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South Asia

Socio-political Dynamics of the Hindu Caste System

Aditi Aryal

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If the discriminations and disparities on the basis of gender, race, religion, and creed were not cruel enough, there exists a system in Hindu societies that perpetuates segregation on the basis of caste. This caste system comprises four castes the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudrain order of rank. This is a system that has been in place for a thousand years. This system is directly linked with other determinants of a person’s living standards and access to education, health, income, and opportunities. This extends much beyond a person and is a part of a larger society which is greatly prevalent even today in one form or the other.

Origin and History

The Hindu mythology places the birth of the caste system in the creator out of whose body parts; mouth, stomach, thighs, and soles of the feet; emerged different groups of people. This gave birth to four castes, and the interpretation and development vary among different literatures but the essence that remains constant is that originally this system had been in place to serve the purpose of division of labour in the society. Basically, people were divided into various castes based on their occupation, the Brahman were the teachers and priests, Kshatriya were the army, the Vaishya merchants and traders, and the Shudras served the previous three castes. This meant that Shudra took up all the remaining work no one else wanted to do like sweep the streets, bury animal carcass, and work in other people’s fields.

This kept continuing over generations from one to another and people automatically started taking the occupations of the families they were born in. Over the years, the system originally of division of labour changed to a system of oppression as the higher castes became more educated and rich because the kind of work they were involved in and the conditions of the lower castes deteriorated because of various discriminations that had come their way. The others could dominate Shudras because they were poor, dirty, uneducated, and lived in terrible conditions.

Caste and Religion

This system has its bases in religion making it one corrupt institution that has furthered stratification in the society. When the idea of differentiation of people on the basis of their castes is made obligatory by religion, the individuals profoundly religious are bound to inflict upon others mistreatment and malpractice. It would be unreasonable to believe that people would discard what has been followed as tradition and culture guided by religion because if people were that kind of rational, this system would not be in existence today.

Having said that, we can now fathom a society where everybody knows each other’s caste and treat them on that basis. There exists inequality in society which is given validation due to the social norms and customs that are a huge part of religion, like visiting temples or participating in communal activities. The people from lower castes are banned from entering temples or fetching water from the communal wells and taps. In fact, people get violent towards them for entering temples on almost a regular basis. They are barred from hearing the religious texts, let alone see or read them. The very religion that rendered them as outcastes also does not permit them to read or practice it freely.

Additionally, the indigenous communities not traditionally Hindu have also been a part of this system due to an overwhelming influence of the Hindu majority in Nepal and India, both. This has also caused disadvantage to the people of minority religions and sects. Buddhism was in fact borne out of the fact that it was a necessary declination to an egalitarian society without discriminations based on caste.

Caste and Society

Because the societies are held intact by religion, it permeates into other social institutions and thus all these institutions fuse at some point. Therefore, due to the system of discrimination that is the caste system, there exists heredity and affinity towards one’s caste. People are born into one caste and they can be excommunicated if they are dishonorable. This system is kept in check and difficult to break out of because of the fear of shame that comes from being excommunicated from the caste and community.

The cultural and social behaviours are often pre-dictated and everybody that is a part of this system follows it without asking twice. The word ‘untouchable’ is not loosely used in this context. They are literally considered so. The Brahmins, for example, do not accept food or items that have been touched by the lower castes.

In a modern-day scenario, it could translate to a person being told off for hailing from a low caste, their opinions insignificant, and their say in social and personal affairs negligible. It was observed by Human Rights Watch in six states in India that children from lower castes cannot go to the same school as others, and if they do get enrolled they will not be allowed on desks and chairs but on the floor and other children do not interact with them. Also, the ethnic languages of these children belonging to the lower castes could be different; ‘crass’ and ‘uncivilized’; from the mainstream language so these children do not understand what is being taught to them and they cannot communicate with other kids who anyway refuse to interact with them in the first place. In India, an alarming 2 million children are out of school for these reasons. In rural Nepal, complaints of not being given adequate mid-day meals, forbidden from using the school toilets, and regular bullying are some of the reasons why they stop attending school.

A lot of urban people claim to not bother about the caste they belong to but the fact remains that a person’s caste is revealed by their surname and this complicates things because a person’s caste is not hidden. Surnames, in Hindu societies, cannot be easily changed because of societal attachment and responsibilities towards one’s clan and ancestry. Yet, people belonging to the lower castes have sanskritised by adopting the habits and rituals of the upper castes, and sometimes even their surnames.

It is believed that every 15 minutes, an atrocious crime is committed against a person of the lower caste and six women are raped per day. Women face double disadvantage since they are discriminated against by their husbands and family, and also by the society. According to the UN, stripping and naked parading, torture by pulling out nails and hair, sexual slavery, bondage, and witchcraft allegations is really common among the women of lower castes. The entire sham of untouchability seems to disappear when the men belonging to the higher castes deem it okay for them to enter into sexual relationships with the women of the lower castes. It is more accepted for men to marry women of lower castes but not vice-versa. Marriage outside the caste is still considered a taboo to maintain the purity in the caste and so in cases of breach, the guilty are severely punished by the community. The children of such marriages or inter-caste relationships do not inherit the high caste of their fathers but there exists a complicated system to ensure that the impure offspring does not claim a high caste.

Caste and Politics

Constitutionally, caste based discrimination is outlawed in both India and Nepal. However, historically, the Nepalese constitution in 1854 had propagated the system of caste hierarchy and rendered people as ‘enslavable’, ‘impure’ and ‘untouchable’. It was later outlawed in 1962.

Dirty games have always been played in politics keeping in centre the caste system. Representation of the lower castes have always been low and they are dominated in the local panchayats (village councils and tribunals). In Nepal and India, it has repeatedly been argued that the higher castes have always dominated regional and national politics despite reservation. In both these countries arguments have harboured against the system of reservation on the basis of caste which has been always favourable towards the creamy layer but the actual people who require these benefits. Politicians belonging to lower castes are very few in higher positions, but some include Mayavati and Ram Vilas Paswan who have only furthered their wealth but have contributed nothing significant to the people they represent.

The current President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, is the second president to have hailed from a lower caste since their independence from the British in 1947. However, vote bank politics has a major role to play here because since his affiliation with the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, the people from lower castes en masse switched their votes from the Indian National Congress. The lower castes make up about 20% of the total Indian voters which definitely has a huge bearing on the society. Thus, they have always been political ploys to garner votes by mobilizing them but in return, they do not get what they are promised. Nothing is really significantly done to change the ground realities.

Aryal is a student of Social Science and writes about social and developmental issues pertaining to exclusion, inequalities, and gender disparities in the South Asian context.

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South Asia

Pakistan’s Increasing Tilt towards China

M Waqas Jan

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In a recent interview with the Washington Post; Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked what kind of relationship he wanted from the US. He responded by pointing out Pakistan’s long and storied relationship with China as an example of a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. He explained how Pakistan’s relationship with China, unlike the US was not one-dimensional and built more on trade, respect and mutual cooperation. In doing so he in effect presented the underlying reasons why China is often termed as Pakistan’s ‘All-Weather’ friend.

In fact, the very notion of China being an ‘All-Weather’ friend is borne in contrast out of the US’s more fair-weather and sporadic approach to Pakistan. This approach has been evident in Pakistan’s long-standing complaints of how after helping the US repel the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was left to pick up the pieces as the US unilaterally withdrew from the region, leaving behind a devastating humanitarian and political crisis. The last two decades’ war on terror for which Pakistan once again allied with the US is also following a similar blue-print, which the Prime Minister made clear was an example of history repeating itself. In defining his country’s most recent reservations against the US, he made it clear that Pakistan would no longer serve as a hired gun for the US, and desired a more equitable relationship based on mutual respect.

Considering how Pak-US relations have deteriorated over the last few years, the Prime Minister’s remarks come as little surprise to observers who have witnessed this uneasy partnership throughout its peaks and troughs. Yet, what’s striking is the fact that this is perhaps the first time that a Pakistani head of state has directly presented its relations with China as the ideal blue-print for which to measure the long and troubled history of Pak-US relations.

In contrast, the official narrative ascribed to the Pak-China bilateral framework, has stood out amongst diplomatic and policy-making circles due to the broad poetic license that has more recently been attributed to it. The oft-quoted phrase of how Pak-China Friendship is ‘higher than mountains, deeper than the ocean, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey’, has been repeatedly used by officials representing the highest levels of government, from both countries to emphasize the far-reaching significance of their bilateral relations.

This includes their significance both within a more localized context, as well as a broader more regional context as evident in the $62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The corridor which promises an end to Pakistan’s development woes focuses instead on fostering peace and stability through economic growth and development. This is as opposed to the more security and strategically driven approach of the US, which has seen the region become increasingly violent and militarized. It is based on this difference that CPEC has been widely hailed as a viable solution to the relative instability and insecurity that has for years characterized the South Asian region.

However, over the past few months, Pak-China relations have themselves undergone an uncharacteristic period of friction and uncertainty. Interestingly, one of the major reasons behind this friction has been none other than the newly elected Prime Minister himself. As part of his anti-corruption campaign rhetoric leading up to the elections, he had promised greater over-sight and transparency with regard to Chinese investments under CPEC. This came at a time where growing trade and economic tensions between the US and China, had led to greater scrutiny and broad reservations against China’s rising influence the world over. Calls to re-evaluate China’s investments were echoed across countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Kenya; with allusions to unsustainable loans and China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ doing the rounds amidst key influencers and policy-makers across the globe. Pakistan’s rising debt too was linked to CPEC projects by none other than the US secretary of State, who had ruled out the possibility of US loans being used to bail out Chinese bond-holders in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has since gone to great lengths to dispel such sentiments, as was evident in his official visit to Beijing last month. In all his statements, he has been careful in acknowledging the benefits of China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, and has lauded China’s tremendous achievements in eradicating poverty; something that he wants to emulate as part of his own government’s policies. His recent statements in the above-mentioned interview too, are based in part on these same reasons.

Taken together, the PM’s statements thus present a clear and very public declaration that the Pakistani government is quite willingly choosing to side with China in the ongoing US-China economic rivalry. Unlike before where Pakistan had to carefully balance its strategic relationships between China and the US, China’s grand overtures and the US’s more inward focus on ‘America First’ have accelerated Pakistan’s gradual tilt towards China. With the US-China rivalry currently seeming far from any sort of resolution, Pakistan’s need to pick a side in favor of the other represents a clear indication of which side the government believes its long-terms interests lie with.

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South Asia

Sirimavo of Sri Lanka: Refocusing on World’s first Women Prime Minister

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Authors: Srimal Fernando and Pooja Singh*

In 1970s, there was a time when Sirimavo Bandaranaike caught the global attention and her premiership was one of the most momentous times in Sri Lanka’s political history. On 21 July, 1960, she became the first ever woman Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (formally known as Ceylon) and the world. Even today nearly half a century later, Sirimavo’s name is remembered among the thousands of Sri Lankans and among the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) supporters. Thus the Sri Lankan voters expectations about Sirimavo rose within no time after the unfortunate assassination of her husband S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1959.

In the summer of 1970, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) , the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and also the Communist Party (CP) was sweeping electorates in a general election by winning 115 seats out of 151. In essence, Sirimavo’s administration presented far-reaching constitutional and socio-economic reforms that were suitable for a small island nation.  In fact Mrs. Bandaranaike handled the transfer of island nation becoming a republic under a new constitution tactfully. In this context, Dr. N.M. Perera, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, Philip Gunawardena was some of the primary shapers of her administration. At that time, unlike her predecessors, the former premier showed great interest in developing cement, paper, steel and chemical industries. Despite promising signs under her leadership, uneven inequalities from 1948 to 1970 and economic stagnation created tensions within rural masses. Surprisingly, a coup in 1971 by the southern insurgents headed by Rohana Wijeweera, the leader of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) shattered the hopes of Bandaranaike government for a short time. Although coup was unsuccessful because of Sri Lanka’s military support to premier’s rule.

It is noteworthy to mention Sirimavo era solidified Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in the coming decades, which set the stage for the island to increase bilateral ties with India and China. In fact, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a trustworthy friend of Mrs. Bandaranaike. This period also saw the closest bilateral relations between the neighbouring countries. Especially, Mrs. Bandaranaike was a giant among Non-Alignment leaders. In the summer of 1976 at the fifth Non Aligned Movement (NAM) summit held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall(BMICH) in Colombo, Mrs. Bandaranaike stated, “The non-aligned countries should fight against injustice, intolerance, inequality, old concept of empire and intervention.”

On the domestic political scenario, the opposition leader J.R. Jayewardene and his deputy Ranasinghe Premadasa had been outspoken critics of Sirimavo Bandaranaike policies. When she lost 1977 general elections, it was extremely a difficult situation for Mrs. Bandaranaike and for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) coalition partners who had developed a remarkable sense for socialist political culture within the multicultural society in  Sri Lanka. Seven years later Mrs. Bandaranaike had lost her civic rights, the party hierarchy nominated veteran SLFP stalwart Hector Kobbekaduwa for the forthcoming referendum. The Referendum results did not reflect the true situation. Then while the    atmosphere began to change in the island country after the eruption of ethnic conflict and signing of the Indo-Lanka accord. This scenario caused strong anti-United National Party (UNP) regime change feeling.  In a closely fought presidential election in 1988, the SLFP leader Mrs. Bandaranaike lost to UNP presidential candidate Mr. Premadasa. There were no immediate solutions to the crisis in Sri Lanka under Premadasa’s presidency.  Hence  in  the South, due to the JVP uprising and the Tamil tiger (LTTE) attacks in Northern and Eastern provinces, conditions inside the Island nation was going from bad to worse.

At the same time, the crisis in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)  came to surface and the party was divided into several wings.  Thus, the time had come for SLFP party unity for doing away with the seventeen years United National Party (UNP) rule. Mrs. Bandaranaike was convinced that it was time for a new generation of party leadership. She opened the corridors of political power to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Maithripala Sirisena who later became presidents of Sri Lanka. In late years, Mrs. Bandaranaike was a prime minister for a short time from when her daughter Mrs. Kumaratunga was president. On the Foreign Policy front she reworked strong bilateral ties with India and China and her policies remained important for Non Aligned Movement (NAM) nations and for India  and China ties with Sri Lanka. After more than fifty years of service to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), to the nation many of the Sri Lankan’s were finding it hard to come to terms with Sirimavo’s sudden death on 10th October, 2000.Late premier Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s pragmatic policies mattered very much for the South Asian island nation, the region and to the world at large.

* Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.

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South Asia

Indian Human Rights violation in Kashmir

Adeela Ahmed

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In International conflict management, the models and approaches to solve the deep-rooted issue are vital and applicable but these models became fragile if any one of the belligerent states lacks the intent to solve any tangible solution. India rigid stance of avoiding any Peace Talks on Kashmir issue is the main irritant between rivalries which derails the conflict resolution. It is far important for rivalries to elucidate the dispute to move ahead.  Because it is ultimate truth that all the conflict and crises have an alternate way of tenacity.

In South Asian framework, Indian strategic ambitions are the main stumbling block in the way of Kashmir Resolution. While in the Global framework, major powers like Russia and USA military and then ideological interests compels states not to play any significant role for the resolution of Kashmir conflict.

Kashmiri Freedom Movement started from 1931 and still in 2018 it is constantly being exploited in the hands of Indian aggressive leaders. From 87 years, Indian barbarism is not a top-secret. Indian wanted to sideline and suppress the Kashmir issue in the prism of their national interests but the issue will remain alive with determined efforts of the Kashmiri and Pakistani people, human right activists, political and military leaders. The issue of Jammu and Kashmir must be resolved as per aspirations of Kashmiris.

Pakistanis and Kashmiris across the world chronicled their protest against Indian brutality and illegitimate occupation in Kashmir. Struggle for freedom of Kashmiri people will one day succeed by the grace of Almighty Allah.  Each day is like a black day until the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir with the consent of Kashmiri people.

There are many pragmatic choices for the resolution of Kashmir issue but the real dilemma is that India is not ready to come on Table for Peace talks due to their hegemonic ambitions. Recent Talks at UNGA 73rd session was also negated by Indian. As a rational nuclear state, they should realize that Kashmir is a nuclear flashpoint. Both the nuclear states should talk constructively and negotiations are the only way forward in which mutual national interests must be considered.

In 1948, it was India who went to United Nations and then it was decided unanimously a plebiscite in Kashmir. It is the right of every Kashmiri to decide his destiny indigenously. As there are no law enforcement agencies of international organizations to implement its resolution but the role of P-5 states can facilitate for resolution. Till now no such role is played by them but the importance of UN forum cannot be negated as states like Pakistan can raise their voices at international level against Human Rights violations.

The Indian occupational forces under the cover of Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) and other black laws frequently involve in religious cleansing of Muslims. After the martyrdom of Burhan Wani in 2016 Indian forces started using most dangerous weapons of pellet firing shotgun. Where are Human Rights Law against the killing of innocent Kashmiris? The lives of Kashmiris are as important the people killed in 9/11, London attacks, in Mumbai attack or a single Indian soldier. The US fought the war on terror and still engage in most complex war but What about Terror of India in Kashmir. Kashmir needs not to be forgotten at all. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo asked Pakistan to abandon terrorist attacks into India but from Where Kashmiri demand Freedom. The US needs to let her interest go, at least for once, to settle the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, it is not just a matter of territorial importance but relates to the lives of Kashmiri people who are suffering at the hands of India’s state terrorism.

Modi government is supporting to have Direct Talks with the Taliban, but when it is about Kashmir, they became silent. There is a dire need for the Indian government to review their mindless Kashmir policy. Kashmiri people must be given the right of plebiscite to decide them their destiny. Pakistan’s foreign policy is on right direction that the tools of diplomacy need to be improved for better results and peace process is the only way forward.

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