Monday, December 7, 2015

[Editorial # 7] Why Ms. Selja’s story matters

Just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a conciliatory move to avert a deadlock in Parliament, the Rajya Sabha had reverted to its old normal. And if whatever goodwill was generated by that meeting last Friday now appears to be so much water under the bridge, the treasury benches must interrogate their own. The cause for fresh adjournments was former Union Minister Kumari Selja’s statement on Wednesday that she had been asked her caste at a temple in Gujarat’s Dwarka; and the response by BJP Ministers was a playbook of ways to make a House not function. That there was a defence by the government was surprising enough, given that Ms. Selja’s disclosure simply required an inquiry into her specific experience and, more importantly, into the larger prevalence of caste and gender discrimination. It was also disproportionate, even intimidatory. Senior Union Ministers charged her with bringing up “manufactured problems” and pulled out her remarks from the visitors’ book at Dwarka’s big temple to cast doubts about the veracity of her remarks. In the event, the Ministers accepted Ms. Selja’s clarification that the question about her caste was posed at a smaller temple in Dwarka, and variously withdrew or regretted their statements. There the issue now simmers on a slower burn, and the Congress may well use the faultiness to go on the hunt for other subjects to corner the government on.

However, the disquiet over the government’s handling of Ms. Selja’s intervention is wider than its effect on the orderly conduct of Parliament. Her identity, as a woman and, significantly, as a Dalit, was not incidental to the resonance of the question at Dwarka. Temple entry has been an integral part of social reform in India, and was made a mobilising plank in the national movement by Mahatma Gandhi. The Constitution gives the state immense power to enforce and make laws for “throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus”. Ms. Selja’s recollection that she was asked about her caste at a time when she happened to be a Union Minister is not just a reminder that free temple entry is still a work in progress — but also that for all the power and privilege that may attach to an individual, there remains the overhang of the older oppressive hierarchies of caste, if not always in operation but definitely in atmospherics. Whatever the specifics of Ms. Selja’s personal encounter, it must serve as a call to Parliament to strengthen the law to end restriction to temple entry on account of caste and gender.


1. What is meant by caste system? 
2. What is the history of caste system?
3. What is Temple Entry Movement? Who were the prominent leaders of Temple Entry Movement?
4. What was Gandhiji's stand on Caste System?
5. Do you see caste-based discrimination in your daily lives? Cite some examples.
6. Do you think Caste System is retarding the development process of India? If yes then how?
7. What should be the approach of an individual citizen towards Caste System?
8. What mechanisms are in place to curb the menace of Caste System?
9. Suggest a few practical methods to eliminate the Caste System?
10. Does Caste System exist only in India?
11. Does Indian Constitution recognise Castes? 


  1. 1. It is a form of social stratification in the Hindu society which categorizes people into four Varnas on the basis of the families they were born into, though it was originally meant to classify one according to his occupation. The four Varnas are Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. It has been embedded in the culture from the past 1,500 years.

    2. There are various religious and biological theories to explain the history of the caste system.

    The religious theories propound that the primal man, Purush split into various parts. Out of his head, arms, thighs and feet were born the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, respectively.
    The biological theory claims that each Varna has typical qualities of mental temper associated with it. The Brahmans are considered to be of a Sattva temper. These include characteristics of goodness, humility, wisdom, honesty, etc. Kshatriyas and Vaishyas have Rajasvic qualities and they have qualities of pride, passion and valor. Shudras inherit the Tamasic qualities including laziness, lack of creativity, etc.

    3. The temple entry movement in India started in Travancore on November 12, 1936 when the Maharaja of Travancore signed the Temple Entry Proclamation, throwing open the doors to people of all castes.
    The cascading effects were felt in all temples across Travancore and even the privately run temples admitted people of all castes, and also in Malabar and rest of the Madras Presidency.
    Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Shri Kelappan, Shri Ranga Iyer were the leaders of the temple entry movement.

    4. His views on the caste system were as follows:
    i. Though Gandhi supported the caste system, he was opposed to the systemic exploitation of the lower castes.
    ii. He believed that although Varna was acquired at birth, it could only be maintained by “observing its obligations”. Someone born of one caste performing the work of another would belong to the latter caste.
    iii. He considered all caste divisions and ills to be the result of a manipulated varna system.

    5. One personally has known of incidents were landlords ask the caste of a tenant before letting him stay on the property. In this case, the landlord being a Brahman, refused to let a person from any other caste into his home.

    Keeping separate utensils for the maid whenever food is provided to them, even though the utensil is cleaned like all the others in the kitchen.

    The passing of SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 with provisions for punishment for acts of making an SC/ST person eat an inedible product, dump excreta into his premises, forcible strip him, force him to do begar among many others shows that such extreme humilities are still suffered by the lower castes in India which galvanized the Government into making such a law.

  2. @Erika,
    Temple Entry Movement has a long history. It culminated into opening up of temples by the Maharaja of Travancore. Read through a few chapters of "India's struggle for independence: Bipin Chandra". You would get more clarity. You can also read through Viakom Satyagrah on the internet.

    Secondly, Caste system is different from Varna Vyavastha. You have to figure out the relation between the two.

    Good examples of caste discrimination. Apart from SCST Act, there is the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1956, which criminalises practicing untouchability. It draws its strength from Art 17 of Constitution of India.

    Good work...keep writing