Monday, April 14, 2008
when i boarded the plane from korea for india on last thursday, i picked up a copy of the hindustan times, an english language paper serving the delhi region, and i found an article about the indian supreme court ruling in favor of reservations for the obc's (other backwards classes) in institutes of higher learning. this is one of many attempts that india has made to resolve the many centuries of discrimination arising from the hindu-taught caste system.
since reading the article, i've been asking people about it whenever i get into a conversation, and i am not sure i understand it all yet. but based on what i've learned thus far, here is my mini-lesson on the complicated issue of the caste system in india (with more to follow later):
the caste system in india dates back to the writing of the vedas, the hindu holy text, at about 1500 bc, when the system was formalized. the four castes are the brahmin (priests and teachers), kshatriya (warriors), vaishya (merchants), and shudra (labourers); of course underneath all those are the untouchables, or the dalits "who hold menial jobs such as sweepers and latrine cleaners." so basically, one's social position is determined by birth, and this is justified by the holy writings - that teach that one's position is based on karma, or merit earned in a past life. and of course those of the higher castes wrote the holy texts. (and its even much more complicated that that - so look at linked article for details.)
the caste system is outlawed by the indian constitution, but it presently continues to determine one's social position, marriages, jobs, etc., although it is less pronounced in urban areas than in the rural parts of india. i spoke with surender, a dalit student yesterday who told me that the first question he is asked when he meets someone is "which caste are you from?" (but you shoulda heard him mock the questioners - pretty funny.) i guess it's similar to the fight against racial discrimination in america, india has come a long way in its attempts to stamp out the caste system. for example, a student from south india that i met at breakfast this morning (he is from the brahmin caste) told me that in the past, the brahmin were not even to look upon the untouchables - much less drink from the same water, or eat from the same bowl - or they'd risk defilement and have to perform complicated bathing rituals to clense themselves. so the indian government has attempted to inact reforms to ensure that the caste system is turned on its head, and so this is where the reservations (or quotas) come in.
but its so complicated, and everyone i ask has a different opinion. a few have thought that the reservations for the backward classes and other backward classes are a good idea, but others have strongly disagreed. so i will look into this more and post about it - with a few more explanatory notes about oc's, bc's and obc's... (i need to ask a few more questions, cause i am still confused.)
anyway... hope that wasn't too boring. i am heading out on the road tomorrow (i hope) so i will get back online when i can.