issues only worsen situations.
My experience: A Brahmin priest at my friend’s house did not drink water, when offered, only because they (their family) did not belong to Brahmin caste. But, for doing a religious ceremony at home, when the priest was given money, he accepted it.
This shows how caste discrimination still prevails in today’s society. Similarly, in the film, the people working in a leather factory say that “we, being dalits do menial jobs and the manager who collects money, checks finances is a Brahmin”.
“The whole concept against religious orthodoxy comes from socially disadvantaged groups because they questioned the existence of social divisions as well as barriers of disparate religions reflecting a profound attempt to deny the relevance of these artificial restrictions” (Source: The Argumentative Indian).
For example: If a (Hindu) dalit wants to convert into Christianity, he is termed as a dalit Christian even after conversion.
Thus, the whole concept of democracy is not justified when people in the society are denied fundamental rights on the basis of caste or class. And our country boasts of unity in diversity, but, social barriers like caste, class, colour only divide society into fragments but never unite it.
But, however developed or technologically advanced we are as a nation, caste is etched like an indelible scar in our minds that cannot be erased, it is not restricted to one particular religion, and has become “socially acceptable”.