I would like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (14th April 1891 – 6th December 1956) the chief architect of Indian Constitution which was adopted after India became independent. It is important not to forget Dr. Ambedkar’s work in the shaping of modern India. Through this essay, I would like to address one of the vast problems in India today, the caste system.
I was born in India (Punjab) and raised in Italy. Until I moved to Italy I’ve never been questioned about my identity. During my college days, one of my friends questioned me my caste, I was afraid telling him that I am “Chamar” (Cobbler) as Chamars are considered illiterate and filthy by the society.
When he got to know my caste since that day he started calling me “Chamar” in public and would tease me through social media, and in person as well at college. After three years I left that college. This was my first experience.
Dr. Ambedkar in one of his thoughts says, “If you want to develop the society then you need to spread up the education. Education eradicates the bias of people which results on to minimize the exploitation, domination, of those people who try to take the benefit of the so called illiterate people. If the people get knowledge through education then they can face the problems created by the dominators. Education reforms opinions, it tries to remove the walls built among the people. The biggest gift is given by the education is that it creates self-confidence among us which is considered as the first stage of our development.” (Cited by Haribhau, 2014)
Coming from a lower order in the society, I know what the value of education is. Dr. Ambedkar’s message of Educate, Organize and Agitate was one of the reasons behind coming to York for my higher education.
My interest in Computer Science and Engineering allowed me to come to Canada as an International student. As Canada is a bilingual and very multicultural country I never thought that I would be questioned about my identity here. However, such a case recently happened where my friend asked me “What is your caste?”
I was surprised. I reflected on it for a while and I got to know that caste persists because of public support and sympathy.
Today for us it is very common to ask the caste, it is like asking “How are you?”
However, I feel like it is rather a fault of the parents. I’ve seen personally parents and families rant about the caste system, though when it comes to the marriage of their children caste is a major consideration.
Parents will always say that “we are against the caste system, but our elders want our children to get married within the caste”.
We do not realize the danger of such statements, such hypocrisies defend and keep castes alive. As Dr. Ambedkar said that caste is not a physical barrier but a psychological notion.
So it is impossible and out of question to get rid of the caste system, without annihilating the religious notions on which it was founded. Dr. Ambedkar was Mahar by caste which is one of the untouchable or scheduled castes in India.
There are different theories on the establishment of the caste system. According to Dr. Ambedkar caste system dates back to 1500 BCE, where Manu was the chief law giver of Indian Hindu society.
Many people acclaim that Manu gave the Law of the caste. According to Dr. Ambedkar caste system existed before Manu. However, he was an upholder of it and philosophized about it.
Historically speaking, the population of India is a mix of Aryans, Dravidians, Mongolians and Scythians. All this group of people migrated to India from different countries and with various cultures.
They were warriors, and they established their rule by oppressing, fighting and making the original inhabitants of India their slaves. Under their influence people were divided into four groups Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudra.
This system is known as “Varnya’vyavastha” or Varna system. Hindu religious texts rationalized untouchability with reference to karma and rebirth; one was born into an Untouchable caste because of the accumulation of heinous sins in previous births.
There have been many Gurus and Mahatmas who were born in the untouchable community in India including Buddha, Guru Kabir, Guru Ravidas etc. and raised their voice against untouchability and preached the equality of men and women.
Guru Ravidas announced Begumpura (a land without sorrow) where everyone could rejoice freedom and live life with dignity and respect, the message of Begumpura later preached by other Sikh gurus as well as used by Dr. Ambedkar in his life as a guide.
According to Dr. Ambedkar, the main characteristic of the caste system in India is endogamy. Endogamy defines the closed society of a particular section of a community. With endogamy, the privileged sections of society keep resources within their community by maintaining a closed system.
This includes education, which could be accessed by upper caste people only. It made upper caste people more privileged and excluded the marginalized communities further from resources such as education. In the Constitution, the caste system has been abolished (Article 17), however, it is still practiced in educational institutions.
Hence, the students from Scheduled caste communities could not avail the facilities in educational institutions. There have been many cases where students of Scheduled Castes committed suicide.
Last year has been recorded of Rohit Vemula, a Dalit student who committed suicide in the University of Hyderabad. A recent incident happened in UP Saharanpur, where Thakurs burnt down the homes of Dalits and sparked violence in the whole of the district.
We can clearly see that discrimination against Dalit community is active even today, even though in the constitution it has been abolished.
Coming back to myself, sometimes I feel that I have a strong purpose of studying at York, as I am the first member in my family to attend a university, I am very thankful to my parents who supported me and believed in me, and stood with me all the times.
On the other hand, I genuinely believe that whatever I am today is because of relentless struggle of Dr. Ambedkar. Had he not struggled, I would not be here today.
In conclusion, the road ahead is very long. This is my wish as well as my message for youth: “My wish is to help those who have been denied their basic rights since centuries, my wish is to help those children who are starved of opportunities, I shall aim to fulfil my wish by supporting them to get a great education, so they can live their dreams, can provide a better future for themselves, for their families and for the nation as well. It is my belief that: If you can educate one child, then he will be able to help many other.
Soon we will have a better world, where every child, regardless of skin color, caste, religion, family income can have the opportunity to earn a great education, so we can eventually make this world a better place to live, where all human being will have equal rights. I shall devote my life towards my wish.
I strongly encourage today’s young generation to question everything, and not to believe or accept anything as a truth just because you have been taught by the society or your family.
Challenge the society and you yourself must find the truth. Therefore, I conclude by a quote from Buddha, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Jai Bhim, Jai Bharat
Author – Prince Barpaga