gcornwell May 26th, 2008
May 25, 2008
37 Killed in Caste Riots in India
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSFiled at 3:14 a.m. ETJAIPUR, India (AP) — Authorities invited leaders of one of India’s lowest castes for talks as the death toll rose to 37 Sunday from three days of bloody demonstrations over caste classification.Police repeatedly opened fire on violent protests by the Gujjar community on Friday and Saturday in half a dozen villages and towns in western Rajasthan state.The Gujjars are seeking to reclassify their caste to a lower level, which would allow them to qualify for government jobs and university places reserved for such groups. The government has refused.The Hindu caste system — a hereditary social strata — was outlawed soon after India’s independence from Britain in 1947, but its influence remains powerful and the government awards aid packages to different groups.Police in Sikandra town fired at protesters who torched a police station and two buses Saturday and shot and wounded a policeman, said Amanjit Singh Gill, Rajasthan’s director-general of police.Protesters also burned down a police station in the nearby village of Chandra Guddaji, Gill said.Fifteen demonstrators died Friday when police fired live ammunition and tear gas to halt rioting, said Singh. A police officer was also beaten to death.At least 70 injured people were hospitalized in Jaipur, the state capital, and the town of Dosa.Demonstrators blocked a major highway linking Jaipur to Agra — site of the world famous Taj Mahal monument — stranding thousands of people. Thousands of army, police and paramilitary forces patrolled villages to control the violence.Gujjars took to the streets after a government panel set up to look into their demands recommended a $70 million aid package for their community, but ruled out caste reclassification.Gujjars are considered part of the second-lowest group, known as Other Backward Classes, a step up from the Scheduled Tribes and Castes.Twenty-six people died in Gujjar riots in the same area last year. Home
Lee McBride May 19th, 2008
On May 16th we were fortunate to have Professor Dipankar Gupta of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) present a stimulating talk to us on the caste system in India. Caste, it is said, developed as an occupational social hierarchy. Roughly, priests were placed at the top, with rulers and warriors, farmers and traders, and servants and labors following in turn. Subsequently, caste developed into a system of oppression and exploitation based on metaphysical conceptions of heredity. Those at the bottom, “the untouchables,” are thought to be created of the basest substances, and it is thought that they should be treated as such. While caste has been a widely recognized social reality in India, the best explanatory model for the persistence of the caste system is still a contested matter. Many scholars have suggested that caste persists because those at the bottom of the caste system subjugate themselves, or, at least, play a part in their own subjugation. Prof. Gupta rejects this claim, insisting that no one in his extensive subject pool of untouchable Indians reports that he or she belongs to the lowest caste; none of them truly believes that their bones and flesh are created of the basest of materials. Rather, people of the lower castes attribute their position to (a) a past usurpation or (b) a fall from grace. Gupta argues that the hierarchy of caste is a social construction that has been reshuffled at various points in history. The Brahmins (i.e., priests) were not always on top; they fought/maneuvered their way to the top. Developing his position further, Gupta argues that, while the sanctioned institutions and policies of the caste system are only precariously alive, caste is “alive and kicking” as group identity. It is a sad fact that large numbers of modern-day Indians tend to choose their peers and spouses along caste lines.
It is important to note that Gupta wishes to move past caste and caste distinctions. Yet, he offers no “silver bullets.” This is a complex and deeply-ingrained problem that is not likely to go away quickly or easily. It will take time, careful thinking, and human effort.