Despite laws that aim to create equality, the caste system in India continues to have a negative impact on society. In this context, examine various movements that worked towards annihilation of caste system in India.
The caste system is one of the unique features in Indian Society. Its root can be traced back to thousands of years. Indian society was divided into four varnas based on the role people played in society, politics, and economy.
Problems of the caste system
Against democratic values: –
- Of course, the caste system is a social practice. It is ironic that even after more than seven decades of liberating the country, we have not been able to break free from the clutches of the caste system. Even in democratic elections, caste exists as a major factor.
The problem for National Integration: –
- The caste system not only increases disharmony among us but it also works to create a huge gap in our unity. The caste system sows the seeds of high, lowliness, inferiority in every human mind since childhood. This eventually becomes a factor of regionalism. The weakness of the society beset by the caste system does not establish political unity in a wide area and it discourages a large section at the time of any external attack on the country. Casteism has taken a more formidable form than before due to selfish politicians, leading to increased social bitterness.
Disrupts the progress of development:
- The tension created by caste hatred or caste appeasement by political parties hinders the progress of the nation.
- Article 17 of the constitution abolished the practice of untouchability and made its practice a punishable offence. But what does this term exactly mean remained uncertain as it was not defined in the Constitution. Article 35 of the Indian Constitution (Article 35(a)(ii)) gave the Parliament the power to make penal laws for the offences mentioned under Article 17. Consequently, The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (renamed to The Protection of Civil Liberties Act) was enacted which provided penalties for preventing a person from entering a place of worship or from taking water from a tank or well.
- Subsequent legislations focused on the discrimination and oppression of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Some of the important backward-class movements are as follows:
- Satya Shodhak Samaj:
In Western India, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule struggled for the upliftment of lower castes through his Satya Shodhak Samaj. The aim of his organization was to achieve social justice for weaker sections of the society. He opened several schools, orphanages for the children and women belonging to all castes. He was elected as a member of the Poona Municipal committee in 1876. His writings include Dharma Tritiya Ratna, Ishara, Life of Shivaji, etc.
- Shri Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam Movement:
The non-Brahmin movement found reflection in Kerala under the leadership of Shri Narayana Guru who belonged to the backward Ezhava caste. He established the SNDP Yogam with its branches outside the Kerala State also. He launched a two-point program for the upliftment of the Ezhavas to root out-the practice of untouchability. As a second step Narayana Guru built several temples, which were declared open to all castes. He also simplified rituals regarding marriage, religious worship, and funerals. Narayana Guru achieved a notable success in transforming the untouchable groups into a backward class. He criticized Gandhi for his faith in Chaturvarna, which he considered the parent of the caste system and untouchability. He gave a new slogan “one religion, one caste and one God for mankind”.
- Justice Party:
In reaction to the incipient nationalist movement, represented by the nineteenth century Hindu revivalism, which led to improving the position of the Brahmin caste, the non- Brahmins of Madras Presidency sought to ally with the colonial regime, hoping that foreign rule would protect their position and somewhat neutralize power differences within the population.
Dr T.M. Nair, P. Thyagaraja Chetty, and C.N. Mudaliar came together and founded the Justice Party in 1916. It was resolved to form an association of non-Brahman Hindus under the name of South Indian Peoples’ Association. Chetty asked all non-Brahmins to unite and draw the attention of the government to the grievances voiced in the Manifesto.
- The Self-respect Movement:
The Self-respect Movement was founded by Ramaswamy Naicker in 1925. It was designed to improve the living conditions of the Dravidian people, to expose the Brahmin tyranny, and the deceptive methods by which they controlled all spheres of Hindu life.
It would be an egalitarian society to which the depressed and downtrodden could pledge allegiance. The glories of the Tamil kingdoms were hailed as peaks in the cultural history of India, and the culture of the ancient Aryans was belittled as barbarian in comparison to the splendour and richness of Dravidian tradition and Tamil culture.
- Dalit Panthers
The Dalit and Bahujan communities continue to face exclusion and even violence in many parts of India even today. Many organisations have been working at the grassroots level to empower Dalits and fight for their rights, but few got as much attention as the Dalit Panthers. Founded in 1972 by Namdeo Dhasal, JV Pawar and others, Dalit Panthers were ideologically aligned with the Black panther Party, a social organisation fighting against racism is the United States. They gained prominence during the 70’s and the 80’s after the Republican Party founded by Dr. BR Ambedkar split into multiple factions. Soon Buddhist Bahujan’s also joined the movement.