Crisis of democracy and the Caste System in India

by Mr. Lenin Raghuvanshi of PVCHR

India is a land of diversity with great and long History populated by many different peoples, from many different origins, and who have many different religious, political and philosophical views. Many abuses are committed against peoples due to their caste or their religion and nature is more and more systematically ransack for privates interests.

The mains problems facing the country came from two things: the implementation of a “culture of impunity based on mind of caste with silence ” – which is a sharing believe that few can act without be accountable for their actions – at the social, economic and political level, and the meet of this cognitive problem with a context of market democracy and economic globalisation.

India is the world’s largest liberal democracy. After its independence from the British colonial rule in 1947 India adopted the path of social and economic development and modernisation. The growth process led to increased levels of literacy, education, wealth, and social mobilization. Decades after the economic reforms in 1990 India achieved the economic status which is often portrayed as among the success stories of the developing world. This national progress was not without its pitfalls. Almost after more than 60 years of independence, a large section of Indian population still complain for not availing the benefits of development. The most marginalised sections of Indian society mainly the Dalit, tribal, minority communities especially the Muslims and lower castes also known as Untouchables still live in stark poverty and without any civil and political rights.

India may be known as one of the world’s oldest living civilisations with a vibrant culture and diversity of its people and languages. Paradoxically, this enormous Indian diversity also hides a darker side in the shadows of its culture known as the caste system. Embedded in Indian feudal culture based on mind of caste for the past many centuries, the Hindu caste system is considered as one of the world’s longest surviving forms of social stratification. It divides society into social classes or castes and this graded inequality has the sanction of classical Indian religious scriptures.

In India the caste hierarchy dictates the lives of its citizens even today. The tribals, Muslims and the lower caste or untouchable communities face discrimination and oppression due to their social status. As a result they have been further marginalised in the society and denied their basic rights.

Harinath Musahar a survivors of police torture from Musahar (Mouse-eater) of Varanasi in India says in his testimony, “Day and night, family’s worries used to bother me. I used to think, if my wife visits me in the lock up then she would be upset seeing my condition. On the eighth day I was sent to the jail. Then I stayed there for two and half months, where I was treated. When I was in jail, I became desperate enough to see my wife and children. It always crossed over my mind, what fate had befallen on me and I am suffering for whose sins, is it not that I am facing it for being born as a ‘Musahar’.[i]”       

Musahar[ii] means “mouse-eaters”. They are considered “Untouchable” – people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human. Musahar are relegated to the lowest jobs and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighbourhood is a life-threatening offence. The main business for them, even today, is to kill rats.

Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in 1950, discrimination against lower castes and Musahar has remained so pervasive.  In order to prevent discrimination based on caste and religion, the government passed legislation in 1989 known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat faeces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes. Many of the youngest in the community do not found entry in the schools since the upper castes do not want their children to study along with the Musahar children. Since then, the violence has escalated largely as a result of the emergence of a grassroots human rights movement among Musahar to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability.

The severest human rights violations in India, as the widespread use of custodial torture, are closely linked to caste-based discrimination. In the context of crime investigation, suspects are tortured to enforce confessions. Due to the absence of an independent agency to investigate cases, complaints are often not properly proofed and perpetrators are nor prosecuted and punished. The discrimination of women and gender based violence which includes domestic violence, dowry linked violence, acid attacks, sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex-selective abortion is one of the most relevant human rights issues in India.

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