Gandhi called them Harijans - People of Hari, the supreme lord. Now in this era, they are ashamed of that name. Why would anyone be ashamed of calling themselves Harijan you may ask? That's because this is the Indian Society.
The Constitution states that all Indians are equal, but the architects of the Constitution forgot that in a feudalistic society, some are more equal than others. The caste system that is so deeply ingrained in us Indians, almost like one of the strands of our DNA, cannot be washed away so easily.
So who is responsible for this? We all are, individually and collectively. How? Let us look at things from an individual perspective.
Hypothetically let us assume that I am from the upper caste. If my parents are ardent believers in caste system, I can expect to be indoctrinated in all aspects of caste system and socially acceptable behavior towards the "lower castes." If I do not question this age-old beliefs and tradition and believe in them blindly, it is a given that I will pass on these beliefs to my kids too. That creates a whole new generation that believes in caste system and doesn't see anything wrong in the injustice being meted out to a section of people just on the basis of their birth.
From a group perspective, if being part of the society that hands out such injustice to others, I do not raise my voice against this nor try to mobilize people against it, then I am inadvertently contributing to this evil. The casteist society pollutes its kids from a very young age with caste stratification. In a society that prides itself on maintaining age-old demeaning customs and traditions, justice and equality for all can never be expected.
This is what is happening in India. This is India's shame, Its hidden apartheid.
You say, we agree that citizens and society are contributing to it, but what is the Government doing about it? What are the politicians doing about it? Can't the Government rectify this situation?
The Government, well let us see what the Government actually did to worsen the situation. The Government officially identifies discriminated lowest castes under Scheduled Castes. Yes, the Government made it official. Instead of identifying the historically discriminated and downtrodden people as economically backward and then initiating reforms for them, the Government classified the same group as Scheduled Castes opening them to more discrimination from hitherto unknown quarters. You ask, what about the schemes that the Government undertook for the Scheduled Castes, I tell you they met the same fate as the scheduled castes themselves.
Are politicians contributors to it? Yes, they are. They work more towards keeping the caste-divide line visible than rubbing it off because poverty and untouchability sells in politics. So when Rahul eats at a Dalit's house, it makes news. A corrupt lady can become the CM of the biggest state in India on the foundation of caste politics. Untouchability sells in Indian politics.
So how do we rectify this situation?
Let us start with scriptures. They are always held as the culprits in promoting the caste system and every feudal lord hides behind the lines of the scripture. The quotes from scriptures are spouted by one and all for every demeaning practice that is prevalent in the name of the caste.
Go back and read the scriptures again. Interpret them for what they mean and not for what they seem to mean. Identify what they proposed. You may quote Manu in support of the caste system, but I will quote Sage Bhardwaja who said that when everyone is governed by the senses, emotions, hunger, lust, then why do we have caste differences?
If you tell me that Varanas in caste system are based on the differences in skin color and the resultant caste stratification according to it, I will call you racist and present before you a black Brahmin.
Bhavishya puran rightly says that when all four classes were made by God and that God is our father, how can we as his children have different castes.
Coming to individuals, we should identify the caste system as evil and a detriment to democracy. We should be careful as to not pass this legacy to our kids. We should ingrain in them a love for all and a strong belief in justice and equality for all.
As a part of the society, we should raise our collective voice against this system and take an oath to eradicate it. Support intercaste marriages. They will dilute the differences and eradicate the system.
What the Government can do? How about reforms for the economically downtrodden and not based on caste classifications? How about never asking me for my caste on any of the official forms? How about doing away with usage of surnames on official documents and just identifying an individual by their father's or their mother's name? How about doing away with reservations? How about a strong anti-discrimination law? How about classifying untouchability as apartheid and racism? How about banning caste-based political parties? How about banning khaps?
The revolution will come. It will come one day. The oppressed will rise one day to wash away the injustice, but what about the destruction it will leave in its wake. Let us not wait for such a day. Let us not stoke the fire. Let us act now.
Let us wish for an India where politicians don't go to the press when they eat at a dalit's house, where a president is not hailed or written about just because he is from a lower caste, where news headlines do not highlight the caste of the victim, where a student with good marks is always given first preference.
When God does not discriminate between a flower offered by a Dalit and a Brahmin, who are we to discriminate?
To round up things, a doha from Sant Kabir:
Pothi Padh Padh Kar Jag Mua, Pandit Bhayo Na Koye
Dhai Aakhar Prem Ke, Jo Padhe so Pandit Hoye