Indian society is split into several sects and classes. This is due to the existing caste structure in the nation. The origins of the caste system may be traced back to the ancient Vedas, which divided individuals based on varna, or vocation. It has brought about a slew of calamities in society. The government is continuously working to address the system’s flaws and achieve real equality among the people. The caste system is the bane for the Indian society. It divides the Indian society into sectarian groups and classes. Even today, it plays a predominant role in our society despite the growth of culture and civilization.
The official words used in government papers to designate erstwhile untouchables and tribes are ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (SC/ST). However, after noticing that the term ‘Dalit’ was being used interchangeably with the official term ‘Scheduled Castes,’ the National Commission for Scheduled Castes asked state governments to stop using the term ‘Dalit’ in official documents, calling it ‘unconstitutional,’ and to replace it with the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ instead.
The caste system’s origins may be traced back to prehistoric times. While one school of thought distinguishes castes as higher and lower castes based on their origin, another school of thought links the origins of castes to varnas, which classify the caste system based on their roles. Since then, it has been discovered that those with an advantage and a say in the community have taken unfair advantage, resulting in discrimination and exploitation of the group’s weaker members.
People from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, sometimes known as “untouchables,” account for one-sixth of India’s population, approximately 160 million people; they face prejudice and segregation.
Evil faces of this system:-
Untouchability:- Many communities are divided by caste, and they are not permitted to cross the line separating them from the upper castes. They may also not drink from the same wells or visit the same tea shops as higher castes.
Discrimination:- In lower caste neighbourhoods, they frequently lack access to power, sanitation, and water pumps. Higher castes are denied access to better education, housing, and medical services.
Division of labour:- They are restricted to certain occupations like sanitation work, plantation work, leather works, cleaning streets, etc.
Slavery:- They are subjected to exploitation in the name of debt, tradition, etc., to work as labourers or perform menial tasks for generations together.
The Indian government has passed legislation to abolish untouchability and has implemented several reforms to enhance the quality of life for the poorer parts of society. Among them are the following:
- Fundamental human rights are guaranteed by the constitution.
- In 1950, the term “untouchability” was abolished.
- Act to Prevent Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Tribes, 1989.
- Reservations in locations such as educational institutions, career possibilities, and so forth.
- Creating social welfare ministries and national committees to look after the interests of scheduled castes and tribes.
The government’s initiatives have provided some assistance to the weakest sectors of society. The metropolitan regions have had a significant influence and have showed some progress. People in rural areas and villages, on the other hand, continue to experience severe prejudice. We still have a long way to go in terms of eradicating and abolishing prejudice based on caste and creed. It now rests on our efforts, and a shift in our attitude will almost certainly result in a permanent shift, bringing equality to all.
Right to Equality
The fundamental fights are guaranteed to protect the basic human rights of all citizens of India and are put into effect by the courts, subject to some limitations. One of such fundamental rights is the Right to Equality. Right to Equality refers to the equality in the eyes of law, discarding any unfairness on grounds of caste, race, religion, place of birth sex. It also includes equality of prospects in matters of employment, abolition of untouchability and abolition of titles. Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India highlight the Right to Equality in detail. This fundamental right is the major foundation of all other rights and privileges granted to Indian citizens. It is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution of India. Thus, it is imperative that every citizen of India has easy access to the courts to exercise his/her Right to Equality.
Various articles under the Right to Equality are explained as follows:
Equality Before Law :- Article 14 of the Constitution clearly defines equality before the law, ensuring that all citizens are equally protected by the country’s laws. It means that the state would not discriminate against any Indian person based on their gender, caste, creed, religion, or even location of birth. The state cannot deny equality before the law and equal legal defence to any individual on Indian territory. In other words, no one or group of individuals may expect preferential treatment. This privilege pertains not only to Indian nationals, but to all individuals living on Indian territory. The right to social equality and equal access to public areas is explicitly stated in Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, which states that no one should be treated favourably on the basis of colour, caste, creed, language, or other characteristics. Everyone must have equitable access to public sites such as public wells, bathing ghats, museums, and temples. The State, on the other hand, has the authority to make special provisions for women and children, as well as for the development of any socially or educationally disadvantaged class, scheduled castes, or scheduled tribes. This article solely pertains to Indian nationals.
Equality in Matters of Public Employment:- Article 16 of the Indian Constitution states unequivocally that the state must treat all citizens equally in job concerns. In any occupation or position under the State, no citizen must be discriminated against on the grounds of race, caste, religion, creed, descent, or place of birth. Every Indian citizen is eligible to apply for government employment. There are, however, certain restrictions to this right. The Parliament may adopt legislation stating that certain positions can only be filled by individuals who live in a specified area. This qualification is mostly for positions that demand knowledge of the location and language.
Abolition of Untouchability:- Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolishes the practice of untouchability in India. Practice of untouchability is declared as a crime and anyone doing so is punishable by law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (and now Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) states punishments for not allowing a person to enter a place of worship or from taking water from a well or tank.
Abolition of Titles:- Article 18 of the Indian Constitution forbids the state from bestowing any titles. Citizens of India are not permitted to accept titles from other countries. The British administration also eliminated titles such as Rai Bahadurs and Khan Bahadurs. Nonetheless, academic and military awards can be bestowed to Indian nationals. The awards of ‘Bharat Ratna’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ cannot be used as a title by the recipient and are not forbidden under the Indian Constitution. Since December 15, 1995, the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of such rewards.
To conclude, the ‘Right to Equality’ should not only remain on papers. This right should be properly exercised; otherwise it will lose its essence if all the citizens of India, especially the weaker and backward classes do not have equal rights and equality before law.