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Caste, class and social divisions

Caste, class and social divisions
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In one way or the other, they are all one and the same. If caste is unique to this country, class is to Britain and social divisions to other...

In one way or the other, they are all one and the same. If caste is unique to this country, class is to Britain and social divisions to other countries. While the latter two exist in one form or another as a social undercurrent that surfaces discreetly in cultured conversations in the West and civilized societies, the former is flaunted, blatantly misused and shamelessly exploited in every possible way in our country.

It is estimated that there are 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes in India. It is anybody's guess how thousands of these social strata have evolved over ages from the original four-caste Hindu system that was said to have come into being according to profession one had practiced but later became water-tight compartments where further division of labour had fractured society.

The more it got divided the wider it opened the country's doors to conquerors from outside who created some more social divisions within and outside the system according to their needs. In the post-Independence era, caste has become an important factor in deciding the fate and future of people's representatives and in securing jobs.

The irony is a system that is blamed for all the country's social ills and considered as a scourge is getting strengthened by the day. Every one wishes for a casteless society as an economic equalizer like the founding fathers of proletariat revolutions who wanted a classless society and the protagonists of free enterprise dream of only one category of rich.

In theory, they all sound great; good for debates and discussions to vent one's feelings, bitterness and frustrations about how the artificially-created social divisions had played and have been playing havoc with the lives of people, caught in a time warp caste system in this country. But in practice, neither can they get out of its tentacles nor are they allowed to do so because of societal strictures, familial bonds, among others. And, in recent years, the economic advantages and social benefits that are appended to the marginalized and alienated populations to uplift their living standards have created some more entities who are clamouring for recognition.

It is dichotomy, underlining the fact that by whatever name one calls it, social divisions can't be eradicated or erased by law. It is a fact of life and its tacit approval can make life a tad easier. In the Indian context, the only wish one can make is let it not become an instrument in the hands of political leaders to achieve their power goals and a potent weapon to defeat altruist dreams. But the damage has already been done and further harm can be minimized by reinterpreting (or reinventing?) the existing caste system in terms of class which will be more befitting to a resurgent modern India.

It can take a leaf from a recent British research survey conducted by the BBC. According to it, people in the UK now fit into seven social classes since the traditional categories of working, middle and upper class are outdated. The survey has made a new model of seven social classes ranging from the elite at the top to "precariat" -- the poor, precarious proletariat -- at the bottom. In the UK, traditionally, class has been defined by occupation, wealth and education. But in the modern context, they are outdated, the research survey in which more than 160,000 people participated, has noted.

The Great British Class Survey has argued that since class has three dimensions - economic, social and cultural � it needs to be redefined in the following way. Economic capital that includes income, savings, house value; social capital, the number and status of people someone knows; and the cultural capital means the extent and nature of cultural interests and activities.

Accordingly, the elite top the class table, with the highest levels of all three capitals; followed by the established middle class; the technical middle class, a new distinctive class group; new affluent workers; traditional working class; emergent service workers, a new, young, urban group; precariat or precarious proletariat , the poorest and the most deprived class.

While the rich, middle that includes upper and lower, and poor classes are common nomenclature in referring to different classes of people, the British survey has taken into account the new changing social, urban and rural scenarios in adding some more classes to the fabric.

In India, if thousands of castes and sub-castes are not considered, which is unimaginable for us, anyway, the educated young population of professionals in the country will fall into categories similar to those mentioned in the British research survey.

We already have battalions of techies, start-up entrepreneurs, service providers, a new breed of political clans, billionaires, and, of course, the Indian version of precariat. It is not difficult to reclassify these classes of people. But it will remain notional and peripheral because our caste system has been structured in such a way that it can't be penetrated by any means. A techie is a techie by profession but at the core lies his true identity: caste imprint.

But the damage has already been done and further harm can be minimized by reinterpreting (or reinventing?) the existing caste system in terms of class which will be more befitting to a resurgent modern India

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