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A MARXIST PERSPECTIVE ON CASTE OPPRESSION NEW DELHI – FEBRUARY 22, 2006 The thoroughly reactionary varna and caste system has hounded Indian society for thousands of years. India is the only country in the world where such a system came into being and still exists. The varna and caste system was sanctified by Hindu religion and by Vedic scriptures. This was the main reason for its consolidation. The notorious text, Manusmriti, codified the then prevailing social norms and consigned the shudras, atishudras and women to a thoroughly unequal and miserable existence. The distinctiveness of the caste system was that it was hereditary, compulsory and endogamous. The worst affected by the caste system and its social oppression have been the dalits, or atishudras, or scheduled castes. Albeit in a different way, the adivasis or scheduled tribes in India have also faced social oppression over the ages. The stories of Shambuka in the Ramayana and of Ekalavya in the Mahabharata are classic testimonies of the non-egalitarian nature of Hindu society in ancient India. Along with the curse of untouchability, the dalits had no right to have any property. They had to eat the foulest food, including leftovers thrown away by the higher varnas; they were not allowed to draw water from the common well; they were prohibited from entering temples; they were barred from the right to education and knowledge; they had to perform menial jobs for the higher castes they were not allowed to use the common burial ground; they were not allowed to live in the main village inhabited by the upper varnas; and they were deprived of ownership rights to land and property, leading to the lack of access to all sources of economic mobility. Thus, dalits were subjected to both social exclusion and economic discrimination over the centuries. In one form or the other, this continues even today in most parts of the country. As Comrade B.T. Ranadive pointed out “the three powerful class interests, the imperialists, the landlords and bourgeois leadership were acting as the defenders of the caste system, by protecting the landlordand pre-capitalist land system.” It will be seen from here that the interests of the bourgeois class rested in maintaining the status quo. There has been no basic change in caste system after nearly 60 years of independence after independence as the bourgeoisie compromised with landlordism fostered caste prejudices. After independence also, the basic structure of land relations, overhauling of which would have given a blow to untouchability and the caste system has not been changed. The 19th and 20th centuries saw great social reformers like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Sri Narayan Guru, Jyothiba Phule, Periyar E. V. Ramaswamy Naickar and others. These social reform movements conducted many struggles against the caste system, caste oppression and untouchability in many ways. But, despite the struggles against caste oppression, the social reform movement did not address the crucial issue of radical land reforms. It got delinked from the antiimperialist struggle. The Congress-led national movement on its part, failed to take up radical social reform measures as part of the freedom movement. Diametrically opposed to the progressive role of the reform movement was the thoroughly reactionary role on social issues that was played by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar ever since its inception. Apart from its rabid communal ideology, the RSS adopted a Brahmanical stance right from the beginning. With this understanding, the RSS opposed the amendments to the Hindu Code Bill after independence. The BJP’s opposition to the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations was also on this basis. Wherever the BJP is in power in the states, atrocities on Muslims, dalits and adivasis have increased markedly. At the same time in some areas, they sought to pit the poor people belonging to dalits and tribal community against Muslims and Christians. So, the fight against caste oppression and communalism are interlinked. The experience clearly shows the need to link the fight against caste oppression with the struggle against class exploitation. At the same time, the class struggle must include the struggle for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression. This is an important part of the democratic revolution.

According to the 2001 census, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 per cent of the total population of India, that is, they number over 17 crore. Scheduled tribes comprise 8.2 per cent of the population, that is, they number over 8 crore. Both together constitute 24.4 per cent of the Indian population, that is, they together number over 25 crore. The six states that have the highest percentage of scheduled caste population are Punjab (28.9), Himachal Pradesh (24.7), West Bengal (23.0), Uttar Pradesh (21.1), Haryana (19.3) and Tamil Nadu (19.0). The twelve states that have the largest number of scheduled castes are Uttar Pradesh (351.5 lakhs), West Bengal (184.5 lakhs), Bihar (130.5 lakhs), Andhra Pradesh (123.4 lakhs), Tamil Nadu (118.6 lakhs), Maharashtra (98.8 lakhs), Rajasthan (96.9 lakhs), Madhya Pradesh (91.6 lakhs), Karnataka (85.6 lakhs), Punjab (70.3 lakhs), Orissa (60.8 lakhs) and Haryana (40.9 lakhs). Almost every socio-economic indicator shows that the position of scheduled caste families is awful. In many cases their plight is getting worse. Let us have a look at some of the major indicators.

LAND: In 1991 70% of the total SC households were landless or near landless (owning less than one acre). This increased to 75% in 2000. In 1991, 13% of the rural SC households were landless. However, in 2000 this saw a decline and was 10%. As per the Agricultural Census of 199596, the bottom 61.6% of operational holdings accounted for only 17.2% of the total operated land area. As against this, the top 7.3% of operational holdings accounted for 40.1% of the total operated area. This gives an indication of land concentration in the hands of a few.

FIXED CAPITAL ASSETS: In 2000, about 28 % of SC households in rural areas had acquired some access to fixed capital assets (agricultural land and non-land assets). This was only half compared to 56 % for other non-SC/ST households who had some access to fixed capital assets. In the urban areas, the proportion was 27 % for SCs and 35.5 % for others.

AGRICULTURAL LABOUR: In 2000, 49.06 % of the working SC population were agricultural labourers, as compared to 32.69 % for the STs and only 19.66 % for the others. This shows the preponderance of dalits in agricultural labour. Between 1991 and 2001, the number of agricultural labourers in India increased from 7.46 crore to 10.74 crore, and a large proportion of them were dalits. On the other hand, the average number of workdays available to an agricultural labourer slumped from 123 in 1981 to 70 in 2005.

CHILD LABOUR: It is reported that out of the 60 million child labour in India, 40 % come from SC families. Moreover, it is estimated that 80 % of child labour engaged in carpet, matchstick and firecracker industries come from scheduled caste backgrounds. The tanning, colouring and leather processing, lifting dead animals, clearing human excreta, cleaning soiled clothes, collection of waste in slaughter houses nd sale of toddy are some of the hereditary jobs generally pursued by Dalit children.

PER CAPITA INCOME: In 2000, as against the national average of Rs. 4485, the per capita income of SCs was Rs. 3,237. The average weekly wage earning of an SC worker was Rs. 174.50 compared to Rs. 197.05 for other non- SC/ST workers.

EMPLOYMENT: In 2000, the unemployment rate based on current daily status was 5 % for SCs as compared to 3.5 % for others in rural and urban areas. The wage labour households accounted for 61.4 % of all SC households in rural areas and 26 % in urban areas, as compared to 25.5 % and 7.45 % for other households.

RESERVATIONS: 15 % and 7.5 % of central government posts are reserved for SCs and STs respectively. For SCs, in Group A, only 10.15 % posts were filled, in Group B it was 12.67 %, in Group C it was 16.15 % and in Group D it was 21.26 %. The figures for STs were even lower, at 2.89 %, 2.68 %, 5.69 % and 6.48 % for the four groups respectively. Of the 544 judges in the High Courts, only 13 were SC and 4 were ST. Among school teachers all over the country, only 6.7 % were SC/STs, while among college and university teachers, only 2.6 % were SC/STs.

EDUCATION: In 2001, the literacy rate among SCs was 54.7 % and among STs it was 47.1 %, as against 68.8 % for others. Among women, the literacy rate for SCs was 41.9 %, for STs it was 34.8 % and for others it was 58.2 %. School attendance was about 10 % less among SC boys than other boys, and about 5 % less among SC girls than other girls. Several studies have observed discrimination against SCs in schools in various forms.

HEALTH: In 2000, the Infant Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 1) in SCs was 83 per 1000 live births as against 61.8 for the others, and the Child Mortality Rate (child death before the age of 5) was 119.3 for 1000 live births as against 82.6 for the others. These high rates among the SCs are closely linked with poverty, low educational status and discrimination in access to health services. In 1999, at least 75 % of SC women suffered from anaemia and more than 70 % SC womens’ deliveries took place at home. More than 75 % of SC children were anaemic and more than 50 % suffered from various degrees of malnutrition.

WOMEN: While dalit women share common problems of gender discrimination with their high caste counterparts, they also suffer from problems specific to them. Dalit women are the worst affected and suffer the three forms oppression -- caste, class and gender. As some of the above figures show, these relate to extremely low literacy and education levels, heavy dependence on wage labour, discrimination in employment and wages, heavy concentration in unskilled, low-paid and hazardous manual jobs, violence and sexual exploitation, being the victims of various forms of superstitions (like the devadasi system) etc.

With the onset of the imperialist-dictated policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation by the ruling classes of our country during the last decade and a half, the problems of dalits, adivasis, other backward castes and the working people as a whole have greatly aggravated. The drive to privatise the public sector has directly hit reservations for the SC/STs. The closure of thousands of mills and factories have rendered lakhs jobless and this has also hit dalits and other backward castes. The ban on recruitment to government and semi-government jobs that has been imposed in several states has also had an adverse effect. The growing commercialisation of education and health has kept innumerable people from both socially and economically backward sections out of these vital sectors. In this background, reservation in private sector has become very important because the joblessness among the SC and STs has witnessed a steady increase in the recent period. The most disastrous effects of these policies can be seen in the deep agrarian crisis that has afflicted the rural sector. Rural employment has sharply fallen and this has hit dalits, adivasis and women the most. Mechanisation of agriculture has further compounded the problem. The real wages of agricultural workers, of whom a large proportion are dalits, have fallen in many states. No efforts are made to implement minimum wage legislation even where it exists, and periodic revision of minimum wage is also conspicuous by its absence. The dismantling of the public distribution system has increased hunger to alarming proportions. An overwhelming proportion of the malnutrition-related deaths of thousands of children in several states is from dalit and adivasi families. Thus, the neo-liberal policies have accentuated both the economic as well as the social divide in the country.

Education is the backbone of society. The weakness in educational system means weakness in society. Tripura is one of the good literate states in the Country. But this is only in headcount. The proper education or standard educational curriculum is absent here. It is very basic in standard in school education of Tripura. It is very surprise to mention that most of the Bachelor or College students don’t know how to fill up and submit an online application or what email id exactly means or what are social networking site or how internet can help them in their education or any other part of life! This is not their fault.

Disequilibrium is happening in Tripura among the school students. Some of the schools belong to I.C.S.E board or C.B.S.E boards are giving national level education in schools where majority are state governments running school where state board’s curriculum is very basic only.

Time is changing, society is changing. Our need, demands are also changing. So it should be properly analyze the curriculum of the school education. Change is inevitable if it is for the good. Our state board feel headache always to change the pattern of education system in Tripura.

It is very odd that if a person fails in Matriculation or higher secondary examination he has to wait for another one year to reappear in the examination where he can be prepared within two months for the re examination. Even if a student get any backlog in any single subject only, he is consider to be not qualified and has to wait for another one year for the re examination! This is very loss for the students, their families as well as government! But school education never thought of that. This is a very important thing to be changed in state board as well as other board of India.

There is not adequate practical education is there in school. Some of the subjects like Physics, Chemistry and Biology are pertaining practical properly in school and rest subjects always neglected for their practical education. There is ‘Work education’ subject is there in school education, but this is the subject where maximum negligence possible is doing in each and every school. No teacher are recruiting specialization on those subjects, this is the basic reason why it is neglecting. Physical education is another subject which is properly taking only some proper area’s school. All the remote area’s schools are neglecting this particular subject where maximum potential is there on this field in every remote area.

Importance of Social service is the matter they never feel in school life. Even in NSS camp they are not teaching the particular importance of social service in our state. They think NSS camp is only for wasting of time. So some vagabond type students only participate on that auspicious program! Maximum science student don’t participate there!

Moral education and spiritual education is not sufficient in schools which are very important in life. There should incorporate subject content ‘spiritual science’ which would be combination of the moral thought of all religious books like Alkoran, Bible and Gita etcetera. If a person spiritually does not fit or morally is not sound, true service or true patriotism in the country would not come. Rather they become corrupt in their professional work, faithless in their personal life and valueless in their core self.

On the other hand most educated people become burden of the government because their education is not helpful for their profession. There is certain curriculum like arts stream which would make them eligible only for the clerical post or teaching job. Government cannot recruit everybody for government job-this is very true fact. But what else this people can do in their life? They don’t know anything; they become neither seed nor edible. They cannot able to write few lines in English or speak few minute in English where central government organize any examination either Hindi or in English, so their road is almost thorn made there also. They cannot give hammer in land because they have never practice that. So ultimately they run after politics to get a favor for the clerical or teaching job! But may be any political party-how many jobs they could provide? It is not possible to give job everyone. So what can they do? This headache can be avoided if curriculum maker could think at the time of making curriculum from the primary education. Firstly there should be basic science for all up to higher secondary, second practical education should much more emphasized like science practical from primary education, stress on work education, stress on sports and games et cetera. There should also stress on body language, the seeds of self entrepreneurship may be in college education.

Every educated people are the soldier of the country. They have to understand the social responsibility on them and bear this with smile. For this they need a positive attitude in their mind from the very beginning. Then only they will not handshake with our enemy and harm our country.

The happiest thing is that nowadays all these are implementing in our educational system but again sad thing is that the process is so slower that it will take many years to get the fruit of this great effort. The administrator should be much efficient like crisis management efficiency on this issue. This is not any less deplorable crisis than other in our society.

Again the basic mentality of teachers have to improve from syllabus oriented to make to capture oriented. Every teacher has to be trainer. We don’t need teacher now, our situation demanding trainer. We don’t need burocrat but we need delegator. Teachers are the one of the strongest pillar of country; they can actively participate to develop our country as fast as possible. But they are habitually so slow in everything.

Governing body or legislative body also should think about the quality of education is important rather than quantity. It is true quantity is also important but for that we cannot compromise with quality. Gone are the days when we have thought about number rather than quality! Inaugurations are not sufficient, maintenance and improvement is the soul important in this present scenario.

We are lagging behind on the matter of research about education. What type of education should be incorporate to which standard classes et cetera is very important nowadays. Basic structure of an educated people has to be strong. There need much research about syllabus incorporation in the every standard classes. Suppose a class three standard student will not understand the meaning of Gitanjali poem fully because he has not got that level of maturity. Again we have to think about the need of the education. A student graduated from a recognized college and he don’t know how to write an application or how to talk two line words properly with a VIP or don’t have the courage to fill up an online application and go for interview to some other state-this is really not expected. That means education does not serve their demand.

According to Vivekananda purpose of education is for growing up the mental caliber. An educated youth need to have the capability to think about matter of the society and decide the right thing without biasing. Being an educated youth if I cast my vote to some political party on biasing by someone this is really very shame to the education. Same way if I cannot protect my fundamental rights or if I don’t feel the necessity of performing fundamental duties then where my education served myself as well as my country? What is the purpose of education? Even many students don’t know properly their fundamental rights or duty in their life! They just avoid the matter on the excuse that this does not belongs to his subject!

Being educated if I don’t dare to change the society, if I rather want to follow the tradition which had made by some less educated people according to their need in ancient time-it is obviously should not be there. Time has changed so as the need! But these are happening in our society. You should accept your religion according to your need otherwise you must have to change it according to your conscience. I believe every student have to adopt spiritual science which means adopt your religion scientifically. You should Rejects that portion of your religion which is not scientific. Dare to do that. You should have the courage to make a common society which would be incorporating all the scientific (and which is the best for society) matter of every religion in the world. If hundred years ago they dared to create Brahma Samaj then why not now you cannot dare to do this kind of thing! Education should do and can make everything possible for the all-round betterment of our society state country and the world.