Caste unrest highlights ‘Untouchable India’


In recent days at least 16 people have been killed in violent protests by the Jat community in the state of Haryana. They are demanding the reinstatement of caste quotas for government jobs and education places, the BBC reports:

Communities in western India’s Gujarat and in Andhra Pradesh are also demanding they should be categorised as what India’s complex terminology of castes defines as Other Backward Classes (OBCs). They are placed between the traditional upper castes and the lowest. Two surveys have estimated that OBCs make up anything between 41-52% of India’s population.

Like race in America, says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, caste in India can “neither be ducked or dodged”.  In 1950, the federal government announced seat reservations in educational institutions and government to the scheduled castes and tribes, the lowest in the caste hierarchy, to correct historical injustices. Much later, in 1989, quotas were extended to lower castes in education and government jobs – 27% of all educational seats and government jobs were reserved for the OBCs. ..

In many ways it eased the social stranglehold of the upper castes and deepened democracy: the latest parliament, for example, has MPs from more than 35 parties, many of them regional and birthed in the battle for empowerment of castes.

In a recent presentation (above) at the National Endowment for Democracy, New Delhi–based journalist Manoj Mitta explored instances of impunity for caste violence in India, bringing out the different ways in which investigators, prosecutors, and judges betray prejudice. Tracing the history of the abolition of untouchability in India from the 19th century onward, he also drew parallels with the trajectory of race relations and racial violence in the United States.

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