Caste in its old form is irrelevant and cannot exist in the modern or contemporary Indian society. Comment (250 W/ 15 M)

Mentors Comment:

Understanding this question is quite important. It’s not a general question therefore you might find it little tricky. Its not asking you to answer what is caste, why is it good or why is it bad. Instead, the question requires discussion on the Changing Nature of Caste in Modern India.

Basic premise of the answer will include that with modern education, mass urbanisation and social interactions, the rigidity of caste is decreasing in various important fields of our society. Now you can talk, dine, work and commute with & marry anyone, irrespective of his/her caste. Therefore, base your first half of the answer on this discussion.

But while caste in these walks of life have become flexible in modern Indian society, it has taken refuge and entered in other parts of our society, specially politics and education (due to reservation). It has provided life to caste system with new found caste consciousness among Indians. So while in its old forms, it may not exist or survive in modern India, caste has entered into other more flexible realms of our life and it’s still a long way to go before being eradicated. This will be the base of your second half of the answer. And IT’S QUITE IMPORTANT PART.

Towards the end of the answer, briefly, give some steps to eradicate this evil from our society. You can combine it with the conclusion if space is less.

Model Answer:

Caste is that extreme form of social class organization in which the position of individuals in the status hierarchy is determined by descent and birth. While caste might not necessarily play the same role it did in the olden days, its fluid character ensures it has adapted to play a role in contemporary society as well.

How it is becoming irrelevant in some areas of our life:

Purity and Commensality:

  • The most conspicuous rule among the caste rules regarding purity was that of commensality or rules regarding eating and drinking with or accepting food and water from other castes.
  • Post-independence, industrialisation, education and urbanisation, amongst other factors made the applicability of some of these rules unfeasible.
  • Different castes worked alongside in large factories and shared food and water.
  • Students of different castes, unaware of commensality rules freely ate with each other in school and at large public gatherings such as marriages, inter-caste mingling happened without commensality rules being adhered to.
  • While old rules of commensality still remained, their observance by men as well as women had become more relaxed.

Marriage:

  • Now that marriage is also a result of free choice of two partners, caste’s role in determining the match is declining.
  • Increased education has resulted in the weakening of certain marriage rules.
  • Inter-caste marriages have become fairly common in urban areas and towns.
  • However, caste endogamy still persists as is evident by a large number of caste matrimony associations and websites.

Caste Based Occupation:

  • The very base for caste’s existence- occupations based on caste, have started to weaken.
  • Industrialisation has changed that, for it has brought with it a variety of new, caste-free professions.
  • More and more youngsters in the current generation have opted out of their family and caste occupation for better opportunities.

But new forms of influence of castes are opening up:

Sanskritization:

  • If caste is weakening in contemporary India, why is Sanskritization strengthening?
  • Sanskritisation is where the lower castes seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes.
  • This aspiration shows that caste awareness, an implicit awareness about apparent Brahmin supremacy and as a corollary, of the lower-standing of other castes, exists.
  • This awareness only increased caste identity and consciousness, especially in modern and contemporary Indian society.
  • Indeed, Sanskritisation is sustaining the continuance of caste system in contemporary India.

Politics:

  • Caste has permeated into the political arena with castes representing easily identifiable vote banks.
  • Caste was chosen over class as identities of caste are much clearer than class and almost everyone can say which caste they belong to.
  • Class is a lot more ambiguous and harder for people to identify with.
  • As a result, political parties started using caste garner votes and this led to the concept of a vote bank.
  • When political parties emphasise the caste of their candidates and propose reforms benefiting those belonging to the same caste as their candidate, it increases caste consciousness.
  • This has made castes think collectively and this self-identity has kept caste alive in modern Indian society.

Education:

  • Through politics, it has seeped into education as well, in the form of reservation for the lower castes.
  • This web of caste influence finishes a complete circle with reservations in jobs as well for the scheduled castes.

How casteism can be removed?

  • Emotional and intellectual appeal to economic determinism, as was advocated by Karl Marx.
  • Awareness about Constitutional values, ethics, ill effects of casteism etc.
  • Promote and incentivise inter caste marriages as is already done for marrying a SC ST women in some parts of India.
  • Evaluate the existing customs, rituals etc. on the touchstone of Human Rights. Here judiciary can play a positive role but with due respect to religious feelings.
  • Implement laws and agreements like ICCPR, Protection of human rights, Prevention of atrocities against SC ST etc. with full letter and spirit.
  • Economic empowerment of Dalit through education and ownership of land and capital

Caste, in its older forms, has become irrelevant. But rather than getting replaced with class based society, caste system has taken shelter in other walks of our social life. Caste hierarchy might not play a role in these walks, but caste consciousness does. Caste system in India is undergoing changes due to progress in education, technology, modernization and changes in general social outlook. In spite of general improvement in conditions of the lower castes, India has still a long way to go, to root out the evils of the caste system from the society.