Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Can and should Caste be abolished?

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.


  1. Kind of goes against your posts on reservations doesn't it. The only way to make caste irrelevant is to ban discrimination on caste basis, but reservations are also a discrimination on caste basis, agreed the other way around but still the same concept. So people will want to hang onto their backward caste.
    You probably need to think it thru. I agree with your conclusions in this post, caste cannot be banned but it can be made irrelevant. But for that you need to remove reservations of any sort. Give the poor help to pull them up but on the basis of poverty and not caste. Tackle the problem that caste created, but do not make it important. You can still help the people that the caste system affected but find them on the basis of the effects of caste and not on the basis of caste itself.

  2. Anonymous:
    Kind of goes against your posts on reservations doesn't it.

    No, it does not. I believe that reservations are necessary (though not sufficient) to bridge the divide- you are thinking of divide in perception, and I am thinking of divide in economic and social status.

    The only way to make caste irrelevant is to ban discrimination on caste basis,

    I do not think so. Caste cannot be made irrelevant by banning the caste-based-discrimination. It can be made irrelevant when people do not need to associate with caste to acquire social or economic status. When each caste has proportionate opportunities and access, caste MAY become irrelevant. And that opportunity and access can be delivered by one of the mechanisms- which is reservations.

    but reservations are also a discrimination on caste basis,

    You need to understand what discrimination means.

    agreed the other way around but still the same concept.

    By giving sports quota in colleges, do you think other people are discriminated against or do your think it is an encouragement for people to pursue sports?

    So people will want to hang onto their backward caste.

    Is there an escape from caste? OR was there ever an escape from caste?

    You probably need to think it thru.

    I don't know who you are. This is a topic that I have thought through enough.

    Give the poor help to pull them up but on the basis of poverty and not caste.

    I have enough posts on this subject under Reservations i-xiv. I do not think sops on economic status alone is going to solve the problem. Socio-economic status is the criteria- and it is most often based on caste lines (I don't deny there are other criteria too- such as Muslims, women, etc).

    Tackle the problem that caste created, but do not make it important.

    How can you not make it important in the present scheme of things? Caste is all pervasive identity.

    You can still help the people that the caste system affected but find them on the basis of the effects of caste and not on the basis of caste itself.

    I argue in my earlier posts that reservations have to be based on caste and not devoid of it. You are most welcome to look at it.


    The grip of the Majlis-e-ittehadul Muslimeen on the community remains strong, With a Member representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha, five members in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 40 corporators in Hyderabad and 95-plus members elected to various municipal bodies in Andhra Pradesh, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is one of the foremost representatives of the city’s Muslims and the most powerful Muslim party in India and one can see the partys strenghth if it goes to Hyderabad old city and Parts of Muslim Dominated Villages of Andhra Pradesh everywhere u look u can see MIM written on walls ,lightpoles and buildings leaving aside green flags and posters of its Leadership and there small Offices . The Majlis has brought lot of development to the Old part of the city even after it is said it hasnt done anything by its opponents who are mostly Ex Majlis workers.The Majlis was formed in 1927 “for educational and social uplift of Muslims”. But it articulated the position that “the ruler and throne (Nizam) are symbols of the political and cultural rights of the Muslim community… (and) this status must continue forever”.The Majlis pitted itself against the Andhra Mahasabha and the communists who questioned the feudal order that sustained the Nizam’s rule. It also bitterly opposed the Arya Samaj, which gave social and cultural expression to the aspirations of the urban Hindu population in the Hyderabad State of those days.By the mid-1940s, the Majlis had come to represent a remarkably aggressive and violent face of Muslim communal politics as it organised the razakars (volunteers) to defend the “independence” of this “Muslim” State from merger with the Indian Union.According to historians, over 1,50,000 such `volunteers’ were organised by the Majlis for the Nizam State’s defence but they are remembered for unleashing unparalleled violence against Communal Hindus and the communists and all those who opposed the Nizam’s “go it alone” policy. It is estimated that during the height of the razakar `agitation’, over 30,000 people had taken shelter in the Secunderabad cantonment alone to protect themselves from these `volunteers’.But the razakars could do little against the Indian Army and even put up a fight. Kasim Rizvi, the Majlis leader, was imprisoned and the organisation banned in 1948. Rizvi was released in 1957 on the undertaking that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. Before he left though, Rizvi met some of the erstwhile activists of the Majlis and passed on the presidentship to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a famous lawyer and an Islamic scholar from jamia nizamia who also was jailed for nearly 10 months after he took over the Majlis leadership as the then govt wanted to abolish the Majlis party but Owaisi refused to do so and was seen as a person who had financially supported the party when it was a bankrupt and weak one after the Police Action in Hyderabad State.Owaisi is credited with having “re-written” the Majlis constitution according to the provisions of the Indian Constitution and “the realities of Muslim minority in independent India”, and fought the legal case for winning back darrusslam mim headquarters for years according to a former journalist, Chander Srivastava. For the first decade-and-a-half after this “reinvention”, the Majlis remained, at best, a marginal player in Hyderabad politics and even though every election saw a rise in its vote share, it could not win more than one Assembly seat.The 1970s saw an upswing in Majlis’ political fortunes. In 1969, it won back its party headquarters, Dar-us-Salaam — a sprawling 4.5-acre compound in the heart of the New City. It also won compensation which was used to set up an ITI on the premises and a women’s degree college in Nizamabad town. In 1976, Salahuddin Owaisi took over the presidentship of the Majlis after his father’s demise who also was also Jailed Various times .This started an important phase in the history of the Majlis as it continued expanding its educational institutions,Hospitals,Banks, including the first Muslim minority Engineering College and Medical College. Courses in MBA, MCA ,Nursing, Pharmacy and other professional degrees followed and now a daily newspaper known as Etemaad Daily. The 1970s were also a watershed in Majlis’ history as after a long period of 31 years, Hyderabad witnessed large-scale communal rioting in 1979. The Majlis came to the forefront in “defending” Muslim life and property Majlis workers could be seen at these moments defending the properties of Muslims in the wake of riots and these workers were very hard even for the police to control them even now it is a known fact that there are nearly about 2500 units of strong members who only act if there is a seirous threat to the Owaisi family and these members are under the direct orders of the Owaisi family which leads the Majlis party leaving aside thousands of workers and informers throughout the State and even outside the country far away till America and the Gulf countries.Salahuddin Owaisi, also known as “Salar-e-Millat” (commander of the community), has repeatedly alleged in his speeches that the Indian state has “abandoned” the Muslims to their fate. Therefore, “Muslims should stand on their own feet, rather than look to the State for help'’, he argues.This policy has been an unambiguous success in leveraging the Majlis today to its position of being practically the “sole spokesman” of the Muslims in Hyderabad and its environs.Voting figures show this clearly. From 58,000 votes in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections for the Hyderabad seat, Majlis votes rose to 1,12,000 in 1980. The clear articulation of this “stand on one’s feet” policy in education and `protection’ during riots doubled its vote-share by 1984. Salahuddin Owaisi won the seat for the first time, polling 2.22 lakh votes. This vote-share doubled in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections to over four lakhs.The Majlis has since continued its hold on the Hyderabad seat winning about five-and-a-half lakh votes each time.Despite remarkable economic prosperity and negligible communal violence in the past decade, the hold of the Majlis on the Muslims of Hyderabad remains, despite minor dents. And despite widespread allegations of Majlis leaders having “made money”, most ordinary Muslims continue to support them because, as one bank executive put it “they represent our issues clearly and unambiguously'’. An old Historian Bakhtiyar khan says the Owaisi family was a rich family even before entering Politics and he says he had seen the late Majlis leader Abdul Wahed Owaisi in an American Buick car at a time when rarely cars were seen on Hyderabad Roads and the family had strong relations with the ersthwhile Nizams of Hyderabad and the Paighs even now the family is considered to be one of the richest familes in Hyderabad.A university teacher says that the Majlis helped Muslims live with dignity and security at a time when they were under attack and even took the fear out of them after the Police action and adds that he has seen Majlis leaders in the front at times confronting with the Police and the Govt. Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate UK educated barrister from Lincolns Inn College son of Salahuddin Owaisi and Former leader of the Majlis’ Legislature party and now an MP himself who has travelled across the globe meeting world leaders and organizatons and even in war zones compares the Majlis to the Black Power movement of America.The Majlis that emerged after 1957 is a completely different entity from its pre-independence edition, he says adding that comparisons with that bloody past are “misleading and mischievous”. “That Majlis was fighting for state power, while we have no such ambitions or illusions”.He stoutly defends the need for “an independent political voice” for the minorities, which is willing to defend them and project their issues “firmly”.“How can an independent articulation of minority interests and aspirations be termed communal,” he asks and contests any definition of democracy which questions the loyalty of minorities if they assert their independent political identity. “We are a threat not only to the BJP and Hindu communalism, but also to Muslim extremism,” Asaduddin claims. “By providing a legitimate political vent for Muslims to voice their aspirations and fears, we are preventing the rise of political extremism and religious obscurantism when the community is under unprecedented attack from Hindu communalists and the state'’. He can be seen in his speeches speaking against terrorism in the Country and says if the time arises Majlis will stand side by side in defending the Nation and Recently Majlis ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi has Visited Lebanon after the war with israel and met the leaders of the resistance group Hezbollah and he has even visited Bombay and Malegaon Muslims and raised there issues in Parliament and has even represented the police torture victims to the Prime Minister and has given aid From Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen Party Fund.


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