Towards a Casteless Society: how undergraduate questioning can lead to major potential breakthroughs

Solutions to highly complex problems are sometimes very simple and they come not from experts but from some insignificant personalities. Very often they come from students and as a teacher I have experiences this, multiple times. Here is an interesting example of a solution that can potentially change entire India.  

Caste system has existed in India for several centuries and has shaped its social, political, economic, agricultural and environmental history in a number of ways. As we take on the challenges of the modern world, it is necessary to free the society of the woe of the caste divide. Although some of the customs such as untouchability have been largely, if not completely, eradicated, the caste system is far from being weakened.  The concept of caste based reservation system was introduced with an intention of the upliftment of the depressed class, ultimately leading to an equitable society. But in democratic India, politicization of caste based reservations appears to have strengthened the caste barriers rather than dissolving them. Political parties seek vote banks in caste appeasement and focus on luring and exploiting them rather than uplifting their educational, livelihood and economic status. Any attempt even to review, rethink or revise the reservation system is not beneficial for any political party. Over the last decade we have seen increasing demand for reservation from caste groups that were not classically considered as deprived. This has grown into a vicious cycle and in the current political system there does not appear to be a way leading to a homogenous, amalgamated society. Any appeal and steps towards a casteless society are least likely to be politically supported and viable. Therefore no political party could ever support, even utter such a policy.

Given this political scenario, can we even think of a casteless Indian society?

The answer is yes, a potential path to a casteless society emerged from a discussion with an undergraduate student at IISER-Pune. Swati Choudhary, was not a “brilliant” (by the conventional standards) student in my first year class. She had a tough life passing the first year but subsequently improved her academic grades.

But when I started the katta sessions, she opened up and started asking questions and her questions quite often were very original and out of the box. She raised the question of caste based reservations once and was quite upset about it. She herself was admitted to IISER through reservations but thought that there was something weird about the system and wondered where was taking us!! Over the next several weeks we thought and discussed the issue many a times. And one day a very practical solution emerged. Then we worked on it further for quite some time. Wrote a model and did numerical simulations on how it would work in the society.

Being in a research institute my first instinct was “let us publish a research paper on this”. I realize now that it was a bad thought and we wasted two years unnecessarily trying to publish the idea in the form of a research paper. Now since I have come out of formal science organizations, I realize that taking the idea directly to people is the right way. By the way, we tried to publish this in social science journals and the editorial correspondence and the names of the journals are available Here.

Whose idea was it? Swati thinks that it was my idea and I think that it emerged through an interaction. I think on the other hand, that there was no reason why I would have thought of this any time. Swati raised a question and then we talked about a number of possibilities. Ultimately I could articulate all the fragments together to build an executable solution. So I can’t call it my idea. It emerged thorough our interaction. What emerged is as follows.

The solution consists of expanding rather than reducing caste based reservations in such a way that caste based reservations would ultimately be ineffective without having to remove them any time. The new policy being suggested would fulfill the original objectives of caste based reservation and ultimately vanish on its own after having served the purpose. No government would have to take the political decision of removing caste based reservations, but the reservations will vanish ultimately after having served their intended purpose.

The new policy suggested here has three distinct goals (i) gender equality (ii) towards a casteless society in education and jobs (iii) a true cultural amalgamation. A true cultural amalgamation, the real long term goal is extremely difficult to achieve since castes have divided the society for several centuries. A change in the mindset of the society cannot be brought about by any law. Nevertheless the first two goals can be addressed by law and they can be important steps in achieving the ultimate goal.

  1. The proposed solution:

The central idea of the proposed policy is that if a boy and girl belonging to two different castes marry with each other, both of them as well as their children should be identified in all official documents as belonging to both the castes. If the two castes belong to two different reservation categories, they should be allowed to avail reservation benefits of both the categories. This advantage will be carried forward to their subsequent generations indefinitely. That is, their entire lineage will be identified as belonging to two castes and if they belong to different reservation categories they should be eligible for seats/posts/scholarships and other benefits reserved for both the categories. The caste based benefits are not restricted to reservations. There are several other caste specific schemes for entrepreneurship development, community development, welfare schemes, student scholarships, research grants and so on. Families with multi-caste identities would be naturally eligible for dual benefits but government can further plan to offer even greater benefits to such multi-caste families which will ultimately pave the way to a casteless society.

Inter-caste marriages do happen even now but generally the resultant family is said to belong to the boy’s caste. Therefore today inter-caste marriages have little impact on the caste system. There is no ethical reason why only the boy’s caste should propagate. The well accepted idea of gender equality necessitates that mother’s caste should be of equal importance. Therefore it is ethical that the progeny can take the benefits, if any, of both the castes. The central idea of the proposed scheme is not only to encourage inter-caste marriages, incentives for which exist even today, but to give the resultant family a dual caste identity.

Further if a person with a dual caste identity marries with spouse belonging to a third category, the couple and their entire lineage down the line should be entitled for a three category benefit and so on. Ultimately there will be families that are eligible for all categories and are thereby casteless and reservation less. The proportion of such families in the society will go on ever increasing since there is no way back. This policy along with other benefits and incentives for inter-caste marriage will have a slow but far reaching and irreversible consequence for the Indian society.

The expected desirable effects and implications of the policy are as follows

  1. Gender equality: 

With the new proposed policy both the boy and the girl do not have to give up their caste identity but at the same time they can avail reservation or any other benefits of their spouse’s caste. This is a robust incentive for inter-caste marriages. Here the girl coming from a different caste category brings in substantial benefits to the family and this is duly recognized in her legal rights. In the long run this will have at least a small contribution in uplifting the status of the married woman.

  1. Attractive to the educated young generation:

The best way to attract youth to inter-caste marriages is to offer them job benefits immediately after marriage. It doesn’t make sense to offer any educational reservations because we don’t want to encourage early marriages. But after completing education, getting a job as a reward of inter-caste marriage is guaranteed to be a big attractor for educated youth. In an orthodox Indian society, the families and communities are unlikely to support inter-caste marriages. But youth that are independent, educated and eligible for jobs are expected to come forward and avail the offered benefits of inter-caste marriage. Since the participation is entirely voluntary, the classical reservation benefits of the extant castes will continue to exist for the ones that remain away from the new trend.

Since we expect inter-caste marriages to come from more educated youth, the relevance of reservations will be lost only when the society as a whole is largely educated and open minded. The benefits to the deprived classes will continue for several decades to come which should be sufficient to improve their educational and financial status. After that there is no need to remove reservations as a political decision. They will slowly but definitely become irrelevant themselves.

  1. A culturally amalgamated society:

True cultural amalgamation has to evolve within the society and cannot be enforced by law, incentives or government policy. However, the above policy will support and facilitate such a process and the effects will be apparent over a few generations.

System for implementation:

Successful implementation of the policy will be data intensive. The traditional procedure to certify the caste of a person was highly inefficient and subject to manipulation. The new policy depends upon keeping accurate personal records over several generations which are least prone to manipulation. This has been made possible today by technology. The caste identity, inter-caste marriages and dual or multiple category advantages can be linked to the Adhar database and accurate multi-generational information would be available at the time of marriage registration, school/university admission or job appointments. If every marriage, divorce and birth is linked to the central database, it would be next to impossible to manipulate the information.

Possible frauds

We should assume that in spite of all attempts to arrest manipulation, people are likely to find some ways to make some jugad to take undue advantage of the new policy. The common temptation would be to register fake marriage to get a government job and then divorce. While divorce is a human right and it cannot be prevented, some simple procedural specifications can prevent this possibility. When a job is obtained through inter-caste marriage based reservation, half the salary should go to the job holder and half to the spouse’s account directly. This arrangement cannot be changed as long as the job is held independent of staying or not staying together. This would be an effective deterrent to exploit poor lower caste partners to get the benefits of reservation and then divorce them. In any case, frauds of any kind will not defeat the main purpose of the policy. So although there should be attempts to prevent them, in reality, greater the fraud, faster would the rise in the proportion of multiple caste identities and faster would be the progress towards a casteless society.

  1. How long will it take?

We developed a simple mathematical model that can predict the time course of the caste dynamics under the suggested policy taking current population figures from Socioeconomic and caste census, of Govt of India. The model shows that it would be invariably a slow process in any case, but the change will be directional and irreversible. The crucial determinant of the rate of change is the rate of inter-caste marriages. If we go only be the current rate of inter-caste marriages, it will be over 500 years just to get 5 % of the society in the casteless category. But if there are attractive incentives for seeking inter-caste partners, and the frequency of inter-caste marriages increases to twice what can happen by chance alone, within 150 years, over 80% of the society will have gone complete casteless. For the caste system that has been there for thousands of years, 150 years is not a big time.  

  1. Possible societal and political response:

As people witness the multi-caste identity families getting greater benefits, they are likely to increasingly support inter-caste marriages. The question is whether any political party would be interested in any process whose results are so much delayed. However, there is another potential political advantage. If a ruling political party brings in this bill, how would other parties react? In India it appears to be mandatory for the opposing parties to oppose any bill proposed by the ruling party independent of any logic. However in order to oppose, at least some logical and public appealing guise is certainly needed. It is also important to avoid being politically incorrect by the current standards. On these grounds it would be difficult to take an opposing stand. Any political party has to support gender equality at least by lip service. Since caste based reservations are never demolished, opposition cannot stand on these grounds. Owing to the secular ideological correctness, mainstream media are expected to uphold the bill making it further difficult for political parties to oppose it. The party promoting the bill would be labeled by the media as ‘progressive’, a label highly desired by all parties. Most important feature of the bill would be that its effects on caste politics will appear only over one or more generations. Vote banks will not be lost immediately, so caste based politics need not be given up immediately which parties won’t like to do. If a party can raise its progressive image without immediately losing its caste support, it can see a tangible benefit in it. Therefore this policy can be politically sound and viable from all angles.

I have no idea, whether anyone would read this, share and spread the word around. But social media have immense power, although they work somewhat stochastically. I would appeal all readers to spread the idea around. If it goes from readers to leaders, there would certainly be a political change and at least our future generations would be able to see a casteless India.

P. S. Within three weeks of my post, there is a court decision that mother’s caste matters in cases of intercaste marriage. See link,

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