The word ‘caste’ (Jaat) is a widely discussed subject in South Asia. It is still alive and exists in the 21st century. Mostly in India and Nepal, caste has been a problem for Dalits for ages. Often, the three organs of state—the legislative, the judiciary, and the executive—face questions regarding caste on many occasions. And the fourth state, the press, usually disseminates information about incidents of caste-based discrimination.
Victims of this discrimination show caste and its consequences. And the media makes news. Reservations for Dalits make media news. Recently, the voices to reduce the quota for Dalits are rising, despite the fact that the state regards reservation as a tiny compensation for caste discrimination. For the ‘we all are equal’ group, this has been a major headache, not caste discrimination and heinous activities against Dalits.
The high castes of the ‘Varna’ system are undoubtedly the tormentors. They have been preserving and protecting the caste-specific footsteps of their ancestors. Comparatively, non-Dalits have gotten more education and exposure than Dalits. The ratio of literacy and exposure shows they might understand the need for equality and equity in society. They might feel the gap between high and low castes. They might have seen lapses and differences in mainstream representation.
Education, degrees, dissertation, and exposure might reveal these lapses in society to them. But sadly, the so-called high caste hasn’t understood the social trauma of caste discrimination for Dalits. They haven’t seen the social-cultural exclusion and psychological problems caused by the caste system that affects the Dalit community as a whole. They haven’t seen the status of Dalits in society. They just see a tiny opportunity without suffering pain. Beside this irrationality, this casteist mob has been practicing caste discrimination while protesting against positive discrimination. This hegemony and misinterpretation of high caste has halted inbuilt equality and equity in society. Moreover, structurally, the caste system has ruined the Nepali society.
The casteist picture of the society is very divided, fragmented, and dangerous. People enjoying caste privileges and benefiting from structural inequality take the caste system as part of their culture. They act as if the system hasn’t created turmoil in society. As most of the castes belong to the Varna system of Hinduism, all the Hindus, whether high caste or low caste, follow the same culture, religion, and tradition. These sociocultural characteristics of religion seem to unite people socially. It looks fine from the outer layer. But when critically assessed, it shows how so-called cultural and social practices draw the lines between “us” and “them,” touchability and untouchability among the Hindus, with utter disregard for rationality and humanity.
In Nepal’s context, non-Dalits’ caste hegemony is clearly seen in body language, gestures, and the tones. The way of talking, tantrums, ethnocentrism, etc are the major characteristics of being from an “upper caste.” Mainly in villages, one can easily see and feel the high caste burden. There are many examples of this mob refusing to sit and eat with Dalits. In fact, they demand a separate party for non- Dalits at Dalit gatherings. Moreover, the thread-wearing community looks rigid on the outside. Their behavior and activities show they are proud to be members of a certain caste. Non-Dalits want to show and challenge Dalits that they are different and high. They have benefited from being an upper caste for ages as the positions of power they hold show. Besides it, their social activities, gatherings, unity, etc are filled with unbridled monopoly regarding caste hierarchy.
However, the desire to make one’s lineage greater has been present in all so-called high castes and communities. Along with the origin castes, the human creates stories, genealogy, etc to expose the heroism and wisdom of his caste’s legacy. There are some examples of caste hegemony in our society where particular castes like Thakuri, Brahmin, and Chetri are obsessed with their own caste. They claim themselves to be from the royal family or from the priestly class. The Thakuris address fellow Thakuris as Raja Shaheb to show their royal ancestry, while the Brahmins are portrayed as more rational and civilized than others.
They have set beauty and rationality as the symbol of their caste.
The major root and cause of this pure, impure, high, low, rational, and irrational behavior is the Varna system that holds that Brahmins and Kshatriyas were created first to exercise religion and power, whereas Vaishya and Shudra were created for business and artistic works, respectively. In support of the Varna system of ancient Hindu law, Manusmriti emerged. It mentions the rules of food, marriage, and profession for certain castes. Manusmriti has detailed the rules for a particular caste regarding marital and professional relations. It has strict laws on marriage. The same rules apply with regard to professions and food. Any violation of Manu’s law results in the fall of caste. In addition, Manusmriti is the foundation of the caste-based law (Jang Bahadur’s Civil Code), which lasted until 2021 BS. The impact of this code is being felt even today.
Contrary to Manusmiriti, today’s Nepali society looks free on food, profession, and marriage. People are living as per their convictions. But regarding caste, they are a bit rigid. If people compare today’s cultural professional status with the history of caste as per the Manusmiriti, caste structure has already collapsed. The caste system is an illusion. It forces people to live in a dead world. Right now, there is no bar on choosing a profession; there is no boundary on eating or making relationships. Inter and intra-caste marriages are also pointing at the breakdown of Manusmiriti. Even laws, education, and international practices are there to awaken people from the so-called rites and rituals. Indeed, practicing casteism is like digging a hole for oneself. As humans of the 21st century, we should stay away from these kinds of extremist systems. Nepal will be one and united in a true sense only if we become able to put an end to all forms of racial and caste-based discrimination. Otherwise, this inhumane system will undoubtedly ruin our society.