Why we need to talk about caste
Hey! Did you see that article the other day about caste? Shocking right?!
Hi! Article about what sorry? What is caste?
Caste is a social hierarchy. A very extreme social hierarchy. The caste you are born into decides your job, role in society and how people treat you. This is lifelong. You are born into a caste and you die in that caste.
Gosh! Sounds quite intense… Where is this caste thing a thing?
The caste system comes from India and now has spread to other countries, including the UK, within the south Asian communities there.
I see. So what levels are there in the caste system?
This is probably best explained with a diagram! Notice how the Dalits are separate to the rest of the hierarchy. They are seen as the lowest of the low and almost sub-human.
So why is the caste system the way it is?
The background to the caste system is highly religious. It is based on karma. The caste you are born into is seen as a result of your sins or good deeds in your past life.
I mean this is all very interesting but what does this mean for us?
The prejudice that still exists today against those of lower castes, especially the Dalits, is a Human Rights issue.
How so? Is it really that bad today still?!
It is unfortunately! Particularly for children and their education. Indian law states that all schools need to include children of all castes. However, in reality, Dalit children are made to sit at the back of the class and are stopped from interacting with children from other castes.
A report by UNICEF found that Dalit children consistently fare poorer across many areas of primary education. Limited education means limited opportunities.
And what happens in other countries then? Like the UK?
When people leave India, they take their caste with them. This means that within South Asian communities in the UK, there is still caste prejudice. The discrimination here is more subtle. For example: no mixing of social groups of different castes; shopkeepers refusing to hand money or goods directly to Dalits.
But discrimination is illegal, right?
It is but at the moment UK law does not recognise caste discrimination as an explicit form of discrimination.
I see. So it’s all a bit complicated then! How can I find out more about it?
Take a look at the UK Dalit solidarity network. They are very active in lobbying on caste.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.