During my discussions on various topics on Reservations-based-on-caste, many commenters expressed their opinion that caste should be banned. They thought it was the bane of society which should be quickly done away with. They also believe strongly that caste-based-reservations are just a political means employed by wily politicians to further their interest by playing with vote banks. They do not see any merit in such reservations and some even believe that these reservations are actually an anathema to the lower castes themselves and that it does not seem to reach the one on the bottom layer.
Can caste be abolished?
No. I don’t think caste can be abolished in India. When I was young and was going to college, even I had entertained this idea to a great extent. Somehow, I thought that caste can be abolished, I thought of different mechanisms by which caste does not appear in our daily lives. I even came up with methods to do it- thought that people should change their last names, that they should never utter their caste to anyone, that they should never mention it in any document, and that those who discuss one’s caste should be fined or imprisoned, and so on. You have to forgive me- I was young, and I thought I knew everything.
Caste, like any other identity that people grow up with, cannot be abolished or done away with using external forces. At the most, we can outlaw, abolish or discourage certain practices- such as sati, untouchability, discrimination, etc. But we cannot easily abolish identities- such as national identities, castes, religions, languages, etc. Communism tried to abolish and root out religion and failed bitterly. After the end of cold war, we see that religions in those regions thrive as usual and may be with renewed vigor.
Caste is too tightly and deeply ingrained with our religion (Hinduism) and our way of life. Its an institution in itself and has survived for eons and is not going to go away that easily either. It even seems to transcend religions and percolate into other religions even after people get converted. Though we seem to dwell on the negative aspects of caste, in fact, it is quite useful to many people, either to establish camaraderie between groups, make marriages, establish clans and groups, and also to further their interests of their groups by association and identity. Concept of caste is extremely close to our religion and our philosophies itself which we seem to be very proud of. To stultify caste would be tantamount to renouncing many of our philosophies, heritage, culture, history, etc- and I am not sure if this is an agreeable proposition to many Indians.
Should caste be abolished?
I don’t think there is a necessity to consciously make attempts to abolish caste. Any attempt to abolish caste will only renew the divisions further. People will only identify with it more religiously and fanatically. As seen from histories of different lands, such identities cannot be taken away from the people. The more you try, the more they hold onto it dearly. Instead, we should work towards mechanisms by which caste becomes redundant. An identity becomes redundant when it does not give any benefit whatsoever by clinging to it. As humans we have lost some of the identities through the course of human history. These identities fade away only when we see that there is no additional benefit from holding onto that identity. That is the only way we can do away with cast, by making it redundant and unimportant.
The way it would become redundant and unimportant is when each caste has access to opportunity equally, where this identity is no longer a dominant force in availing education and employment. That is when caste is just another unimportant identity that can be easily done away with. Even if it does exis, that is when it does not seem to govern one’s ability to social status, marriage, education, employment, opportunity, etc. Only when we reach that stage as a society, caste becomes an unimportant identity. Therefore, there is no need to abolish it. It should be made redundant and unimportant making it ineffective.