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Delhi's 'untouchable' pulse

Delhi's 'untouchable' pulse

Open the newspaper to the classifieds’ on any given day, and you will find an odd sight.

“GROOM WANTED – Must be of Bhramin descent, educated, free of sudras ties.”

Classified ads like this one are common in India, used to find the perfect suitor for marriage. But in today’s modern era of social change, is there still a place for a system that goes hand-in-hand with inequality and discrimination?

India is fast becoming a nation to be reckoned with.

Claiming the title of the world’s fastest growing economy last year, India is moving forward at a rapid pace.

This developing nation’s prospering future aside, it seems the archaic caste system so entrenched in social customs continues to kick.

Adam Bowles, a professor at the University of Queensland specialising in the history of Asian religions, says that caste discrimination is still an important issue in India.

“What you still find in India, in one or two states in particular, is terrible violence against untouchables, usually in the villages.

“We’re talking about lynching. It still goes on despite the laws, these things don’t change overnight.”

Untouchability was ruled as illegal in post-independence India, instigated by Hindu nationalist and iconic pacifist Mahatma Ghandi.

Independence spurred a domino effect of positive affirmation action for the underprivileged, with the Indian Government introducing ‘caste-based reservation’, offering reserved education and employment positions for Scheduled Castes.

The continual mistreatment of backward castes even today derives from the feeling of isolation in upper castes, and their omission from a system that now favours those who once experienced historical discrimination.

“There are Bhramins who now say that they’ve experienced 70 years of discrimination against getting access to the same opportunities. There’s a certain irony occurring here,” Mr Bowles said.

When Mahatma Gandhi first introduced caste-based reservations, he never intended for them to last this long.

Indian academic Dr. Vinod Verma says that when Gandhi suggested the reservation system, there was no intention for it to continue for so many decades.

“Gandhi had decided that the system should be eradicated after a while, which it never did. It’s 69 years later, and now there are more and more castes which are asking for reservation.

“In my opinion, government help should be offered on merit, and only given to economically weak sections.”

Delhi resident and fashion designer Meetu Makkar voices similar concerns that the reservation system has far outlived its intended purpose.

“The more you try to highlight differences, even if you are trying to be positive, you are planting a seed in their psychology that they need help. Hence they are different from the ones who do not need help.

“I don’t think the system is doing any good. The infrastructure and the opportunities need to be leveled on another basis, not on the basis of class distinction or segregation, otherwise you are actually widening the chasm of inequality.”

Who are the backward castes? Deep in the heart of Old Delhi lies a maze of brick lane ways which form the 60-year-old Kathputli colony. Clusters of creatives who call Delhi’s largest slum home are fighting against Delhi’s Development Agency for the right to keep their land.

After seven decades of assistance, the backward castes have been substantially empowered, but now it poses a threat to the country.

The present system of reservation is not beneficial to the underprivileged in its true sense of reducing marginalisation.

It is now time to unlink the immoral relationship between politics and caste interests, and conduct an immense restructuring of this system to instead reflect economical weakness and merit.

Written for UQ in India.

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