India is facing a crisis not only economic but also ethical. People of lower castes who are repeatedly treated like garbage sacks are now facing appalling assaults on their women. The caste system that has its roots in ancient India has not yet slackened its hold upon the masses, especially in rural areas. People of the low caste are always looked down upon and their merits and contributions are never acknowledged. In Kashmir, the society is divided into two groups: Aseel (high caste) and Kameen (low caste). Although with time a lot of things have changed here, unfortunately the caste system has not yet changed.
The Aryan Myth
The idea of an “Aryan” group of people was not proposed until the 19th century. After identifying a language called Aryan from which Indo-European languages have descended, several European linguists claimed that the speakers of this language (named Aryans by the linguists) had come from the north — from Central Asia and Europe. These people were regarded as superior to others. Hindus broadly divide themselves into four caste groups: Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, in hierarchical order. The Brahmans consider themselves to have been descended from the Aryans and hence believe themselves of deserving superiority over the other caste groups. On the other extreme, the Shudras are considered to be the lowest in rank and considered as undeserving of respect and privileges.
A similar idea was widely promoted by Adolf Hitler in his attempts to assert the “racial superiority” of so-called light-skinned people from Europe over so-called dark-skinned people from the rest of the world — and thus provide justification for genocide.
Link between caste system and sexual violence
Caste dynamics pervade every aspect of life across vast swathes of India, particularly in the rural areas. When it comes to sexual violence, caste-driven rivalries have been the prime motivational reasons. Recently, dreadful incidents of sexual violence against women belonging to lower castes, particularly the Dalits, were reported from different parts of India. The ghastly incidents indicate a close link between sexual violence and the caste system.
Vulnerable to systematic discrimination and attacks, women from the Dalit community regularly fall victim to sexual crimes committed by “upper-caste” Hindu men, especially in the state of UP where incidents of rape are becoming rampant.
Released in 2019, the NCRB data shows that UP reported 87 rape cases daily in 2019. Based on the analysis of the data provided by the NCRB, India Today media group reported that 10 Dalit women are raped in India every day. As many as 3,500 Dalit women were raped in India last year, one-third of them in the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Recent assaults against lower-caste women
Bahraich (13 June, 2020): A five-year-old girl was allegedly raped by her neighbour. The girl was sleeping along with her mother in their house when the 28-year-old man took her to a nearby field and allegedly raped her.
Laskhimpur Kheri district (16 Aug, 2020): A 13-yr-old girl was raped and her body found in a sugarcane field. The girl’s father has claimed she had been strangled, her eyes were gouged out and her tongue cut, but the police said the post-mortem report does not show her eyes were gouged out and tongue cut.
Hathras district (14 Sep, 2020): A 19-year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped allegedly by four upper-caste men. After fighting for her life for two weeks, she died in a Delhi hospital. Initially it was reported that one accused had tried to kill her, though later in her statement to the magistrate, the victim named four men as having raped her.
Azamgarh (1 Oct, 2020): An eight-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a 20-year-old man in a village in Jiyanpur area. The accused took the girl with himself from her home, telling her mother that she would have her bath in his house, the police said. Azamgarh Superintendent of Police Sudhir Kumar Singh said the accused, identified as Danish, has been arrested.
Balrampur (1 Oct, 2020): According to reports, a 22-year-old Dalit college student was raped and brutalised in Gaisari village. Two persons have been arrested in connection with the crime.
The caste system is such that there are hierarchies within lower castes as well, with certain castes being higher up than others. Untouchability has still not been eradicated from India, so much so that our domestic help who cleans the toilet cannot cook in the kitchen. The caste they are born in assigns them a particular line of work which they must stick to irrespective of their talent and capability. Even though many enlightened individuals argue that caste system doesn’t exist anymore, yet we witness caste playing a decisive role in almost every affair of our life.
So it is truly said, “to make a change, be the change”. What we can do is to act upon what we learn through education and make others learn, too. The concept of social equality and justice should not only be taught in educational institutions but should be implemented in reality. The evil consequences of this system have already done enough damage to society and now we just can’t afford to carry on in the same vein.
—The writer is an MBA student at IUST