Unveiling The Urban Invisible: Caste
Caste— a frequently discussed peculiarity of the Hindu social structure. Although caste has been a part of other historical societies, the system found in India is more intriguing because of its unique features. The system is believed to have a divine sanction. It is a deep-rooted social institution in India intimately interwoven with the Hindu religion. Caste sanctions and strictures still govern all social, religious and economic activities of an average Indian in the village and, to a decreasing extent, in the towns and cities.
The caste stratification of Indian society is based on the chaturvarna doctrine. It is believed that the Creator created three varnas from various parts of his body. From his head, originated the Brahmin—enjoying the highest respect while devoting themselves to religious teachings. From his body, the Kshatriya— ranked as defenders and warriors. Below them in rank were the Vaishyas— the cultivators, artisans and traders. In the lowest order, without any rank at all were the Sudras (or colloquially known as the untouchables)— consisting of menials and servants who engaged in “impure” tasks. The non-Aryans, consisting of the local tribal population, were assigned no place within the caste hierarchy. Even today, the untouchable sections of the Sudra caste are cast aside.
In a caste-ridden society, there are specific occupations laid down for each caste. Generations after generations are expected to follow the status quo. Some occupations were considered to be superior while others were considered to be inferior.
Cities are seen as an economic aspiration— generating wealth, providing employment and an incomparable quality of life. They have an astronomical role in social transformation— cities bring people together and modify human institutions, like caste, for one. The growth of modern industrialization and the spread of urbanisation further stirred the social pot. To reap the benefits of new opportunities, people started migrating towards cities, making it inevitable for people of different castes to live in close congregations. The necessities of life lessened the dominance of the Brahmins. Caste members approached new occupational avenues based on preferences and merit. For instance, Brahmins are also seen engaging in “inferior” tasks. Departure from the prescribed caste occupations is the most pronounced aspect of the contemporary anti-caste movement.
There is a myth that traditional caste-based discriminatory practices disappear in the urban milieu. However, rural migration to urban areas does not instantly erase social prejudices, despite the abundance of self-proclaimed liberalism. Caste inequalities that are rooted in the Indian psyche get carried into the cities and have a penchant to play out in different forms.
The Indian government has initiated affirmative action policies to enhance the status of low-caste groups (especially Dalits) by introducing caste-based quotas in public sector jobs. Dalit advocates claim that despite these efforts, the socio-economic polarisation between high and low caste groups persists, and employer prejudice continues to prevent lower-caste applicants from accessing occupations in private sectors.
Barely any research has been done on the practice of caste discrimination in urban and metropolitan settings. The caste system is etched in the social structure of the Indian system even though corporations reason against it. Scheduled Castes occupy the lowest niche on the social ladder of India with only 10 per cent participating in government jobs. A study reveals that people belonging to lower castes receive lower call-backs than those belonging to the higher castes irrespective of the nature of the occupation. Political parties and other organizations cannot wholly be blamed for this segregation. The lingering prejudice is a habit; habits are hard to kill.
There is a need for affirmative action policies in the private sector to secure non-discrimination during the process of hiring. Affirmative action for Scheduled Caste labour implies reservation in jobs. A caste-based quota would potentially force all recruiters and firms to hire more low-caste workers. Therefore, the results of this study provide some support for the introduction of hiring quotas by caste in the private sector. However, more and larger studies need to be carried out before more definite policy recommendations may be made.