India’s ancient caste system prevents it from becoming a modern power

India's caste system

OCALA, Fla., May 6, 2014 — India is an emerging power often overlooked by America. It is the former British colony which has surged to prominence not so much for cheap manufacturing as for information technology. From product support centers to software development, American corporations have seen the promise of India’s high-aptitude yet low-paid workforce.

Such an almost unbelievable combination has led no small number to conclude that India will someday leave America in the dust. While class-transcendent social mobility may have made this the case in China, India plays by its own age-old set of rules.

These rules have provided a sense of stability over the years, but have proven incompatible with contemporary Western values. How this conflict is sorted out during the years ahead will determine India’s ultimate place in the global community.

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At the heart of this conflict is the caste system; a traditional cornerstone of India’s dominant Hinduism. Simply put, the caste structure calls for rigid separation between social classes. The concept of laws applying equally to all people or broad-based possibilities for economic prosperity are laughingstocks if mentioned at all.

Fortunately, some Indians are trying to change this setup. One of them is Yogesh Varhade, the longtime president of the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace. Born to impoverished cotton mill laborers at the caste system’s ground floor, he went on to receive a college education and pursue human rights work. He now lives in Pennsylvania, and despite being of retirement age, has no intention of slowing down with his work.

Perhaps the most important question for him is this: How can the caste system still function in today’s world?

Varhade says that “(i)t is the only dehumanizing system in the world nearly 3000 years old, benefitting so called upper caste Hindus in the caste pyramid with cheap child labour, agricultural labour, child prostitution and trafficking of girls and women that” allows this high echelon to “make money on [the] blood sweat and tears” of poorer people.

“The will of the government to implement the protective laws,” Varhade continues, “has been missing since India’s independence in the last 60 plus years even though Dr. Ambedkar, the Chief Architect of Indian Constitution made it a criminal offence.

“No where exists in the world such cunning, cruel, degrading, anti-democratic system. It was invented, practiced and maintained in the name of Hindu religion, [supposedly] divinely created, to rule one class over other. It punishes millions of low caste helpless children, creating poverty and perpetuating it, using them as slave labour and total destruction of human personality”.

How might India’s problems with child labor and human trafficking impact its future as a developing world power?

“India being a home of half of the global child labour and trafficking of girls and women as per United Nations Reports….has a huge impact on India’s image as a future superpower,” Varhade explains. “Many global civil society forums like WSJ, NY Times, Guardian Weekly….and many European civil societies have come to conclusion that India can never become a superpower unless it addresses social justice issues in India.

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“International democratic societies are unable to accept India on par with China for China has a class system and not a rigid caste system by birth. Hence China could move much faster in its progress”.

India has laws to prevent the officially disestablished caste system from returning to prominence. Don’t these help the downtrodden?

“India is governed by caste,” Varhade states. “Less than 15% of the high caste Hindus control 85% of wealth, power, education, police, administration, as well as 99% of the media and judiciary. This privileged class, having controlled India for the last three thousand years, are still holding the power and do not want to share the pie with the marginalized. Corrupt police and administrators help to keep the status quo so that the caste system pyramid remains intact.

“This status quo is maintained through keeping the marginalized illiterate, ignorant, and  half starved….So even though any discrimination including caste is banned, the implementation of the law is totally missing. This is known as the hidden apartheid of South Asia.”

In the past, Varhade has shared fears that India might have a civil war on its horizon. Just exactly how did this worry come about?

“In the history of the world, one finds that the downtrodden only take the beatings so long and at a certain stage they revolt with full power to destroy the unjust system,” Varhade tells. “The American Civil War took place after nearly 100 years of independence at the time of President Lincoln to free the blacks who were used as slaves for hundreds of years. Similarly in India a left wing Maoist guerilla movement was started by Maoists and Tribals against oppressors in very few districts. Now they control about 26 districts in 10 plus states.

“This can explode with the uprising of [low-caste] Dalits and Tribals. Democracy will be in danger if it happens. This is a ticking time bomb of social unrest and it needs to be defused before it explodes or this will dissolve billions of dollars of foreign investment of Western democracies including the USA. Bloodbath would be of enormous proportion and impossible to stop. Millions of refugees will be at the doors of the West overloading their economy.”

Generally speaking, how does Hinduism’s ancient culture relate to India today?

Varhade mentions that“Hinduism’s culture is based on the foundation of ‘All human beings are not born equal!’

“India’s Constitution and the UN says ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’ This creates a contradiction for modern Indian society. Dr. Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Constitution, while giving his final speech on the making of the Constitution on 26th November 1949 to the Indian Parliament, stated that “after 26th January 1950 India will be a Sovereign Republic with one man, one vote , one value. We will have equality in politics but social inequality in daily life. We should remove this contradiction as early as possible or those suffering from social inequality will throw away this political democracy…..”

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  • piyu2cool

    This essay is seriously flawed. Caste system no more holds a sway in urban India. Further, in rural areas people from all castes are now starting to intermarry. This will lead to dissolution of caste in near future. There is no restriction in the type of profession that one chooses. India also has a the biggest affirmative action program which has worked wonders. India has had many chief ministers from do called lowest castes. And now the soon to be prime minister is from so called backward caste.

    Problem of Maoism is not related to caste system but this is just another form of terrorism perpetrated in the name of class struugle. It will fizzle out or will be crushed by Indian people sooner or later. Maoists don’t have public sympathy since they have killed innocent people with brutality. Further out of laughable to say China is a just and equal society. I think the author has never heard of Hukou system which seggregates urban rich class from poor migrants from countryside. In fact China’s inequality problem is worse than India.

    It is a wet dream of US intellectuals to see India fail and destroy itself. But this vain wish won’t come true. India has been here for five thousand years and it will always remain a civilization which will be a guiding light for humanity for years to come.

    • bigoil16

      You are talking to a Christian radical fanatic, good luck trying to explain anything to them. They don’t even know that Caste is a Portuguese CHRISTIAN word and concept (look at Central and South America and the hugely racial stratified casta systems there) and was actually promoted even by the Christian tyrants the British. Infact the British stated, they liked a caste system and actually considered themselves at the top of the heap as the highest caste above Indians. The British also had caste breakdowns amongst themselves (even to this day). For example the “Commoner” low caste and “blue-blooded” royal upper castes. It’s an age old Christian Anglo-Saxon concept, therefore I find it unlikely that Britain will ever not have a caste system (they are a Christian nation according to David Cameron, with a Monarchy).
      Note they don’t mention anything about Jathi or Varna in this article but use a foreign non-Indian word caste. Also, the conclusion is ridiculous as India’s GDP will continue to grow and many parts of India are already quite modern and advanced.

    • bigoil16

      You think we will be seeing an article about Christian caste systems in South America soon, or like the ones in Mexico where the 7% White population controls all wealth and economic power lording over a middle caste of Mestizos and a low-caste of Mayans/Natives.

    • bigoil16

      This article shows the connection between Christian militants and so called Maoist groups in India. Quite interesting, something that has been suspected for a while.

    • Subhash Chandra

      Only 5% of Indians marry outside their caste. In fact, very few castes in rural India inter-marry. Even in Urban India, while communities inter-marry, it is mostly with other upper castes. That said, there has been tremendous progress over the last 15 years, things can only get better…..

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