Caste Politics in India

Caste Politics In India

Caste in Indian society refers to a social group where membership is largely decided by birth. Members of such local group avoid entering into marital relationships with outsiders. Originally, these groups were associated with specific professions. The mutual relationship of one caste with the other is established on the principle of lineage and the resultant purity of blood, making the relationship between one and another caste distant.

Though caste has always been a part of Hindu society in India, it did not become institutionalized into government organizations until the arrival of British colonizers. The removal of the boundaries between "civil society" and "political society" meant that caste now played a huge role in the political arena and also influenced other government-run institutions such as police and the judicial system. Though caste seemed to dictate one's access to such institutions, the location of that caste also played a pivotal role. If a lower caste were concentrated enough in one area, it could then translate that pocket of concentration of its caste members into political power and then challenge the locally dominant upper caste. Gender also plays a significant role in the power dynamic of caste in politics. Women's representation within the political system seems to also be tied to their caste. Lower, more conservative castes have less female participation in politics than upper, more socially liberal, castes. This has caused a disproportionately large number of upper-caste women to occupy political office when compared to their lower caste counterparts. The hierarchy of caste and its role in politics and access to power and resources has created a society of patron-client relationships along caste lines. This staunchly clientelistic structure was most prevalent during the Congress-dominating period. This eventually led to the practice of vote banking, where voters back only candidates that are in their cast, or officials from which they expect to receive some kind of benefits.

Historically it has been very hard to change the structure of caste politics. More recently however, there has been a flux in caste politics, mainly caused by economic liberalization in India. This upsurge in lower-caste empowerment was accompanied in some regions by a spike in the level of corruption. This was partly due to lower caste perceiving development programs and rule of law as tools used by the upper caste to subjugate lower castes. More contemporary India, however, has seen the influence of caste start to decline. This is partly due to the spread of education to all castes which has had a democratizing effect on the political system. However, this "equalizing" of the playing field has not been without controversy. The Mandal Commission and its quotas system has been a particularly sensitive issue.

Read more about Caste Politics In India:  Colonial History, Caste and Political Power, Caste Politics in Flux

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