Bina Pallikal’s family didn’t really talk about caste.
Growing up in the sprawling city of Pune in the western state of Maharashtra, India, Ms. Pallikal was sent to a school run by Christian missionaries.
“My great-grandfather probably converted to Christianity to escape the caste system,” she told ABC India Now.
It was only after completing his education that he made a startling discovery.
stuck in a rigid social hierarchy
Despite being outlawed in 1950, India’s caste system dictates almost every aspect of Hindu religious and social life, trapping people in fixed social systems that are nearly impossible to escape.
Ms. Pallikal, Director, National, said, “Whatever you do, including where you choose your partner, where you are working, who are your friends, everything is based on caste and we should not forget that.” Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
Established more than 3,000 years ago, the caste system – which predates Hinduism – divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (duty).
The castes are ranked from highest to lowest on the basis of various parts of the body of Brahma, the Hindu god of creation.
Brahmins are the holders of spirituality and are priests and teachers. Kshatriyas are warriors and rulers. Vaishyas are farmers and traders. and Shudras are labourers.
Beneath them are Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, who are often ostracized by India’s society.
Dalit literally translates as “broken people”.
They have been entrusted with the task of manual scavenging, cleaning of sewers, toilets and roads.
Ms. Pallikal said, “We are doing what no one else wants to do and this system is sanctioned by the Hindu religion.”
Racial discrimination is illegal – but the harassment continues
The new constitution of independent India in 1950 outlawed caste discrimination and announced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes.
The current President of India, RM Kovind, is a Dalit and the former President, KR Narayanan, who was elected in 1997, was a Dalit.
Social activist and lawyer BR Ambedkar (1891–1956), who wrote the new constitution of India and is a respected leader of Dalits, was also a Dalit.
“BR Ambedkar is the messiah for Dalit communities” said Ms. Pallikal.
Despite affirmative action policies, the system continues to grant privileges to dominant castes while sanctioning oppression and discrimination of oppressed castes.
India’s National Crime Records Bureau recorded 50,291 crimes against Dalits in 2020, but the figure is likely to be much higher as many crimes go unreported by the police for fear of retaliation or intimidation.
Coming out as Dalit
“I remember feeling a ton of anxiety whenever someone asked me what my caste was,” Yashika Dutt, author of Coming Out as a Dalit, told India Now.
When she returned home from school, her mother would ask: “What did you learn in school? Did anyone ask about your caste?”
“When I came across as a Dalit, I was at a safe distance from the Indian community because I was living in New York by then,” says Ms. Dutt.
“So, what I did was really calculated and safe risk, as compared to someone still living in India.”
caste travels with the migrant
Recently there have been high-profile cases of caste discrimination among NRIs.
In the US, Dalit rights campaigner Thenmozhi Sundararajan, founder of Equality Labs, was about to give a speech to Google News employees to celebrate Dalit History Month.
It was canceled after he was accused of being “anti-Hindu”.
Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai comes from an influential caste family in India.
Tech worker activists Tanuja Gupta and Sundararajan took their word forward and posted it on YouTube.
is time to change
“Once I came to know about my caste, I felt it was my duty to give back to my community, my brothers and sisters,” Pallikal said.
This is where Ms Pallikal says is the struggle, however, she and others will continue to work to end the caste system and move India towards equality.
ABC’s India Now, hosted by Mark Fennell, is a rich and entertaining look at news, culture and politics from India and the subcontinent. The show airs Monday nights at 9:30 p.m. AEST on ABC or you can watch it anytime on iView.