India’s destiny not caste in stone
Outside politics, there are other areas of life in which caste consciousness hasbeen dying down. Those who try to keep up with discussions on current affairs in the newspapersand on television may be forgiven if they conclude that caste is India's destiny.If there is one thing the experts in the media who comment on political mattershave in common, it is their preoccupation with caste and the part it plays inelectoral politics.Many are now coming to believe that, despite the undeniable demographic,technological and economic changes taking place in the country, the divisioninto castes and communities remains the ineluctable and ineradicable featureof Indian society. They also believe that to ignore those divisions or to drawattention to other divisions such as those of income, education and occupationis to turn our backs on the ground reality. The more radical among them addthat ignoring those realities amounts to an evasion of the politicalresponsibility of redistributing the benefits and burdens of society in a more just and equitable manner.Does nothing change in India? A great many things have in fact changed in thelast 60 years both in our political perceptions and in the social reality. Theleaders of the nationalist movement who successfully fought for India's freedomfrom colonial rule believed that India may have been a society of castes andcommunities in the past but would become a nation of citizens with theadoption of a new republican constitution. They were too optimistic. TheConstitution did create rights for the citizen, but it did not eradicate caste fromthe hearts and minds of the citizens it created. For many Indians, and perhapsthe majority, the habits of the heart are still the habits of a hierarchical society.
Universal adult franchise opened up new possibilities for mobilising electoralsupport on the basis of caste and thus prevented the consciousness of castefrom dying down. Democracy was expected to efface the distinctions of caste,but its consequences have been very different from what was expected. Politicsis no doubt an important part of a nation's life in a democracy, but it is not theonly part of it. There are other areas of life in which the consciousness of caste