by: Kashish Bohra
Indian society is divided into various sects and classes. This is because of the caste system which is prevalent in the country. The roots of the caste system go back to the ancient Vedas dividing people on the basis of occupation. It has brought many evils in society. The Government is constantly striving to overcome the harms of the system and bring about true equality among the people.
Caste System in India
The caste system is the bane for Indian society. It divides the Indian society into sectarian groups and classes. Even today, it plays a predominant role in our society despite the growth of culture and civilization.
- The terms ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (SC/ST) are the official terms used in government documents to identify former untouchables and tribes. However, in 2008 the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, noticing that the word ‘Dalit’ was used interchangeably with the official term ‘Scheduled Castes’, asked the State Governments to end the use of the word ‘Dalit’ in official documents by calling the term ‘unconstitutional’ and to replace it with the term ‘Scheduled Caste’ instead.
- The roots of the caste system are traced back to the ancient ages. While one view discriminates between the castes as upper and lower castes on the basis of their origin, another view traces the origin of the castes to which classifies the caste system on the basis of their functions. Since then, it was found that undue advantage was taken by the section of people having an upper hand and a say in the community, leading to discrimination and exploitation of the weaker sections of the community.
- The people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, referred to as ‘untouchables’ form one-sixth of India’s population or 160 million; they endure discrimination and segregation.
Evil faces of this system
Many villages are separated by caste and they may not cross the line dividing them from the higher castes. They also may not use the same wells or drink in the same tea stalls as higher castes.
They often do not have the facility to electricity, sanitation facilities, or water pumps in lower caste neighborhoods. Access to better education, housing and medical facilities than that of the higher castes is denied.
Division of labour
They are restricted to certain occupations like sanitation work, plantation work, leather works, cleaning streets, etc.
They are subjected to exploitation in the name of debt, tradition, etc., to work as labourers or perform menial tasks for generations together.
The Indian Government has enacted laws to remove untouchability and has also brought in many reforms to improve the quality of life for the weaker sections of society. Few among them are:
- Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights
- Abolition of ‘ untouchability’ in 1950
- Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
- Provision of reservation in places like educational institutions, employment opportunities, etc.
- Establishing social welfare departments and national commissions for the welfare of scheduled castes and tribes
These measures adopted by the government have brought some relief to the weaker sections of society. The urban areas have shown a good amount of impact and some improvement. However, people in rural areas and villages still face extreme discrimination. We indeed have a long way to go in achieving the objectives set to eradicate and abolish discrimination, on the basis of caste and creed. It now depends on our efforts and a change in our mindset is sure to see a perpetual change, bringing about equality for all.
Right to Equality
The fundamental fights are guaranteed to protect the basic human rights of all citizens of India and are put into effect by the courts, subject to some limitations. One of such fundamental rights is the Right to Equality. Right to Equality refers to equality in the eyes of law, discarding any unfairness on grounds of caste, race, religion, place of birth sex. It also includes equality of prospects in matters of employment, the abolition of untouchability, and abolition of titles. Articles 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 of the Constitution of India highlight the Right to Equality in detail. This fundamental right is the major foundation of all other rights and privileges granted to Indian citizens. It is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution of India. Thus, it is imperative that every citizen of India has easy access to the courts to exercise his/her Right to Equality.
Various articles under the Right to Equality are explained as follows:
Equality Before Law
Equality before the law is well defined under Article 14 of the Constitution which ensures that every citizen shall be likewise protected by the laws of the country. It means that the State will not distinguish any of the Indian citizens on the basis of their gender, caste, creed, religion or even the place of birth. The state cannot refuse equality before the law and equal defense of the law to any person within the territory of India. In other words, this means that no person or group of people can demand any special privileges. This right not only applies to the citizens of India but also to all the people within the territory of India.
Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas
The right of Social Equality and Equal Access to Public Areas is clearly mentioned under Article 15 of the Constitution of India stating that no person shall be shown favoritism on the basis of color, caste, creed language, etc. Every person shall have equal admittance to public places like public wells, bathing Ghats, museums, temples etc. However, the State has the right to make any special arrangement for women and children or for the development of any socially or educationally backward class or scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. This article applies only to citizens of India.
Equality in Matters of Public Employment
Article 16 of the Constitution of India clearly mentions that the State shall treat everyone equally in matters of employment. No citizen shall be discriminated on the basis of race, caste, religion, creed, descent or place of birth in respect of any employment or office under the State. Every citizen of India can apply for government jobs. However, there are some exceptions to this right. The Parliament may pass a law mentioning that specific jobs can only be filled by candidates who are residing in a particular area. This requirement is mainly for those posts that necessitate the knowledge of the locality and language of the area.
Apart from this, the State may also set aside some posts for members of backward classes, scheduled castes or scheduled tribes which are not properly represented in the services under the State to uplift the weaker sections of the society. Also, a law may be passed which may entail that the holder of an office of any religious institution shall also be a person professing that specific religion. Though, this right shall not be granted to the overseas citizens of India as directed by the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2003.
Abolition of Untouchability
Article 17 of the Constitution of India abolishes the practice of untouchability in India. The practice of untouchability is declared as a crime and anyone doing so is punishable by law. The Untouchability Offences Act of 1955 (and now Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976) states punishments for not allowing a person to enter a place of worship or from taking water from a well or tank.
Abolition of Titles
Article 18 of the Constitution of India prohibits the State from granting any titles. Citizens of India are not allowed to accept titles from a foreign State. Titles like Rai Bahadurs and Khan Bahadurs are given by the British government have also been abolished. Nevertheless, academic and military distinctions can be conferred upon the citizens of India. The awards of ‘Bharat Ratna’ and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ cannot be used by the beneficiary as a title and is not prohibited by the Constitution of India. From 15 December 1995, the Supreme Court has sustained the validity of such awards.
To conclude, the ‘Right to Equality’ should not only remain on papers. This right should be properly exercised; otherwise, it will lose its essence if all the citizens of India, especially the weaker and backward classes do not have equal rights and equality before the law.