Why are reservations in India not fair

The caste system

When it comes to the complex social structure of India, we always use the term “box” as a matter of course. This designation goes back to the Portuguese word for “pure / chaste” (= casto), with which the Portuguese merchants referred to the prohibition of marriage between members of different social groups in order to distinguish themselves from one another. However, the means and causes of divisions within Indian society are far more complex. To this day, they determine the living and economic conditions of millions.

India, for example, with its ancient civilization, is the cradle of four great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Today a little more than 80% of the population belong to Hinduism, with around 13% Muslims make up the second largest group of the population. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsees also make up larger communities; the small Jewish community of the billion-dollar state was for a long time the only one in the world that was not persecuted.

The Indian caste system is originally a social structure among Hindus who believe that every person is born into a certain social group. The central category for the groups is ritual purity. The myth says that four groups of people, so-called Varnas, emerged from the primordial man Purusha: The Brahmins sprang from his mouth - they are the priests and scholars to this day. Out of the shoulder became the Kshatriya - to which warriors and officials are counted. According to the myth, Purusha's thigh was the origin of the Vaishya - today traders, merchants, artisans and farmers. From the sole of his foot emerged the members of the lowest caste, Shudra: servants as well as servants and farm laborers. Inferior to the Shudras are the “casteless”, people who do not belong to any of these four Varnas and are considered unclean. This group of millions of people includes not only Hindus but also members of other religious communities. They are reserved for what is generally considered to be dirty activities and begging. Because their touch, or even just contact with them, is supposed to pollute those who touch them, they are also called “untouchables”.

Characteristic for each caste is on the one hand a hereditary division of labor, the sons take over the occupations of the fathers. Furthermore, one differentiates oneself from members of other castes in that one does not eat with them (or only under certain conditions) and that marriage is forbidden. The most extreme separation is that of the brahmins, who are considered particularly pure, from the untouchables, who are considered impure. In the middle castes, on the other hand, there are always marriages and land gain, gain in irrigation options or a changed political situation all contribute to ascents and descents.

In addition to the Hindu Varnas, Indian society is divided into various "Jatis". This term can be translated as “genus” or “root” and is generally used to classify different units. In relation to Indian society, denotes the different social groups that are delimited from one another in different ways. While the system of Varnas is the same throughout India, Jatis differ from region to region according to their name, number, and the myths surrounding them. Since the members of different Jatis are usually assigned to one of the four Varnas, the two systems are nevertheless closely linked.

The caste system shapes the entire Indian society, but regionally in very different ways. A cross-caste middle class is slowly emerging in the cities, not least because more and more professions are emerging that cannot be classified in the traditional Varnas or even inherited. The practice of completely separating the “untouchables” from caste members can hardly be maintained here either. In the countryside, on the other hand, the structures tend to be stricter and more traditional.

Despite all the changes, the “untouchables” are still denied the opportunity to participate in society and to advance. They are the largest group among the extremely poor and illiterate. Contrary to Indian law, they are excluded from religious services, such as rituals and ceremonies, and are often not even allowed to enter the temples. Accordingly, they who call themselves “Dalit”, the oppressed, have their own hairdressers, priests, etc. who offer the necessary services. The Dalit thus form a sub-caste system from which people are also excluded.

The Dalit share the status of being without social standing with another group of the population outside the caste system, the Adivasi. This term encompasses the millions of people who, as descendants of the Indian natives, live in other structures, some as nomads. Although in some parts of the country they are in the majority, they are usually economically exploited and oppressed by the so-called “caste Indians”.

According to the Indian constitution and the legal situation, all people are to be regarded as the same. And the so-called reservation policy, according to which jobs and training places are reserved for casteless people in universities, parliaments and all other areas of public life, is intended to help overcome caste barriers. But India experts point out that it is not state organizations that determine the coexistence of society but structures such as clan, family and caste.