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Approach:

  1. Intro – on Indian caste system.
  2. Describe how caste is affecting politics; rise of caste consciousness.
  3. Conclusion.

Emergence of electoral democracy in India created a very fertile ground. Caste system is a closed system but it’s still evolving. British saw caste as a prism to understand India’s social reality- “White man’s burden”.

Modern Constitution has abolished untouchability. But, reservation of seats ultimately resulted in further concretisation of caste. Caste and casteism never disappeared in India. The policy of political mobilization followed by Congress and other parties also resulted in co-optation of many lower castes into the party. With the erosion of the moral basis of caste, the self-imposed barrier to protest by the lower castes was also eroded. Therefore some middle and lower castes sought equality with the upper castes through the process of Sanskritization, thus claiming more political power.

Thus according to Rajni Kothari, politicisation of caste in India played a very important role in developing party politics. He proved how politicisation of caste is a double process. Caste needs politics as much as politics need caste. When caste groupings makes politics their sphere of activities, then they also gets a chance to assert their identity and to strive for position. MN Srinivas also used the concept of dominant caste. A dominant caste is a caste which dominates numerically, and due to its numeric preponderance it enjoys political power. Politicians find caste a handy and convenient instrument for use during elections. Politics in Indian states had also been viewed in terms of competition among major caste groups for political power. Caste is also said to fractionalize national politics.

The previously excluded political leaders now enter the sphere. Thus the intermediate castes also aspire for dominant position in every sphere. Although it is true that caste system had been strengthened rather than weakened by all these.

Caste based reservations came with the Article 15 of the Indian Constitution which prohibits discrimination of Indians on basis of religion, race , caste, sex or place of birth. But Article 15 (4) modified by asserting that nothing in this article shall prevent the state from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward of citizens or for the SC’s and ST’s. Thus the constitution simultaneously embodies two conflicting notions of equality, one bases on individual rights and the other based on group rights.

Also the Mandal Commission, or the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Commission (SEBC), was established in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime minister Morarji Desai with a mandate to “identify the socially or educationally backward classes” of India. It basically defined backward classes in terms of caste. Thus caste and class became cross cutting identities. Class started transforming caste relations in India. Caste in India, thus slowly got converted into class plus status.

Thus caste continues to be a ‘lived in social reality’. Still caste became an instrument of social change which resulted in rise of ‘casteism’, there also happened co-optation of previously excluded groups and this political mobilisation gave rise to ‘identity politics’. Thus caste became the basis of a scheme of permanent protection.

Thus caste as a traditional social structure has changed its functions and roles, maintaining itself in the process. So caste identities took to new form of articulation, changing the very ethics of the social system & diminished the very importance of ascriptive basis and positive discrimination of caste has been the result of transformation of caste into interest groups.

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