Jurisprudence in modern India outlaws caste discrimination and contemporary Hindu spiritual leaders and organizations, including but certainly not limited to Raja Ram Mohan Roy; Mahatma Gandhi; Narayan Guru; Sri Shivamurthy Murugharajendra; Arya Samaj; Sahayoga Foundation have been engaged in eradicating this system from society.
That said, today the worst instances of caste-based discrimination and violence occur largely between those occupying the “lowest” rungs of the codified caste system, where economic factors play a pivotal role. Chiefly, landowners continue to rely upon illiterate and landless laborers from Scheduled Castes for farming in an economy where agriculture still employs 60% of the country’s population. Moreover, the rise of a large number of caste-based political parties, who focus on only attracting votes from one or a few specific castes, has further heightened the political tensions that has often given rise to caste-based violence.
The Indian Government’s reservation policies and the sheer dynamics of representative democracy have also wrought a sea of change in caste dynamics in India. Today, considerations of ritual purity take a backseat to politics and economics and “Other Backward Castes” (OBCs), rather than forward caste Brahmins, are the real oppressors of the Scheduled Castes. Power structures in the caste hierarchy have undergone a substantial change, and any solution to the problem of caste-discrimination must incorporate this new dynamic. Thus, while much remains to be done, especially for the Scheduled Castes, the significant progress in the six decades since independence must be acknowledged and built upon.
Compounding the above issues is the work of Christian missionaries whose evangelizing in India often exploits the poverty of the Scheduled Castes to convert them to Christianity, chiefly with the aid of economic allurements. HAF considers such efforts to be effectively coercive, fraudulent and unethical. Moreover, despite conversion to Christianity, caste-based discrimination continues to plague Scheduled Caste converts. In fact, over the years, both Christian and Muslim communities, as well as some “upper caste” communities, have lobbied for official scheduled caste or other backward caste classification in order to benefit from government affirmative action programs.
Strong laws against caste-based discrimination do exist in India, but the serious lack of adequate law enforcement is a key impediment to eradication of caste-based discrimination. Urbanization has proved a great foe of caste-based discrimination and there is dramatic difference in caste-consciousness and caste-based discrimination between urban and rural India. A similar divide also exists between the younger and older generation in India. With the young approaching ⅓ of India’s population today, this portends well for the future.
To learn more, read: Hinduism: Not Cast in Caste – Seeking an End to Caste-based Discrimination.