Why Am I Not Equal?: The Discriminatory Caste System in Indian Culture

By: Amyula Agrawal

Last summer I visited my friends and family in India. It’s always my favorite destination to visit whenever I can because it is significantly different from what I am used to normally in America. English isn’t the primary language spoken there which makes experiencing the air definitely a unique experience. India is known for their Bollywood film industry, authentic Indian-cuisine, and many other great attributes. However, one of the first things anyone notices when they first step into India is the enormous population. That’s right - there’s a lot more people than there are in New York City! Unfortunately, along with the enormous population comes the problem of discrimination.
The discrimination that is present in India dates back to 1500 BCE when the Aryans arrived in India. They created a caste system in India which assigned primarily Hindus different rankings in society. There are nearly 3,000 different castes present in India today, and they fall under four different levels known as varnas. The four levels are: Brahmins, who were priests and teachers, Kshatriya, who were warriors and rulers, Vaishyas, who were farmers, traders, and merchants, and the Shuras (the Untouchables), who were laborers. Due to the varnas, it was hard for the lower caste (the Shuras or the Untouchables) to get jobs, marry someone outside of their varnas, and choose their own career that was not determined by their caste system level.
Unfortunately, this system continues to be present, even today, and some action is being taken, but more needs to be done. People do discuss their problems with this system, but rarely any action is taken. Simply talking about the issue will not solve the problem. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement against the British Raj, promised to end India’s history of discrimination nearly a century ago - not much was done at the time. However, in 2017, history was made in India when Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit (who are still considered as “untouchables”), was elected as India’s president. Those from lower castes felt that they were now going to be represented. They felt that they were now not going to just be considered lower than others, but equal. While many problems including social mobility have been improved in major Indian cities, “untouchables” from rural areas are still isolated by being forced to live in intolerable areas and stopped from using public facilities, such as restrooms and water fountains. Although progress is being made, more needs to be done.
When I visited India, this was not what I had expected to see. The unique culture that is present there makes it a memorable experience for all visitors. Although I had a wonderful time, I also wanted to help those who deserved more respect than they usually received from society. It is important that with the enormous population, everyone’s needs are being met, and, most importantly,  respected without the thought of discrimination crossing their mind.



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