The word "caste" is no longer in vogue in a resurgent India. Yet the centuries-old system it refers to remains prevalent. This situation, as The National reported on Friday, has prompted a Dubai-based Indian lawyer, KK Bose, to issue an ultimatum to the government to abolish the system by the end of this year through changes to the constitution. If that fails, he has pledged to lead the change himself.
The puzzling aspect about this hereditary system of defining individuals’ social status, profession and income is that it has endured without any legal backing. Unlike untouchability, the caste system is an informal, self-sustained institution that has managed to resist every effort to eradicate it.
Some experts hold the government responsible for this situation, saying that recognition of the system through the reservation policy – in which communities such as Dalits or the so-called “untouchables”, are given priority for jobs and education – has created tension in society. The consequences are reflected in the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, which indicate that on average more than four Dalit women are raped every day across the country, while Dalit Media Watch, a group that reports on crimes against the community, has reported that on average two Dalits are murdered every hour.
Apart from this, the caste system hinders efforts to eradicate poverty as the individuals are discouraged to marry outside of their own caste.
This is not a problem that can be solved through legislation alone, nor can it be abolished in a short period of time. It is deeply rooted in the mindset of India’s citizens. As the Delhi-based human-rights activist VB Rawat pointed out, the solution will most likely lie in a major cultural shift.
There is little doubt that if India wants to become a respected global player, it will need to remove this blight on its national character. As long as this system exists, India can never properly fulfil its potential.