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Socio-political Dynamics of the Hindu Caste System

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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

The Persecution of Individuals from Hazara Community in Balochistan

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The drastic situation was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being slaughtered by the terrorists of Islamic State of Iraq & Levant’s Khurasan chapter that continued the legacy of sectarian and ethnic violence that used to be conducted by the extremists and terrorists of Lashkar e Jhangvi (LeJ) in the region. The community of Hazara is quite vulnerable and the violence against them has no doubt the capability of potential fault line for the state of Pakistan being exploited by foreign players the war anti-state elements give fuel to the violent sectarian and ethnonationalists of Balochistan province of Pakistan. In this mean study, the very focus will be made towards the possibilities of foreign intervention in case of Hazara persecution in the region which provenly had involvements of Indian agencies via the territory of war-affected Afghanistan.

The persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts which makes them as the easy target of being killed, tortured or slaughtered by the extremist Wahabi tendencies or racist tendencies among Pashtuns and Balochis. In the current era specially after the events of 9/11 and further strengthening of Wahabi extremist doctrine in the region had paved ways for the spreading of sectarian violence against the Shia Hazara Muslims inside Balochistan province of Pakistan. The major persecution events that keeps a lot importance in the unfortunate violence being committed against the people of Hazaras were the massacre on the day of Ashura at Quetta in 2004, the killings of Hazara people in Mastung Massacre, the playground massacre in Quetta, slaughter of Hazara pilgrims coming back from Islamic Republic of Iran, the two major bombings against Shia Hazaras in the year of 2013, the massacre in Akhtarabad, the 2003 bombing on Hazara Imam Bargah and most importantly the recent slaughter of Hazara peoples in Mach District of Balochistan province of Pakistan. Even in the target killings, some major political figures, social workers and sportsmen also remained aim of target killings inside the extremist and sectarian violence.

No doubt, such massacres and large scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW)’s major agent Kulbushan Jadhav confessed in the very statement after he was arrested by Pakistani authorities in espionage operation that India had been involved in the fueling of ethnonationalist and sectarian violence in the region. The government of Pakistan had also shown quite many concerns regarding the matter that the hands of Indian state agencies and government can possibly be involved in the backing of outfits like ISIL (Khurasan) which operates from Afghanistan while conducting of violence in the province of Pakistani Balochistan. The dots are being matched by different Pakistani officials and think tanks that the involvement of Indian government with confirmed sources towards the secessionist tendencies in the province in shape of Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BRA) that the possibility can be there in also of backing the extremist militants and terrorists of ISIL (Khurasan) while fueling the violence in the region on sectarian basis. Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi said in his statement that the hands of India are there in the recent activities of sectarian violence that was happened in the region of district of Mach of Balochistan. The possibilities of Indian government and state agencies backing the militant factions against the state of Pakistan had been also proved by the state intelligence agencies of Pakistani state including Directorate of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Directorate General of Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB). Even it is confirmed through the sources in form of statements of leading Indian think tanks, journalists and retired military officials that the fault lines inside Pakistan are to target the Shia communities for paving ways for the violence and to make platform for the conduct of violence on sectarian basis by creating a lot of chaos among the different Muslim sects inside the state of Pakistan. These are the major possible factors which had proven the point that the sectarian violence specially the one which was conducted against the coal miners belonging from the Shia community of Hazara has proven the very point that the factors of possibility is quite much there of the involvement of Indian government as actor of fueling violence.

In the very crux of the study, it is added with the point that the persecution of Hazara peoples had been a major violation of International Humanitarian Law because it is not only common in the region of Pakistan but also inside the state of Afghanistan. The historic factors of their settlement in the regions of Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan as well as their strong connection with the Shia Muslim community of Iran are major catalysts. The radical condition was being faced by the individuals of Hazarajat in Balochistan province of Pakistan once again because the eleven persons from the affected Hazara community were being massacred by extremist tendencies. The possibility of the terrorist wings being supported by Indian government in this regard because of the past confirmed terror activities in which the position of India was quite much cleared. such massacres and large-scale killings of the people specifically of the community of Hazara Shias who also remained the target of socio-economic discrimination and structural violence due to the factors that were paved by the administrative bodies in Pakistan but the confirmation of Indian agency of R&AW.

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Is India fearful of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute?

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At the time of Partition, India knew that its policies with regard to the Princely states were inconsistent. So, it feared internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute. Vallabhai Patel, presented Kashmir to Liaquat Ali Khan in a platter, so to say, in exchange for Junagadh and Hyderabad. Liaquat Ali Khan did not accept the offer. Saifuddin Soz, former Congress minister and a prominent Kashmiri politician, told The Print Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk show  that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad.

Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, took Patel’s offer to Pakistan on the exact day the Indian Army landed in Srinagar to push back intruders from Pakistan in October 1947. “From the very first day Sardar Patel was adamant that Kashmir should go to Pakistan. In the partition council, he tried his level best to convince Liaquat Ali to take Kashmir and leave Hyderabad-Deccan,” Soz said.

“But as Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan writes in his book,” Soz said, “Liaquat Ali neither understood history, nor geography. So, he did not accept the offer..”(Sardar Patel was adamant, give Kashmir to Pakistan, take Hyderabad. Nehru saved it: Soz,  The Print June 25, 2018).

Till the 1990s, internationalisation remained India’s nightmare. Former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented a formula which offered many concessions to Pakistan in exchange for a promise not to agitate the  Kashmir dispute on international forums and keep it on backburner for ten years. He presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor Verghese also gave similar proposals). Mehta had also proposed (a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”

(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalization, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat. (g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached.

Mehta’s quasi-solution, re-coined as  Musharraf/Qasuri solution, was advocated by the United States’ Institute of Peace also. . Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).

UK MPs concern on Kashmir

To India’s chagrin, a day after debating  persecution of minorities in India,  the members of the British House of Commons turned to human-rights violations in the occupied Kashmir and “called for  the European Union and the United nations to be given access to the disputed state and for Boris Johnson to raise the issue with Prime minister Narendra Modi and for the UK  government to `use its influence with India and Pakistan’ and send its own delegation to assess the human rights situation (UK MPs call for Britain to `use its influence  for human rights in Kashmir’, Times of India January 15, 2021). MP Naz Shah asked, `Without the UN rapporteurs allowed into the region and with every report in the region censored how can anyone assure this house that genocide in Kashmir is not taking place. The MPs expressed concern  about the continuing lockdown and Internet restrictions in J&K as well as allegations of rapes, detentions without trial, unexplained and uninvestigated deaths disappearance, curfews, communication blackouts and mass arrests’.

The Indian High Commission in London shrugged off the allegation of “genocide, rampant violence and torture” as “unsubstantiated”.

Ten MPs, drawn equally from Labour and the Conservatives, took part in the debate on “Political situation in Kashmir” . India labeled them as “backbenchers”.

Conservative MP James Daly  called  for the UK government , “working with our European  partners with President – elect Biden in America” to came up with an international programme through the UN that will give hope  to those poor people in Kashmir”. Mp Sarah Own  highlighted plight of  Kashmiri under constant lockdown, “enforced by half a million soldiers” for ten months. She said, ‘I have heard[that there are] women in Kashmir that are terrified of being assaulted by the thousands of soldiers on their doorstep. Women fear for their lives and do not feel safe”. She urged the UK government to take position against Kashmir’s illegal annexation”.

Kashmir: An international issue

Earlier  in June 2020, also, British MP Andrew Gwynne, Chairman of Labour Friends of Kashmiris, along with several other UK MPs had, in online conference, termed  Kashmir “an international issue, requiring “ international intervention to resolve the dispute taking into consideration aspiration Kashmiris’ (UK MPS: Kashmir is an international issue’: `Reorganization of Indian-administered Kashmir  in contravention of Geneva convention, UN resolutions, says lawmaker, Andalou Agency June 4, 2020).

With no cogent answer India indulges in malicious allegations

Instead of answering questions raised about human rights violations India alleged that “ImranKhan government in Pakistan reportedly spent Rs. 30 lakh on member of British parliamentary group visit to the country [Pakistan] and Pakistan occupied Kashmir [Azad Kashmir] (Pakistan paid Rs. 30 lac to British MPs to visit Pakistan, spread false narrative on Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, Zee News, July 19, 2020).

Questions India parried

India is still to answer why it disallowed opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi to visit occupied Kashmir while according VVIP reception to anti-Muslim group of EU MPS? Why it disallowed UK MP Debbie Abrahams to visit occupied Kashmir?

Debbie alleged she was denied as she had been critical of India’s decision to abolish special status of the disputed state. She tweeted, `Why did the Indian Government revoke my visa after it was granted? Why didn’t they let me get a visa on arrival? Is it because I have been critical of the Indian government on #Kashmir human rights issues?”

Madi Sharma, a self-styled `international business broker’ arranged anti-Muslim EU MPs all-expense-prepaid visit to occupied Kashmir. Why India did not publicise the expenditure incurred.

Madi Sharma: A Raw surrogate

EU DisinfoLab and India’s own NDTV exposed fake identity of NGOs run by Madi Sharma. The NDTV reached out to Ms Sharma. Having received no response, it asked, `Will the Prime Minister tell as to who is Madi Sharma? Why and in what capacity is Madi Sharma fixing an appointment of Prime Minister with a delegation of EU MPs on a personal visit and why is Government of India facilitating it? Where is the money to finance the entire trip coming from? Why has Ministry of External Affairs been totally sidelined?

Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi – whose delegation was turned back from the Srinagar airport – have questioned why European lawmakers were allowed amid such restrictions but opposition politicians in India were not. AFP has reported that the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved in this visit. Several European embassies in Delhi were unaware of the visit. It also quoted an unnamed EU official in India as saying the visit was not official and the lawmakers had come at the invitation of an NGO, the International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). It is a fake entity  owned by the Srivastava Group of Companies, which was found to have been behind EP Today, a news and opinion website that largely drew its content from state-funded Russian media RT. EP Today’s address, the group’s Brussels office, and the International Council for Inter-Religious are all listed under the same address: 37 Square de Meeûs in Brussels. Since POLITICO’s reporting, incorporating research done by NGO EU vs Disinfo, both Facebook and Twitter had shut down the website’s presence on their platforms.

The visit, described as private, was sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a think tank, according to Madi Sharma’s emails. Its office in Delhi was locked.

Chris Davies, a British Renew Europe MEP, said Madi Sharma invited him to the India trip, promising a “prestigious VIP meeting” with Modi, according to the email he received from her. Davies said his invitation was rescinded after he told Sharma he wanted to meet local Kashmiris unsupervised.

Sharma had reached out to Davies in her official capacity as the director of WESTT, but it is unclear how a think tank with an operating budget of less than €25,000 and one full-time staff member had direct access to the Indian prime minister’s office, its top military officials and its foreign minister — who featured on the trip’s itinerary. Davies tweeted `the visit a “PR stunt.”

Sharma’s work is also heavily featured on the website EP Today, including her trips to the Maldives and Bangladesh. Sharma herself has written op-eds for the website. In one article she called India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status — widely condemned by human rights groups — a “victory” for Kashmiri women. But, she did not respond to NDTV’s repeated requests for an interview.

Madi Sharma was present when the European MPs met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

Inference

India is reminded of the proverb `Pot calling kettle black’. It should do some soul searching instead of blaming Pakistan for portraying Kashmir’s real situation.

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More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar

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Tannisha Avarrsekar. Image source: startocure.com

Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.

Why did you start Lokatantra?

I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.

I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.

I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.

Tell us more about Lokatantra.

Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.

On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.

The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.

What do you think can make journalism more neutral?

More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.

Why is equal representation in politics important?

Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.

How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?

Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.

We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.

Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.

As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.

What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?

I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.

A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.

What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?

The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.

It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.

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