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Write a 13 page essay on The History of Caste in India.It is therefore at all times difficult to interpret the past without letting the concerns of the present interfere. What can be ascertained with
Write a 13 page essay on The History of Caste in India.
It is therefore at all times difficult to interpret the past without letting the concerns of the present interfere. What can be ascertained with reasonable confidence is that by the 2nd century BCE the current caste system was in place, with the exception of the ‘Untouchables’ which did not appear until 600 years ago.1 Both systems were hierarchical and existed across the vast Indian Territory in varying and often quite different forms. In economic terms, being a member of the higher classes opened the door to relative wealth and prestige, whereas membership of the two lower castes meant generally living in poverty. In addition, in social terms ‘pollution’ was a serious problem between the castes, particularly for the lowest class, leading to severe and often humiliating exploitation.These conditions were portrayed as a largely homogenous Indian phenomenon by British Colonial Administrators and Orientalists, during the 18th and 19th centuries. The latter in particular took an intense interest in India and their works have until the middle of the 20th century represented the sum total of scholarly opinion. Although their interpretations are now often regarded as superficial and naive, a large component of the historical research then undertaken is still recorded as relatively sound and has found its ways into later works. It was only in the 20th century that views of simplicity and homogeneity were challenged, principally through events on the ground in India. Whereas Ghandi is often seen as something of a watershed in these stirrings, there were in fact others who attempted to challenge the established order. One of these is Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, of particular importance here because he himself came from the lowest caste. He believed in his later years that Hinduism was corrupted beyond redemption and converted to Buddhism, whereas Ghandi maintained steadfastly throughout his life that division between the castes could be mended by returning to a purer form of Hinduism. It has now been recognized, however, that the problem is far more complex and that post-independence anti-poverty programs, whilst bringing a measure of relief to the lowest caste, are now the source of escalating violence, particularly in those states that have the highest poverty rates. There have been many reports of ‘Harijan atrocities’2, often involving degrading acts perpetrated by higher caste members and sometimes even leading to multiple deaths of members of the scheduled caste. Whilst these higher caste anxieties do not always translate into violence, they generally take the form of discrimination in social, educational and employment settings. And although some of this is waning, from convenience rather than conviction, rural areas are far more orthodox and discrimination here is much more marked. As with any hierarchical system, those at the top will fight for their privileges and are unlikely to let go of their higher status. Thus it seems that the Indian caste system is here to stay and the best the lower castes can hope for is that in time they can share in India’s growing wealth and that the ‘polluting’ element of their condition will fade into oblivion. How fast these changes will occur will largely depend on how