Slavery & Casteism in India: No Road to Freedom?

Swagat Baruah - 9th October 2017

Modern slavery continues to be a significant problem, even in 2017. There are 46 million people around the world today who live in slavery, and 18 million (39%) of them are in India. Although these numbers are shocking, the fact that there is such high prevalence of slavery in India isn’t.

Slavery in India is mainly dominated by bonded slavery and child slavery. Until very recently, India had not ratified the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which it finally did in June this year. The existence of bonded slavery can be traced back to the Indian Zamindari system, which heavily relied on the caste system for its perpetuation. The son of a slave had to pay the never-ending debt of his ancestors by serving the zamindar. Although this system was abolished after independence, its interplay with the caste system has had serious repercussions.

Caste in modern India is not dead, nor is it dormant. Caste didn’t disappear with the dawn of modernity and development or Indian independence. The caste system in India has adapted itself to the changing Indian economy and politics, and continues to hold a pivotal place in an Indian’s life. According to the 2015 Equity Watch report, there has been a 19.4% increase in crimes against Dalits from 2014. The number of cases registered under the Scheduled Caste (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) Prevention of Atrocities Act has also risen every year since 2011, taking a leap in 2014 to 47,064 cases, from 13,975 cases in 2013. Other reports go on to suggest the existence of serious obstacles that lower caste people face in obtaining justice, with alarming conclusions like, “most cases of caste abuse and of rape most frequently end in compromises.” Women and girls belonging to Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes still face significant discrimination and high rates of sexual violence. However, in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gang rape case, this scenario is predicted to change, with the wider definition of sexual offences against women after the introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013

It is not that there has been a complete failure on the part of the law, or a lack of inherent Constitutional provisions safeguarding the interests of the minorities. India in fact has strong Constitutional affirmative action provisions, based on reservations, when it comes to representation of minorities. It is a paradox: the best anti-slavery laws co-existing with the highest rate of slavery. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1976 helps the victims of bonded labour by providing them with a little bit of capital once they’re out of slavery. The recent 2016 Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act is a great attempt on the part of the government to better the status of Dalits in India, by instituting special courts for SC/ST victims and making more subtle discriminatory practices offences.

There still remains a lot to be done for the Dalits, but we must also acknowledge the fact that distributing the spoils of state power strictly according to caste only perpetuates the caste system. It looks like a hopeless predicament that India has arrived at. The nation strives harder to get rid of casteism by making use of it, engraving identities in places varying from the Indian Constitution to education institutions. Indians are still living what Dr. B.R. Ambedkar described as the ‘life of contradictions’ and the caste system has, as the Mandal Commission noted, only conditioned the consciousness of the lower castes in accepting their inferior status in the ritual hierarchy. The economic freedom which Ambedkar imagined would emancipate the lower caste Indians has been overpowered the caste system’s strong social existence.

Casteism is a gross violation of human rights and it is closely connected with the high prevalence of slavery in India. This link must be recognised both in India and internationally, and the two must be tackled together. In spite of recent positive steps in India, there is much still to do.

 

Author profile

Swagat Baruah is a third year student of law at Gujarat National Law University. He is the founder and managing editor of Catharsis, an online fortnightly magazine and founder and editor of the Indian Journal of Constitutional & Administrative Law, a bi-annual student edited journal. His areas of interests include constitutional law, international relations and political and moral philosophy.

Citations

Swagat Baruah, “Slavery & Casteism in India: No Road to Freedom?” (OxHRH Blog, 9 October 2017) <http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/slavery-casteism-in-india-no-road-to-freedom> [Date of Access]

Comments

  1. Nishchal Singh says:

    Well-written . I look forward to reading your next informative work. Thank you.

  2. pinkcity royals says:

    When a certain swathe of India’s population considers the country’s ancient past, it doesn’t see a country fragmented into kingdoms, savaged by caste divisions, and mired in poverty; rather, what’s envisioned is a vast, unified Hindu empire stretching from Kashmir to the Indian tip at Kanyakumari.For more social issues at:
    http://blog.pinkcityroyals.com/

  3. che says:

    What is the meaning of Dalit Rights ?

    These Hindoo scum destroyed a God Shiva who was black skinned, unshaven , smoked pot and loved to rape – just because he allowed Dalits to read the scriptures !

    If the Brahmins can doom a So Called God – what hope is there for Dalits ?

    https://dindooohindoo.page.tl/Panwari-Gandoo-Brahmins-and-Shiva.htm

    “The Brahmins will not sacrifice to you along with the other gods, for Siva has defiled the path followed by good men; he is impure, an abolisher of rites and demolisher of barriers,[who gives] the word of the Vedas to a Sudra. He wanders like a madman, naked, laughing, the lord of ghosts, evil-hearted. Let Siva, the lowest of the gods, obtain no share with Indra and Visnu at the sacrifice; let all the followers of Siva be heretics, opponents of the true scriptures, following the heresy whose god is the king of ghosts.” – Brahma Purana 2:13:70-73; Garuda Purana 6:19; Bhagavata Purana 4:2:10-32.

    Wait – there is more !

    भवव्रतधरा ये च ये च तान् समनुव्रताः

    पाखंडिनस्ते भवन्तु सच्छास्त्रपरिपन्थि

    मुमुक्षवो घोररूपान् हित्वा भूतपतीनथ ,

    नारायणकलाः शान्ताः भजन्तीत्यनसूयवः

    One who takes a vow to satisfy Shiva or who follows such principles will “certainly become an atheist and be diverted from transcendental scriptural injunctions”.
    Those who vow to worship Shiva are “so foolish that they imitate him by keeping long hair on their heads”
    When initiated into worship of Lord Śiva, they “prefer to live on wine, flesh and other such things.” [Bhagvatapuran 4/2/28-29]

    तस्माद् विष्णोः प्रसादो वै सेवितव्यो द्विजन्मना,

    इतरेषां देवानां निमल्यिं गर्हितं भवेत् .

    सकृदेव हि योsश्नाति ब्राह्मणो ज्ञानदुर्बलः

    निर्मल्यिं शंकरा दीनां स चांडालो भवेद ध्रुवं

    Dwijas (Brahmin, Khatriya, Vaishya) should only eat the Prasad offered to Vishnu, not of any other deity. If “any foolish Brahmin, even once, will consume the prasad of Shiva”, it is “certain that he will be born as a Chandal (outcaste)”

  4. che says:

    Kashmiris ALWAYS LOSE OUT IN DIALOGUES WITH THE Hindoo Dindoos !

    Y ?

    Simple !

    The Dindoo Hindoos are slime balls, rats , cowards and treacherous !!

    Y ?

    Because they r rats and cowards and wimps and pansies !

    Then Y do you talk to the Hindoo Dindoos ?

    They are offspring of Rama the Impotent Pansy – AS PER THE RAMAYANA – THE WORDS OF SEETA ! READ IT !
    KNOW YOUR ENEMY !

    https://dindooohindoo.page.tl/Sita-says-Rama-is-Impotent-Pansy.htm

    Book II : Ayodhya Kanda – Book Of Ayodhya

    Chapter[Sarga] 30

    किम् त्वा अमन्यत वैदेहः पिता मे मिथिला अधिपः |
    राम जामातरम् प्राप्य स्त्रियम् पुरुष विग्रहम् || २-३०-३

    “What my father, the king of Mithila belonging to the country of Videha, think of himself having got as so-in-law you, a woman having the form of a man?”

    अनृतम् बल लोको अयम् अज्ञानात् यद्द् हि वक्ष्यति |
    तेजो न अस्ति परम् रामे तपति इव दिवा करे || २-३०-४

    “It is a pity if these people of Ayodhya through ignorance tell the falsehood that excellent valour is lacking in Rama as in a blazing sun.”

    किम् हि कृत्वा विषण्णः त्वम् कुतः वा भयम् अस्ति ते |
    यत् परित्यक्तु कामः त्वम् माम् अनन्य परायणाम् || २-३०-५

    “For what reason are you cast down or whence fear in you, for which you are willing to desert me, for whom there is no other recourse.”

    यम् तु भार्याम् कौमारीम् चिरम् अध्युषिताम् सतीम् |
    शैलूषैव माम् राम परेभ्यो दातुम् इच्चसि || २-३०-८

    ” Oh, Rama! I am a young girl, lived for a long time with you, a chaste woman and your wife. How would you like an actor intend to deliver me to others by your own will?”

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