In the thousands of years of “Bharat” and its existence under different societal norms, continuously growing and changing, there exist certain sections of the society that have been ceaselessly discriminated against for centuries, and are subjected to constant social, economic and educational scrutiny. Included in such sections are the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes. The caste system has always been prevalent in India since times immemorial, and even though it has metamorphosed superficially, especially after the abolishment of untouchability, it is still a deep-rooted problem in the society and their perception of the concerned sections. The oldest testimony of the practice of the caste system can be found in the Old Holy Scriptures and are evidence of the fact that people were divided into four sections. This quadruple division was a result of the Varna system that stratified the society into the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. This system was meant to ease the division of labour in society back then and to promote communal harmony. Instead, centuries later, it evolved into something inhumane, and it bred discrimination and untouchability. Irrespective of the personal interests or the occupation of an individual it was followed on the sole basis of the birth of the person. This break-up in the society had a cascading impact and also deviated the choices of people and made the lower castes susceptible to numerous social evils, like not being allowed to use public places, restaurants, wells etc. Over centuries and millennia, this system buried its claws so deep into the society that it became nearly impossible for a person belonging to a lower caste to escape the web of discrimination that accompanied this split-up.
And jumping from the Vedic, Epic and Manusmriti ages to the contemporary scenario, analyzing the current situation and understanding the subjugations implied by the caste system, is of utmost importance for the development of these sections. The prejudice that the weaker sections faced were also majorly recognized by Mahatma Gandhi, who named them ‘Harijans,’ i.e. ‘the children of God’. He made a change by visiting them, promoting the use of modern sanitation services for them and living with their community, which encouraged a lot of people to do the same. It also motivated the people of other weaker sections to gain the strength to stand against the discrimination they had continued to face for centuries, if not more. Another leap towards the same was seen post the colonization period, when India gained independence on August 15th, 1947, numerous steps were taken for the uplifting of the deprived sections. Untouchability was a very prevalent practise in general society back then. The Constituent Assembly focused on ways to amalgamate the society, and Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar played a key role in doing so. He was a social and political leader who never ceased to campaign for the rights of the ‘Dalits’ and other outcasts, and his efforts were fruitful when special provisions were made in the Constitution of India to establish equality and abolish untouchability from the society. The framers of the Constitution saw these deep concerns and hence made certain reforms for accelerating socio-economic development and safeguarding the interests of SCs, STs and other weaker sections.
The Hon’ble Constitution that came into force on January 26th 1950 criminalized discrimination of any form in the country, alas to change the perception of the masses takes but decades. This mechanism began with the introduction of several Articles and provisions in the Constitution of India, respectively. Per Article 17, Untouchability and its practice is forbidden in all forms and punishable by law. Article 15(4) capacitates the State to make provisions to protect the social and educational interests of the backward classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Article 16(4) empowers the State to render special provisions for weaker sections for representation and posts in matters in which they are not represented adequately. Reservation in administrative positions helps to uplift these people above their birth and gives then an equal opportunity of representation, which would have otherwise been almost impossible without such provisions. At the same time, Article 46 was formed to save and promote economic as well as educational interests of the weaker sections, SCs and STs to prevent them against exploitation and a National Commission for safeguarding the interests of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was also formed following Article 338.
Since then, many other initiatives have been taken for the upliftment of the weaker sections, including school scholarships, overseas scholarships, and empowerment schemes and acts like The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955; Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 etc.
Dr Ambedkar foundation was also formed in the year 1992, for the sole purpose of encouraging and nurturing the seedlings of Dr Ambedkar’s ideologies and goals. The foundation carries out the task of maintaining and administering the necessary steps required for promoting equality and allowing the deprived to stand up for themselves.
As is the motto of Articles 14-18 of the Constitution of India, it advocates the treatment of ‘equal’ equally and ‘unequal’ unequally. This framework was designed to pull the fragile communities out of the niche of deprivation and give them an environment to grow and stand on an equal platform as others.
As we celebrate 73 years of independence, the fight against discrimination and inequality continues. While the foundation was laid down after a lot of struggle at the time of independence itself, we as a society still need to thrive hard to eliminate social evils and pull the weaker sections, to soar new heights of success and development as a democratic nation. It is an issue of shameful concern that seven decades later, we are still in the process of uplifting the same sections of the society we were then. However, we seem to have come a long way, getting these people the respect they deserve without a flinching thought to oppose it even in the minds of citizens that reside in the most remotely located economically challenged and uneducated villages of the country and expect from all the basic natural decency to treat all the children of mother nature equally will sadly take more time, a lot more time than it should.
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