Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus: About a colonial distinction and its legal impact – Jakob De Roover

CasteDr Jakob De RooverThe leaders and intellectuals of post-colonial India not only succumbed to the colonial account of “the caste system,” but also accepted the social divisions among the people of India created by British legislation. – Prof Dr Jakob De Roover

Jakob De Roover of Ghent University here published today an insightful paper, “Scheduled Castes vs. Caste Hindus About a Colonial Distinction and Its Legal Impact.” We excerpt from his conclusion:

Today, commentators often react with indignation when one points out the anomalies confronting the classical account of the caste system. Worse, questioning this orthodoxy and its hackneyed claims about “the plight of the Dalits” is often equated to denying the existence of injustice in Indian society. The fact that there are groups in Indian society much poorer and more deprived than others is not in doubt. Neither is the fact that members of some jatis treat members of other jatis in unethical and inhumane ways. However, the point is that these situations and events cannot be coherently conceptualized in terms of “the caste system” and its oppression of “the Untouchables” or “Dalits.”

The idea that there are two distinct categories or groups in Indian society—namely, Caste Hindus and Scheduled Castes—never described its social structure. No common characteristics are available that allow(ed) one to recognize these as two communities or categories across India. Thus, no empirical investigation could show that they existed in the Indian social world. Since this distinction is flawed, it cannot offer a stable foundation for legislation that aims to address injustice in Indian society. In fact, the available facts indicate that the laws providing caste-based benefits fail to pass the Supreme Court’s test of reasonable classification: there appear to be no intelligible differentiae that distinguish all the persons grouped together as Scheduled Castes from others excluded from that group.

Indeed, the class of Scheduled Castes exists, but only in the Indian legal and political system. Through their caste policies and censuses, the British spread the idea that “Hindu society” was characterized by an opposition between Caste Hindus and Untouchables. Thus, in spite of the recurring discovery that this distinction failed, it could not but have its effects in a society under colonial rule. The crucial step came in the Government of India Act of 1935 and its caste schedules. Eventually, the Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1936 ordered that “the castes, races or tribes, or parts of or groups within castes, races or tribes specified in Parts I to IX of the Schedule to this Order shall, in the Provinces to which those Parts respectively relate, be deemed to be scheduled castes so far as regards members thereof resident in the localities specified in relation to them respectively in those Parts of that Schedule.”

Strikingly, the leaders and intellectuals of post-colonial India not only succumbed to the colonial account of “the caste system,” but also accepted the social divisions among the people of India created by British legislation. It is as though they felt compelled to transform the tenuous distinctions inherent to the colonial account into existing social divisions in India. The King’s Excellent Majesty, Edward VIII, had ordered how the people of India should be divided into Scheduled Castes and others. After 1947, Indian political and intellectual elites began to enforce this royal decree in their country. This is the work that the caste legislation of contemporary India continues unto this day. – Hinduism Today, 15 January 2016

See the original article HERE

» Prof Jakob De Roover is an assistant professor at the Department of Comparative Science of Cultures, Ghent University, Belgium.

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One Response

  1. Caste system is a weapon for Indian politicians.

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