The caste system in India finds its origin around 1500 BC on the arrival of Aryans. Primarily, it was based on the occupation one chooses to practice. For example, a religious leader performing sacred rituals was called Brahmin, while the one who was a part of a kingdom’s army ( a warrior ) was called Kshatriya etc. Every occupation and individuals associated with it were addressed with particular names like a cobbler was called Chamar, a blacksmith as Lohaar, etc. And all of these occupations were a part of 4 Varnas viz. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra. Teachers, farmers were a part of Vaishya while Shudras consisted of artisans, blacksmiths, laborers, maids, etc.
Like most societies of the world, in India also the son inherited his father’s profession. And so there developed families, who professed the same family profession for generation in which, the son continued his father’s profession. Later on, as these families became larger, they were seen as communities or Jatis. Different families who professed the same profession developed social relations between them and organized as a common community, meaning Jati. But later this Varma system became rigid. There was merely any occupational fluidity left. A Brahmin’s son also became a Brahmin, a cobbler’s son had to become a cobbler and nothing else. If he aspires to become a Kshatriya (warrior), the society and societal norms did not permit him to do so. Perhaps, the Varna system which was primarily based on occupation had now become a basic identity attained by an individual right from his birth, hence evolving as the ‘CASTE SYSTEM’. Subsequently, the rigidity of this system proliferated on the advent of the norms like intra-caste marriage, where a Brahmin could marry only to a Brahmin, a Chamar (cobbler) only to a Chamar, a Kshatriya only to Kshatriya. Besides, it also stated hierarchy in the society where Brahmins were considered the elite and were at the top. Followed by the Kshatriyas, then Vaishyas, and then Shudras. There was another community that was excluded from the society, the UNTOUCHABLES (aka Dalits).
Everyone was expected to follow societal norms. The problem began when some did not wish to comply. As popularly said ‘Love knows no bounds’, couples who wished to get married and live together had to face backlash from society if they belonged to different castes. Such couples had to face a social boycott. Their families, as well, had to face a social boycott, many times, resulting in eviction from the village. As a result, the need to protect honor was palpable. Hence, honor killings were frequent in society. The caste-based hierarchy was strictly followed. Defiance was eligible for punishment. Dalits were not included in religious practices. They were denied entry to temples. Water reservoirs meant for the upper caste were not allowed access to Dalits. They were barred from educational institutions. Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj made efforts to eradicate caste discrimination, educate people against caste prejudice. He also offered a scholarship to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar for his further studies in foreign universities. Dr. Ambedkar was intelligent and a studious one but was overwhelmed and fed up by the discrimination he faced resulting in his initiation of a battle against the Caste system and Brahmanical patriarchy. In March 1930, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar launched a satyagraha seeking that Dalits be allowed to enter and pray in the Kalaram temple at the pilgrimage center of Nashik in Maharashtra. Evidently, was opposed by the upper castes. He also initiated the Mahad satyagraha to thereby allow Dalits to drink water from a public tank only meant for the upper castes.
Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, in 1921, had first introduced reservations for SC, ST, and OBC people. Also, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar strived for reservations in government jobs and educational institutions in order to alleviate the socio-economic and educational backwardness of the lower castes. After 70 years of Independence, do we still need reservations? Few questions need to be answered first. Reservations were granted due to social inequality and discrimination. But has this social discrimination ceased to exist? Has the educational backwardness of lower castes alleviated? Are the untouchables (Dalits) and Shudras permitted entry to temples and educational institutions everywhere in India?
According to a research by IIT Delhi, there is a systematic bias against the socially and economically backward castes in the provisions of public schools. Eg: In the state of Uttar Pradesh, the villages where upper caste population in maximum, there is 1 government school for every 3 villages, while the villages where Schedule caste (SC) population is maximum, there is 1 school for every 10 villages. Also, in Schedule tribe (ST)-majority villages there is 1 school for every 12 villages. The situation is not any better in Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra. A study has shown that upper caste villages are twice as likely to get secondary level school than Dalit ones. In SC-majority villages, the probability drops from 75% at primary level to 9% at secondary.
Talking about our society, even today, in many rural areas, Dalits get beaten up for entering temples. One such incident in Rajasthan’s Pali district, where a minor Dalit boy was tied and beaten allegedly by a group of upper-caste men after he tried to enter a temple. Two months before this, many incidents of atrocities were seen, particularly the wedding processions being attacked because Dalit grooms were riding on horses. In Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, Dalit boys were allegedly beaten as they were found swimming in a well, apparently meant for the upper castes. Villagers (many from the upper castes) allegedly caught them, stripped them, and paraded them naked around the village. After the video went viral, the then Union Minister Ramdas Athavle had condemned the incident, and subsequently, police arrested few men under the Prevention of Atrocities Act. Water is a natural resource and everyone has a right to it. But caste restrictions and discrimination haven’t left it untouched. When natural resources are denied to lower castes, how can we expect that resources like education and jobs aren’t denied to them? Our society, unfortunately, has continued to practice the age-old norms of casteism and discrimination associated with it. Hence, if society cannot ensure equal opportunities to the lower castes, then the government has to! This is why reservations were introduced and still continue to exist.