Though popularly believed that the caste system has ceased to exist, we find out that it still plays a silent role in another form
The election of Ramnath Kovind, the second Dalit man to be elected as the President of India, could be considered as a huge step towards establishing a nation that is free from the tyranny of the caste system. The ascension of our president bespoke of how we could be ready as a democracy to gravitate to an India that does not factor in caste for the treatment of its citizens. It served as a probability that we were indeed molding a society that was void of social prejudice. However, the questions still remain – Was it a true reflection of the absence of a social hierarchy? Can we conclude that the caste system is actually being obliterated?
Sadly, it isn’t.
The idea of the caste system has been so deeply engraved in the Indian mind that- contrary to popular belief- it still exists in many parts of India. Hailing from the Chettiyar caste myself, I can speak for the vigorous existence of a social hierarchy. Though it has been relatively weakened and discrimination has decreased, it still remains influential to a considerable extent. It is not boasted in plain sight but is still continued in a disguised manner. Now is the era where we are expected to settle and welcome the rebranded, rephrased and pretentiously justifiable version of the caste system, the Caste System 2.0: ‘Community’.
A community is literally defined as a group of people having a particular characteristic in common. In the modern times, the usage of the word ‘caste’ can raise eyebrows and increase tensions among the people. ‘Community’ serves as an excellent alternative to prevent aggravation, but it isn’t merely just a safe term. It’s a perfectly thought out word that is tailored to the demands of the modern world, particularly the absence of discrimination. It doesn’t directly meddle with the social hierarchy and expect members who belong to a lower caste to honor the conventional caste system, but if scrutinized, we can observe that it still obliquely advocates for the division of classes.
The existence of the modern community is often justified as the means to conserve a group’s traditional practices. Marrying within the community is how such traditions are preserved- a Nair marries a Nair, a Brahmin marries a Brahmin, and a Chettiyar marries a Chettiyar. It is still not uncommon to find matrimonial ads in newspapers and online services that specifically look for a bride/groom from a certain community. This display of parochial attitude is portrayed to prevent outsiders from attempting to damage the community’s so-called ‘reputation’.
The idea of a community system seems harmless to a great number of people. It is often reasoned that a community chooses to culturally isolate itself to conserve its traditional practices and since it claims to not engage in direct discrimination, it’s existence can be deemed acceptable. However, what is deplorable is not the fact that these communities wish to preserve their practices, but the desire to perpetuate practices that were once built upon a sense of social prejudice and dominance. This sense can be conspicuous in modern times as discrimination due to caste has been covert. Nevertheless, the pride of being part of a ‘superior’ caste is still deeply drilled into many irrational minds. This is highly evident where I come from, where no matter the level of education and economic wellness, there is still fictitious pride in belonging to a superior caste. This feeling of pride is passed on to the succeeding generations through authoritarian indoctrination, and the natural human tendency to feel superior also aides the sustenance of communities.
This self-centered view is where the problem lies, and why it threatens our unification more than ever.
Pride resulting from assumed superiority threatens the unity of the people since it is not possible to view each other as equals if one assumes superiority over the other. As it is, our nation has been paved with various ways that lead to social and cultural fencing. Do we need the community system to further aggravate the situation? I believe that our inability to solve the nation’s greatest problems arises from our disunity. How can we solve problems when we don’t have a united front in the first place? If we still allow or pertain to a system that divides us and spirals us out of sync, we will not be able to tackle difficult complexities that demand us to be hand in hand.
I’ve always pondered on a question that I find pretty hard to answer- what exactly is the point of tradition? Of course, it is deemed to have the ancient value passed down by the ancestors to the succeeding generations. But is that it? Are we expected to blindly follow and conserve traditions just because our ancestors did the same? Failure to develop a sensible rationale regarding tradition isn’t rare in India. We refuse to question ancient practices and proceed with the easy answer: “Our ancestors did it, so should we”. What we fail to realize is that at the cost of preserving tradition, we are subjecting ourselves to cultural seclusion. Instead of forming one strong Indian unit, we are carving up sections of people that prefer to have more differences than similarities.
While the caste system is being modified, I think it is important that we also reintroduce the concept of untouchability. This time around one is not considered untouchable by their birth or economic status. Rather, it is by choice. Untouchables are those who still choose to isolate themselves as communities that alienate other people. Untouchables are those who choose to preserve tradition while threatening the unity of the nation. Untouchables are those who still choose to pertain, be it in a disguised or an obscure manner, to the irrational and disgraceful social hierarchy.
As we attempt to open the gates to economic and social prosperity, we can not afford to have a divided Indian crowd to hinder the process. Difficult and pressing issues ranging from sexual assault to secularism requires our consolidated voice. Malevolent ideals such as the community system only leave a haywire and broken populace in its wake. It divides us into sections of people for the sake of fictitious supremacy. When will these communities come to realize that an army of ants is much better than a bunch of deluded rats?