Castes in India- Surnames and other problems

By:  Suvidha Jani

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In 1893, Jyotirao Phule in his work Slavery talked about the invasion of Aryans in the Indian subcontinent and the subjugation of the aborigines by the Aryans. He then drew parallels between what happened to the Native Americans in Europe and the caste system of India. The aborigines were treated as rakshasas in their own land while Aryans designated themselves as Devas. This was the beginning of caste system in India. Later, B.R Ambedkar in his work Castes in India analysed the problems in this theory.  For Ambedkar, Caste is a social phenomenon and not based on racial differences.  He goes on to explain that “castes in India means an artificial chopping off of the population into fixed and definite units, each one prevented from fusing into another through the customs of endogamy.”

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According to the Purusha Sukta, the Brahmin is the mouth of God, Kshatriyas are God’s arms, Vaishya emerge from God’s thighs and Shudra from his feet. Many may think that this justification is outdated and no more exists. But this idea is untrue. Even today we all are victims as well as perpetrators of this social injustice. Wondering why?

  • Surnames become a crucial aspect of caste problem. One’s name becomes a marker of one’s identity so why do we need a surname? Surnames reflect your caste and class. Many take pride in their surnames as it is a marker of their authority whereas many- especially those belonging to the so- called “lower castes”.

  • Most people doing the cleaning occupation- and work involved with human waste, giving news of death and leather work- belong to the Dalit caste.

  • Economic or social mobility or emancipation is denied to the lower castes.

  • A number of people from the lower castes are denied access to education and job opportunities.

  • Lower Castes are victims of shocking acts of violence and humiliation.

  • Women from the lower castes are subjected to rapes, tortures and other humiliations.

  • The practice of pollution is still practised in India and is based on caste discrimination.

  • Inter caste marriages are still a big no – no in India.

According to UN reports,

“In 25% of villages, Dalit are paid lower wages than non-Dalit, they work longer hours, have more delayed waged and suffer more verbal and physical abuse. In religious rites, 64% of Dalit are restricted from entering Hindu temples while in almost 50% of villages, Dalit prevented from accessing cremation grounds.”

    Caste System in India is not just against the spirit of democracy but also against basic human and ethnic/moral values. Can we end this system by ending our surnames? Or is caste system inescapable.

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