The Broad Mind | Cities, Villages and Caste Discrimination

The Indian village has long captivated the imagination of city dwellers. To most, a village instantaneously evokes mental images of a place characterized by bucolic charm, sylvan fields and gravel path ways. An enchanting world far removed from the concrete jungles we occupy.

However beyond the façade of serene charm, as people in this forum have previously argued, our villages are not greatly different from our chaotic cities. They face the same endemic problems arising out of broken civic amenities, bureaucratic wrangling and unresponsive administration.

Yet, the one aspect that differentiates cities from villages is the sharpness of caste discrimination. The most violent incidents of caste discrimination are invariably reported from villages. Even though cities are an urban squalor, they provide opportunities to those traditionally lower in the social pecking order to break the shackles of the past, improve their economic conditions and achieve social parity.

The problem of caste discrimination is more complicated in villages because the sense of traditional inferiority is accentuated by economic disparity. The castes lower in the pecking order look to those higher up the order for livelihood. In such a situation, equal social standing cannot be demanded without it adversely impacting the source of their livelihood.

Additionally, the widespread presence of caste ghettos in villages heightens discrimination. As a rule of thumb, the standing in the social pecking order of a particular community is inversely proportional to the distance of its ghetto from the village temple and/or the main reservoir of water.

In the post independence era, land reforms in some states transferred ownership of the land to the tiller. However this was without access to capital, technical know-how and a network; and so she could not exploit these opportunities in a manner, say, someone privileged would have.

In contrast, cities are the focal point of economic activity in the surrounding geographic area encompassing many villages. The bigger the city, the greater is its relevance for the economy of the region. The economic activity in cities throws open many opportunities for villagers to become economically independent. The city provides these traditionally discriminated people with options to choose and select professions which are independent of their ancestral occupations. Consequently, they have greater chances of becoming economically independent in cities.

This economic independence has a countervailing effect on the forces of caste discrimination. It empowers people to break away from the yoke of traditional dependency, assert their individual identities and aspire for a better quality of life.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.