Class, Caste, and a Chaotic Conundrum

This article will explore modern class stratification in Indian Society, with emphasis on the Hindu Caste System, as well as discuss how to prevent these class stratifications from becoming rigid and binding. The Problem Many considered Modi’s emphatic victory in 2019 to have transcended caste politics and inequality, however, caste politics, the age-old trophy of political mobilisation, is still alive and thriving. The actual truth behind Modi’s reelection campaign was not one that transcends casteism in lieu of development, rather a reinvention of caste politics through a series of carefully crafted social alliances. BJP championed Samagra Hindutva ( literally translated to ‘the whole Hindutva) as a solution to centuries of caste-based discrimination. Throughout history, the lower castes of Indian society have been suppressed and denied societal acceptance by the upper caste. The concept of ‘Samagra Hindutva’ was manoeuvred to manipulate those who have been victims of the rigid caste system into believing that a vote to Modi would ensure they are regarded by society to be equal members, without him taking any constructive action. The wealth gap between India’s dominant upper castes and lower castes continues to expand. Through reservations, the government believed that this gap would become narrower. However, in this case, the effects of prior discrimination have become justification for more of the same. Even if lower caste households started earning as much as upper caste households, the gap still wouldn’t narrow. Thomas Piketty expounds in his acclaimed treatise Capital in the 21st century, on how income inequality is a byproduct of growth in the modern world. Only wealth begets wealth. Years of income inequality have already compounded through land and money. 100 years ago , a piece of land worth 3000 rupees might be well over a crore now. After Modi had won the 2019 general elections, he had victoriously declared that “Only two castes will remain in this country. And, the country is going to be focused on only these two castes. The first caste in India is poor. And, the second caste is people who contribute towards alleviation of poverty.” However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The wealth gap has never diminished because government policies keep perpetuating circumstances for the wealth gap and these iniquitous policies further deepen existing social schisms. Even when demonetisation occurred back in 2016, it was aimed at eradicating black money, instead it has widened income inequality. Demonetisation had increased the wealth of Indian billionaires by an average of 26 per cent that year while a negative income growth was recorded for the Indian Non-Agrarian worker the same year.Wealth is where past injustice breeds present suffering. A majority of India’s proletariat are from the lower castes, many of whom are unemployed or work menial jobs, living lives of drudgery and economic insecurity. A conservative estimate of India’s unemployment rate stood at 5.3% in 2019, which means that almost 69 million people, largely comprising the urban poor, were unemployed before the pandemic. In the eyes of corporations and governments, these 69 million are surplus to the demands of employment in the nation. Workers working lower down the hierarchy are often mistreated like the Russian serfers and are rarely deemed indispensable to the workforce as they are easily replaceable by the surplus workforce, making them the most vulnerable in times of crisis. Oxfam had reported prior to Covid 19, that nearly 63 million Indians were pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs every year. If one does factor in the economic impact of the pandemic and the lack of availability of medical facilities currently, we see how the most vulnerable are pushed deeper into poverty. On the other side of the spectrum, Upper caste Hindus are the richest in India, owning a majority of 41% of total assets. The rich get richer while the poor become poorer is the tenet that aptly describes modern India’s caste system. The upper castes forming the majority of the rich, have the best medical and educational institutes at standby and do not stand to profit as much on the development of public infrastructure as those who comprise India’s lower castes. Government Failure The government has failed in providing the required infrastructure to ensure social security for the poor and suppressed, rather they focus on doing the bidding of those who lie in the upper echelons of Indian Society. “Government must now step in and help them (individuals) lay the foundation stones, just as Government in the past has helped lay the foundation of business and industry. We must face the fact that in this country we have a rich man’s security and a poor man’s security and that the Government owes equal obligations to both. National security is not a half and half manner: it is all or none.” Franklin D Roosevelt This quote by Franklin D Roosevelt expounds on how the role of the government is to be the safety net for its citizens, to implement structural changes for them when they aren’t able to help themselves. While governments across the world look out for their people, our government is blissfully ignoring the hundreds of corpses strewn across our nation’s rivers and the thousands of pyres that are set aflame every day. This is not the first occasion on which the government has disregarded a significant portion of the Indian demographic while making a decision. The government’s decision to impose an instantaneous nationwide lockdown resulted in a mass exodus of almost a third of the population in India’s big cities overnight. The government failed to think about the economic viability of city life for daily wage labourers without a sustained income. It is often not the action of the Indian Government that acts as a proponent of income inequality, instead the inaction. It is essential that the government mitigates the negative influence of such policies on income inequality. Every time income inequality comes up, political parties champion education and reservations as the solution, yet much is lacking with that argument. The lack of an education system that promotes thought instead of rote memorisation has enabled India’s governments of the past and present to control the views and opinions of its people. “I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.” John D Rockefeller No quote more aptly describes the outlook of the Indian governments of the past and present. If India’s public education system progresses and encourages learning rather than separating the “cream of the crop” from the rest, it would initiate the process essential for eradicating income inequality and thus the need for reservations while also setting India on the path of becoming a developed nation. There are numerous steps required to eliminate reservations as if a man enters a race over 500 years after another man, the first would require a miraculous feat to catch up with his fellow runner. The only way the first man can catch up is through increasing the speed of his progress, which in this case can be achieved through development of public infrastructure. Given the size and scale of India’s population, not only is developing its public infrastructure an expensive project but also a long-term investment, which won’t pay dividends soon enough. Political parties keep their re-election campaign in mind, resulting in them often choosing to put a band-aid on the wound rather than tending to the wound. They use the funds for projects such as the Central Vista Project which seem appealing in citizens’ eyes and make them feel as if progress is being made. Instead of a facade of lies named progress, what the Indian public needs is an increase in our median per capita income, to increase prosperity for all, more specifically the proletariat. To overcome social divides and to ensure class stratifications don’t become immutable, India must lean into developing its biggest untapped resource, its people. While we massively value our material resources in India, we are oblivious to the one resource that is fundamental to ensuring India becomes a developed country. Humans are the ultimate users of all-natural resources, and are the ones who discover and develop these resources. We must utilise these resources sensitively, skilfully and cost-effectively to ensure higher productivity and socio-economic development. By ensuring adequate and reliable education and health infrastructure through investments in the nation’s public infrastructure, the government can facilitate sustained economic growth. While nations across the world try to develop people as a resource, India’s government is yet to change its words and promises into concrete action. While India aspires to be a global force, it appears to have forgotten that for it to be one, it needs to be developed first. A nation that is not equipped to meet its own demands cannot offer assistance to the rest of the world. India lacks the public health and educational infrastructure to challenge other nations, a fact that we have painstakingly become aware of during this pandemic. Yet altogether, India appears to be perplexingly unbothered by this. Revamping the nation’s health and education infrastructure with urgency fails to categorically appear in any major national political party’s manifesto. A study of the 2014 political manifestos of 5 national parties, including the BJP and the Congress, found that there was little to no mention of developing India’s health infrastructure. What is even more appalling is the fact that mentions of development of health faculty at the primary, secondary or tertiary level is negligible, almost as if parties simply wanted to mention the term in their manifesto, rather than tackling the country’s developing crisis. In Modi’s first term as prime minister, while a lot of developments were made in education and health sector, much of it is yet to materialise. Out of the 15, All India Institutes of Medical Sciences sanctioned by the BJP government in 7 years, not a single one of them is fully functional as of now. What surely doesn’t help Modi’s cause is the fact that a non-existent university, the Jio University, received a university of eminence tag, which are provided to certain universities that the government considers to be India’s top universities in the next 20 years. Governments have collectively failed to make the strides of progress required to cater to the long-term needs of the public, much to the detriment of the nation’s citizens today. However, it is important to note that the failures of the past governments regarding public infrastructure do not translate into the failure of the democratic system or of the legislature as an institution of the government, rather is demonstrative of the nescience of the government towards long-term development. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi rightly highlighted while introducing the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, that one of the biggest problems for India has been that its development model has been supply driven. We wait until the situation turns into a crisis and that the need for development is imminent before taking action. The government must offset the overall adverse impact on incomes of the poor and thus the increasing income inequality, by investing in the nation’s public infrastructure, an essential factor in increasing sustained growth. To conclude, in the words of Peter Drucker, "The ultimate resource in economic development is people. It is people, not capital or raw materials that develop an economy". Works Cited A New Approach to Development: Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. https:// www.pmindia.gov.in/en/government_tr_rec/a-new-approach-to-development-sansadadarsh-gram-yojana. Chowdhury, Shreya Roy. “Reliance’s Jio Institute Gets Government’s Institution of Eminence Status but It’s yet to Be Set up.” Scroll.In, 9 July 2018, https://scroll.in/article/ 885897/reliances-jio-university-gets-governments-institute-of-eminence-status-but-its-yetto-be-set-up. Gaiha, Varsha S. Kulkarni &. Raghav. “Beyond Piketty: On Income Inequality.” The Hindu, 18 Nov. 2017, https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/beyond-piketty/ article20539793.ece. Kumar, Dinesh, et al. “Pattern of Health Promises for Indian Democracy: A Qualitative Review of Political Manifestos.” Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, vol. 6, no. 3, 2017, pp. 455–59, doi:10.4103/jfmpc.jfmpc_308_17. Marar, Anjali. “Upper Caste Hindus Richest in India, Own 41% of Total Assets; STs Own 3.7%, Says Study on Wealth Distribution.” The Indian Express, 14 Feb. 2019, https:// indianexpress.com/article/india/upper-caste-hindus-richest-in-india-own-41-total-assetssays-study-on-wealth-distribution-5582984. Modi, Narendra. “The Country Now Has Only Two Castes – the Poor and Those Who Want to Alleviate Poverty: PM.” YouTube, 24 May 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=RaVRanyNCM8. Hooda, Deepender Singh. “Demonetisation Has Widened Income Inequality.” National Herald, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nationalheraldindia.com/opinion/demonetisation-has-endedup-widening-income-inequality. Singh, Sushant. “Explained: Indian Migrants, across India.” The Indian Express, 4 Mar. 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/coronavirus-india-lockdown-migran-workersmass-exodus-6348834/