The caste system in India originated thousands of years ago, but its influence can be observed even today. In the beginning, the caste system was seen as a way to regulate society and promote order and peace. Later, however, the caste system became a social hierarchy that strictly dictated social life in India. For instance, a member of one caste could only marry an individual from the same caste (Gaikwad, 2020). Today, the impact the caste system has on society is not the same as it was before (Gaikwad, 2020). However, the fact that it still perseveres serves as a motivation for developing new measures for limiting its influence.
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The majority of marriages in India occur within the caste community. As a rule, Indians determine which caste a particular person belongs to by the caste name (Gaikwad, 2020). For instance, a woman may live in Mumbai, but she knows that she historically comes from Patiala or Jaipur. Her parents will look for a bridegroom who is from the same region. The marriage is arranged through matrimonial agencies and family ties. Despite the significance of the caste system, the socio-economic status of a person is also starting to play an important role.
There are two social strata whose representatives do not strictly follow the caste matrimonial traditions. The first is the highest stratum of society – for instance, the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has long been in power in India. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a Brahmin, whose ancestors came from Allahabad, from a high caste in the Brahman hierarchy. Nevertheless, his daughter Indira Gandhi married a Zoroastrian (Parsa), which provoked a massive scandal. The second group that can afford to violate the caste prohibitions is the lowest layers of the population (Gaikwad, 2020). They are colloquially called “untouchables”, and there have been numerous documented cases when these individuals were marginalized in India.
The dominant influence of the caste system today is observed by Dalits. This untouchable portion of the Indian population has faced violence and discrimination since ancient times (Gaikwad, 2020). Despite government interventions to improve the socio-economic conditions of Dalits, they are still being marginalized in certain communities (Lee, 2019). For instance, almost one-third of Indians that had fled to the United States reported that they faced discrimination and violence even after they came to the U.S (Ray, 2019). Today, Dalits are taking active participation in political life in India, but most political debates are still shaped by the influence of the caste system.
Despite positive tendencies, the caste system is still influencing contemporary Indian society. Segregation and cultural discrepancy are some of the examples of the caste system’s unfavorable and disrupting influence (Munshi, 2019). In some cases, discrimination based on castes leads to physical violence and emotional abuse (Munshi, 2019). Overall, the caste system is creating both challenges and opportunities for modern-day India – socio-economic challenges and opportunities for political, economic, and educational reform.
How Affirmative Action is a Means of Positive Discrimination and the Role It Plays in Reproducing Inequalities
In Indian law, affirmative action is expressed in reserving jobs for populations that are economically and educationally in an unfavorable situation. Castes recognized by the Constitution as infringed also fall within the scope of affirmative action programs (Lee, 2019). The goal is to provide jobs in the public sector, federal and regional civil service, federal and regional executive bodies, as well as in all public and private educational institutions for mentioned individuals (Munshi, 2019). Dalits, for instance, have been a historically marginalized class of people. To compensate for their disadvantageous history, the Indian government has developed an affirmative action program that provides quotas for jobs to the marginalized strata of the population.
Although the Indian government causes discrimination by acknowledging the existence of classes, this differentiation is positive because the primary aim is to improve the lives of these people. The influence of such programs is evident – there has been a slight improvement in educational attainment among Dalits, who are named Scheduled Castes in the Indian legislature (Cassan, 2019). Middle-class employment also has seen improvements – statistics show that more people have been able to find a job, and this tendency was equal in both rich and poor individuals.
Despite certain positive outcomes, affirmative action programs still cause discrimination and inequalities. For instance, quota sizes vary for different castes, which makes certain classes be perceived as less critical while granting more opportunities for other castes (Banerjee et al., 2018). Another example of how affirmative action programs create inequalities is ineffective job distribution (Banerjee et al., 2018). While a company can only hire 20 people from higher castes and the rest of the workforce can only be filled by Scheduled castes, the company may suffer from the incompetence of people that come from marginalized households (Banerjee et al., 2018). A portion of qualified professionals will be inevitably left out, depriving them of equal opportunities for employment (Banerjee et al., 2018). As a result, instead of achieving set economic goals, the company may face adverse outcomes.
There are also less-evident inequalities that are created by affirmative action programs. Although the overall education attainment statistics have improved, a careful examination reveals that there is substantial inequality between men and women. While the number of men that received secondary education has grown, the number of women with secondary school certificates is negligible (Cassan, 2019). In other words, affirmative action programs have contributed to gender inequalities. Therefore, the quota system may not be the most favorable approach, and the government should consider different ways of making significant programs more effective.
Banerjee, R., Gupta, N. D., & Villeval, M. C. (2018). The spillover effects of affirmative action on competitiveness and unethical behavior. European Economic Review, 101, 567-604.
Cassan, G. (2019). Affirmative action, education and gender: Evidence from India. Journal of Development Economics, 136, 51-70.
Gaikwad, P. K. (2020). Caste system in Indian society. Studies in Indian Place Names, 40(22), 539-542.
Lee, A. (2019). Does affirmative action work? Evaluating India’s quota system [PDF document]. Web.
Munshi, K. (2019). Caste and the Indian economy. Journal of Economic Literature, 57(4), 781-834.
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Ray, T. (2019). No escape from caste on these shores, ‘untouchables’ from India say. Pulitzer Center. Web.