Q Caste in India has maintained its political significance despite dilution of its social character. Discuss with relevant examples.
• Introduce by giving a brief account of caste and its basis in India.
• With the help of appropriate examples, explain in brief how there has been dilution of its social character.
• Also, explain how its political significance is maintained.
• Conclude on the basis of the above points.
Caste is a social institution in India in which people are ranked in a status hierarchy, shaping their identity, experiences, relations with others, as well as their access to resources and opportunities. Several developments since independence have reduced the importance of caste as a basis of power and status in the Indian society. These include affirmative state policies and acts that diluted the social character of caste, such as:
• The concept of purity and pollution has been diluted due to the implementation of strict laws to punish caste discrimination.
• Further, growing urbanisation has undermined caste. The relative anonymity of an individual’s identity in a city makes it difficult for rules of purity and pollution to be observed and enforced in the public sphere.
• There has been more inter-mingling amongst castes such as in dining behaviour, where unlike earlier, now people from different castes eat together in social functions such as marriages etc. The number of inter-caste marriages have also increased. Modern modes of transportation and communication have increased the volume of interaction between members of various caste groups.
• The nature of economic relationships has transformed fundamentally wherein caste association does not hold as much importance in a modern market based economy. The hereditary nature of occupation is less relevant today. Further, positive discrimination by the state has led to upward economic mobility amongst lower castes directly affecting their social status positively.
Despite the dilution of caste system in social sphere, it has maintained its political significance i.e.
• Caste plays a very important role in elections and voting. It is being seen that the political parties select their candidates on the basis of caste composition in the constituency. The voting in elections and mobilization of political support from top to bottom moves on the caste lines.
• Caste has influenced the policy-making of the government, for example the policy of reservation in favour of certain castes. Indian politics changed dramatically after the report of Mandal commission and since then there has been emergence of explicitly caste-based political parties.
• Caste also functions as a pressure group in politics. Political bargaining is also done on the caste lines. Caste organizations have emerged to organize caste members for collective bargaining with each other.
Despite the retention of the political significance of caste in India, some progressive trends are being witnessed. People have started looking beyond caste identity and are considering parameters like socio-economic development, education & criminal background of candidate etc. as criteria while voting. There seems to be a transition from an attempt to make casteless society but to end caste-based discriminations.