The caste system is a predominant aspect of the social and political structure in India. It is the most ancient feature of Indian social system and it is a major factor in the structures and functions of the Indian political system. It defines all social, economic and political relationships for the individual. Caste is a notable foundation of social stratification in India and determines the nature, organization, and working of political parties, interest groups, and all political structures and their functions. Indian society has been highly segmented along the lines of castes, religion, class, etc, it eventually prevents the true working of Parliamentary democracy.
The nomenclature of ‘caste’ is derived from the Portuguese word ‘casta’ 'which means ‘breed’ or ‘lineage’ or ‘race’; known as ‘jati’ in the Indian context that refers 'birth'. The structuralists define caste as a ‘closed rank group' and cultural system viewed this as a ‘set of
values, believes and practices'.
A caste can be defined as a social group having two characteristics:-
- membership is confined to those who are born of the members i.e., hereditary membership
- members are forbidden by an inexorable social law i.e., endogamy.
According to Manuscript, the Brahman occupies uppermost rank followed by Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras and untouchables stands even below the Shudras and made them to be discriminated with various disabilities.
Caste and Constitution
Caste as an important variable, the functioning of the Indian political process; determine the electoral outcomes; work as pressure groups; an influence in governance agenda of the Indian state and local, regional, international levels and structure political parties, their leadership and programs. Indian constitution ensured legal and institutional measure to empower the "communities of disadvantaged people to participate in the game of Democratic politics on an equal basis".
The Constitution of India guarantees-
- Article 14 – Equality before the law
- Article 15(4)–Advancement of any socially and educationally backward class or for SCs
- Article 16(4)–Empowers the state to make provisions for reservation in appointments or posts in favour of any backward castes as citizens.
- Article 17–Untouchability stands abolished and its practices in any form is forbidden.
- Article 46–Promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of society and promises to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
- Article 330–Reservation of seats for SCs in democratic institutions and article 335 in the services is a measure of positive discrimination.
- Article 340–Empowers the state to appoint a commission to investigate the conditions of the socially and educationally backward classes; and
- Article 341(2)–Specify the castes to be deemed as SCs.
The reservation policy plays an important role in the government services, state-run and state-supported "educational institutions, and various democratic political bodies; is part of the anti-discriminatory or protective measures". This is to ensure proportional participation of
backward castes in the public sector as well as in various political democratic bodies and institutions.
The new class of political entrepreneurs such as Kanshi Ram and Mayawati has emerged from amongst the ex-untouchable communities used the idea of Dalit identity and mobilized the schedule Caste community as a United block on the issues of development with dignity. The rise of autonomous Dalit politics and their substantial empowerment in a certain context and in some arena of the country, the realities regarding power and dominance have not disappeared. Albeit, caste has weekend ideologically and older forms of untouchability are receding, on one hand, atrocities committed on Dalit by the locally dominant caste remained unaltered.
Politicization of caste
Caste and nomination of candidates:
The caste factor is an important determinant of electoral politics in India. While nominating their candidates from different constituencies the political parties keep in mind the cast of candidate and cast of the voters in that particular constituency. As a result of this candidate is sure to get the votes of voters of his caste. In electoral constituencies dominated by Muslims, Muslim candidates are deployed and in areas dominated by Jats, Jat candidates are deployed. Even secularist parties like Congress, Janata Dal, CPI, and CPM take into consideration caste fact in selecting their candidates.
Caste and voting behaviour:
In the election campaigns, votes are demanded in the names of caste. Caste groups are tapped for committed support N.D. Palmer has rightly observed that Caste considerations are given great weight in the selection of candidates and in the appeals to voters during election campaigns. In elections, caste is the most important political party. The Candidates asked for votes in the name of caste and they raise the caste-based slogan. Such slogans do have an effect on voters and they cast their vote in favour of the candidate belonging to their caste.
Caste as divisive and cohesive force in Indian Politics
Caste acts as a dividing and cohesive force in Indian politics It provides a basis for the emergence of several interest groups in the Indian Political System each of which competes with all other groups in the struggle for power. At times it leads to an unhealthy struggle for power and acts as a divisive force however, it is a source of unity among the members of groups and acts as a cohesive force.
The demand for reservation by other communities
The provisions of the reservation made in the constitution have proved counterproductive also as the non-scheduled castes, have also started putting pressure on the government to make provisions of reservation for them. Reservation is also a populist issue for power-hungry candidates and political parties.
There is a close relationship between caste and politics in India and both influence each other. Caste is an important component of the social system in India has made its special place in the Indian political system at various levels. Casteism is the biggest challenge for Indian democracy. India has adopted the liberal democratic system, which is mainly based on equality, freedom, and justice. Caste stands for inequality based on birth. Caste loyalties other ethnic factors really divide the Indian political parties and but not the ideological differences. Election campaigns are conducted along caste lines and violence in polls is usually caste-based violence. Caste groups use politics as the
means to secure their benefits. Our education system must inculcate the values of equality and fraternal bonds among all the citizens. It is essential for nation-building. The government should ensure that the operation of political practices and system are just and equal to all groups, regions, and communities.