This article explores the history and evolution of laws against caste-based
discrimination in India. It begins by highlighting the persistence of social
disparities and discrimination despite the country's rich cultural diversity.
The caste system, which divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups, is
discussed as the foundation of social order and inequality.
social reform movements led by Prarthana Samaj and Jyotirao Phule are examined,
emphasizing their efforts to challenge the caste system and advocate for social
equality. The pivotal role of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in the fight against
caste-based discrimination and his contributions to the drafting of the Indian
Constitution are also highlighted.
The current legal framework against caste
discrimination, including provisions in the Constitution, the Protection of
Civil Rights Act, the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities)
Act, and the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their
Rehabilitation Act, is discussed. The article concludes by emphasizing the need
for societal attitudes and effective implementation of these laws to combat
caste-based discrimination and ensure the upliftment of marginalized
India is a developing nation moving towards creating a better society for all
its people. It's a country rich in culture and diversity in its population.
Although this unique feature makes it one of the most resourceful nations full
of potential, it also results in several social disparities. Modern India aims
to resolve the history of the country's inequalities and atrocities through
numerous social reforms and the enactment of laws.
But even after 75 years of
independence, we are still battling the evils of social, economic, and political
discrimination. For centuries, caste has determined the aspects of the religious
and social lives of Hindus. India deludes itself that discrimination based on
caste is a thing of the past, yet many incidents in recent years have proven
On February 12, 2023, Darshan Solanki, an 18-year-old Dalit chemical engineering
student died by suicide on Powai Campus at IIT-Bombay. Solanki's family alleges
caste-based discrimination to be the reason behind his extreme step. According
to government data, 122 students from centrally funded higher educational
institutions (IITs, NITs, IIMs, etc.), died by suicide from 2014 to 2021. Of
these, 58% of students were from reserved categories and minority communities
After India got independence in 1947, it was claimed that the stems of casteism
have been eradicated with the abolition of untouchability and the zamindari
system. But it still stands in the way of the prospects of nation-building,
citizens' welfare, political empowerment, liberation, and economic advancement.
Despite several laws and provisions against caste discrimination, crimes against
the people of lower castes are rampant. Often these laws and provisions are
ignored due to prejudice and fallacious doctrines which try to justify casteism.
The Caste System in India
The caste system in India segregates Hindus into rigid hierarchal groups based
on the kind of work they professed. It divides Hindus into Brahmins, Kshatriyas,
Vaishyas, and Shudras. The Brahmins, who were the teachers and intellectuals,
were at the top of the pyramid. Then came the Kshatriyas who were then warriors.
Thirdly were the Vaishyas or the traders and merchants and at the bottom were
the Shudras. The caste system is acknowledged and justified as the foundation
for the order and regularity of society in the ancient, ancient text Manusmriti,
a source of Hindu law.
This system gave the upper castes many privileges while sanctioning the lower
In the nineteenth century, voices of social reforms emerged in India. In 1851
Jyotirao Phule questioned the discrimination in the social system which affected
the lives of lower caste groups and opposed the dominance of Brahmins. In 1851,
he opened up schools for girls belonging to the lower castes. In 1873, he
founded the Satyashodhak Samaj, open to all castes and religions without
discrimination. Ramakrishna Bhandarkar and Mahadev Govind Ranade both denounced
the caste system and the practice of untouchability. They joined the Prarthana
Samaj founded by Atmaram Panduranga in 1867.
The British put the oppressed caste under the "Scheduled Caste" list, which is
still used today. In the 20th century, Dr. B R Ambedkar played a pivotal role in
the fight against the caste system and for Dalit liberation. He was the face of
the Dalit movement and made prominent efforts in abolishing untouchability.
Being the chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, he
played a huge role in making provisions that ensure social equality.
After British India's independence and the constitution's formation, many
anti-discrimination laws came into force. Untouchability was abolished through
constitutional provisions and the enactment of laws. The Constitution confers
fundamental rights which protect against discrimination by the State. The four
primary laws of India's legal system protect citizens from caste-based
discrimination are - the Constitution of India, the Protection of Civil Rights
Act, 1955 (PCRA), the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, 1989 (PoA Act) and its Rules, 1995, and the Prohibition of
Employment as a Manual Scavenger and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
Evolution Of Laws Against Caste-Based Discrimination19th Century Social Reforms
Prarthana Samaj 1867
On March 31, 1867, Atmaram Panduranga founded the Prarthana Samaj. It was a
leading society for socio-religious reform which became popular after Mahadev
Govind Ranade joined the organization. In the 19th century, exposure to the
democratic and individualist liberal Western ideologies gave rise to several
socio-religious reforms and movements.
Although all the members of Prathana Samaj were Hindus and devoted theists, they
did not accept Vedas as divine or infallible. It developed under the umbrella of
Brahmo Samaj but it was not as radical. It promoted monotheism and social
reforms to stop religious evil practices and customs. It denounced idol worship
and accepted the teachings of various religions such as Christianity and
Prathana Samaj played a significant role in the fight against the
caste system and untouchability. It was staunchly the division of society. It
encouraged inter-caste marriages, widow remarriages and advocated for the rights
of women and the interests of Dalits. Although Prarthana Samaj did not attack
the Brahmanical power, it functioned as a secret society to spread liberal ideas
and break caste and communal barriers.
After the demise of Ranade, Gokhale
separated from the Samaj and established the Servants of India Society in 1905.
Despite this, Prarthana Samaj did commendable work and greatly impacted
Born in the Satara district of Maharashtra, Jyotirao Govindrao Phule was a
prominent social reformer, activist, and thinker. He was a radical thinker and
challenged the racial theory of caste and gender discrimination. From coining
the term "Dalit" to opening the first school for women, he played a crucial role
in the upliftment of the weaker sections of society. Phule believed that the
subjugation of Dalits was due to the lack of access to education.
They were kept
from speaking, reading, and writing Sanskrit by the Brahmins who controlled
Indian society. Hence, he set up a school for Dalit men and women in 1848. This
laid the foundation stone for the fight against caste-based and gender-based
exploitation. In 1851, he opened another school for girls and asked Savitribai
Phule, his wife, to teach the students. He gave huge importance to education as
the key to solving the problems of Dalits and their survival and success.
Satya Shodhak Samaj 1873
On 24th September 1873, Jyotirao Phule found the Satya Shodhak Samaj in Pune,
Maharashtra. He believed Brahminical dominance to be the root cause of the
suppression of Dalits and the unfair caste system. He disapproved of Vedic
culture, Upanishad philosophy, and the domination of Aryan society..
Through the Satya Shodhak Samaj, Phule intended to put an end to the exploitation of Shudras
and Dalits by the Brahmins. The samaj influenced people to believe that they
should obey and follow only one God as they were all the children of one
omnipotent. Deenabandhu Publication was the mouthpiece of the Samaj and played a
significant role in the movement.
After the death of Jyotirao Phule in 1890, Shahu Maharaj, a Maratha ruler of
Kolhapur, carried the movement forward. Eventually, Satya Shodhak Samaj
dissolved in the 1930s and the leaders started joining the Indian National
20th Century British India
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar
The first person to explain caste inequity in Indian society was Dr. Ambedkar.
Nothing, in his opinion, can be constructed based on caste. But he also pushed
for the "annihilation of caste" since he thought that anything based on caste
would engender inequality. With its caste system, which is the primary cause of
inequality, India cannot advance.
Dr. Ambedkar significantly contributed to the
improvement of the oppressed. He was viewed as the messiah for the oppressed
class because he is a member of the untouchable community. He addresses the
problem of untouchability since he was subjected to caste prejudice since he was
a young child. Many leaders speak up for India's underprivileged, but Ambedkar's
acts were by far the most significant and eminent.
Manusmriti was known for advocating casteist and patriarchal rules that
belittled women and Dalits, took away all of their fundamental liberties, and
left them at the mercy of affluent people. Dr. BR Ambedkar burned the "Manusmriti"
on December 21, 1927, during the well-known "Mahad Satyagraha," which took place
more than 90 years ago. This, known as the "Manusmriti Dahan Divas," was carried
out in opposition to religious principles that support untouchability against
the lower classes. He gathered masses to protest against the controversial text
It was infamous for its casteist preachings that promoted
injustice against the Dalits. Over time, the historical significance of burning
the Manusmriti has grown in importance. While some criticize him for making this
choice, many others affirm his relevance even today.
Throughout his life, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was viewed as having a contentious
personality. He was a great nationalist, but his fellow citizens didn't
understand him very well. However, his value could not be denied for long;
throughout his life, the Indian people have praised him as a great patriot. In
the course of the memo that he and Roa Bahadur K. Srinivasan of the minority
committee of the round table conference submitted, he had taken several
He had outlined the terms and conditions on which the depressed
classes will consent to place themselves under majority rule in a self-governing
India as follows:
- Equal citizenship and fundamental rights outlawing untouchability as a social construct.
- Unrestricted exercise of equal rights, safeguarded by sufficient constitutional remedies.
- Defence from discrimination.
- Enough legislative representation for the underprivileged classes. They must be able to use universal adult suffrage to choose their representative.
- Sufficiently represented in the services.
- The legislative branch and the executive branch should be held accountable for failing to adequately fund the depressed classes' access to education, clean water, employment opportunities, and other opportunities for social and political growth.
Ambedkar was asked to do an outstanding duty as the head of the constituent
assembly's drafting committee and a minister of law in the Nehru Cabinet. He was
given the task of defending the rights of every Indian, especially those from
underprivileged areas. a cursory review of the clauses included in parts III,
IV, and XVI of the Indian Constitution.
He established the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha upon his return to India in 1923
with the primary goal of promoting education and enhancing the economic standing
of the downtrodden classes. The social movement led by Dr. Ambedkar had as its
motto "Educate-Agitate-Organized," and its objectives were the eradication of
caste and the reconstruction of Indian society based on human equality.
He organized the march in Mahad, Maharashtra in 1927 to support the
untouchables' right to access the public Chawdar Lake for drinking water. As a
result, the anti-caste and anti-priest campaigns began. The temple entry
movement, which B.R. Ambedkar started in 1930 in the Kalaram temple, is another
significant moment in the struggle for political, social, and human rights.
Regarding the fundamental rights and guiding principles of state policy
inscribed in the Indian constitution, Dr. Ambedkar made one of his biggest
achievements. The fundamental rights provide liberty, equality, and the
elimination of untouchability, as well as remedies to guarantee the advancement
of rights. Fair wealth distribution and improved living conditions for all were
highlighted in the guiding principles.
He was the one who abandoned his lofty position, stooped to their level,
extended a helping hand, and elevated them to human stature. Ambedkar is no
longer known to Indians as Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a historical figure. He has
already undergone a metamorphosis into a symbol, one that represents their
shared ambition and serves as an emblem of the idea of their independence. Such
emblems abound in human history; in fact, they make up a considerable portion of
Current Legislations In The Indian Legal SystemConstitution Of India
Equality Before the Law:
According to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, no
one should be denied treatment as an equal before the law or the equal
protection of the laws on Indian territory.All individuals, whether citizens or
non-citizens, statutory corporations, businesses, registered societies, or any
other sort of legal person, are granted the right.
Discrimination Is Prohibited:
According to Article 15 of the Indian
Constitution, no citizen may be subjected to discrimination by the State solely
based on their religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth.
Equality of Opportunity: Article 16 of the Indian Constitution provides that all
citizens shall have the same opportunities while applying for jobs with the
state. No citizen should be disqualified from holding any position under the
State solely based on religion, race, caste, sex, descent, or place of birth.
Untouchability is eliminated: According to Article 17 of the Constitution,
untouchability is eliminated.
Promotion of Educational and Socioeconomic Interests: Article 46 of the
Constitution mandates that the State shall promote with particular care the
educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in
particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect
them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Claims of Scheduled Castes: According to Article 335, when filling positions in
connection with the affairs of the Union or a State, consideration for the
claims of those who belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes must be
given while maintaining administrative efficiency.
Article 330 And 332:
Reservation in Legislature: The Constitution's Articles 330 and 332,
respectively, set aside seats in the House of the People and the State
legislative assemblies for members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled
Reservation in Local Bodies: The Constitution's Part IX, which deals with
Panchayats, and Part IXA, which deals with Municipalities, both provide for and
envisage reservations for SC and ST in local bodies.
Protection Of Civil Rights Act 1955
The Protection of the Civil Rights Act of 1955 is a federal law. This
legislation states that no law may be implemented by Indian governments if it
infringes the rights of any person. ICRA stands for a right that a person has as
a result of "untouchability" being abolished by Article 17 of the Indian
Constitution. It is comparable to the US Constitution in that it protects
individual freedom against activities by the federal government. Let's examine
the 1955 Protection of Civil Rights Act.
It was imperative to make modifications due to the rise in anti-untouchability
discrimination. Even while caste discrimination is still present in some
regions, these regulations have helped eliminate it. The disparity between the
higher and lower castes was significantly lowered because of these rules.
It gives lower-level or lower-caste individuals the freedom to exercise their
rights and lead regular lives alongside everyone else. They experience isolation
and feeling violated by the practice of untouchability. They are treated cruelly
by those of higher status or caste, which has a bad effect on society. With the
passing of this Act, cast-based discrimination in India is no longer an issue.
Scheduled Castes And Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act In 1989
To stop atrocities against SC/STs, the Indian government passed the Scheduled
Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989. The Act was intended
to stop atrocities and aid in the social integration of Dalits into society,
however, it has fallen short of expectations.
The Act became operative on January 30, 1990. The purpose of this legislation is
to stop crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes from being
committed by people who are not members of such groups. Atrocities perpetrated
against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are punishable under the Act.
1995 notification of Comprehensive Rules under the Act includes standards for
relief and rehabilitation. The relevant State Governments and Union Territory
Administrations are responsible for carrying out the Act's provisions, and they
get the necessary government support through the Centrally Sponsored Scheme.
Prohibition Of Employment As Manual Scavengers And Their Rehabilitation Act 2013
Manual scavenging is thought to be the worst indication of being an untouchable
that is still there. According to the International Labour Organisation, it
mostly involves cleaning and maintaining septic tanks, sewers, and gutters as
well as disposing of human waste from open-air dry latrines. While this practice
is common in other regions of the world, it is most widespread in India. The
majority of those that work on this statue typically belong to lower castes like
About 20 years after The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry
Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, The Prohibition of Employment as Manual
Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act became operative in 2013. The current
legislation places a strong emphasis on restoring the rights and human dignity
of manual scavengers, in contrast to the previous act, which was written from
the perspective of cleanliness.
There are 39 sections and 8 chapters in this statute. The regulation stipulates
a time limit for manual scavengers to find alternative occupations and receive
rehabilitation. Additionally, it forbids the construction of unhygienic latrines
and the physical cleaning of septic tanks and sewers without safety equipment
(Sections 7 and 9). Maintaining and installing unhygienic latrines has now been
elevated to the status of crime and delinquency. So, by this Act, employment for
manual scavenging is prohibited.
India has made significant progress in identifying caste-based discrimination as
a social evil and passing legislation to combat it. But there is still a long
way to go until rules are effectively put into practice. Such social issues
cannot be resolved by laws alone. Here, the citizens' attitudes and willingness
to follow the law are very important.
It is also important to note that the
majority of SCs and STs are still socially and economically marginalized, which
makes them more susceptible to atrocities given that they lack access to legal
remedies. Though this battle began in the 19th century, crimes against the
scheduled castes continue to occur. Hence, the worries raised by Dalit
organizations about the supposed weakness of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled
Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act are not wholly unfounded or irrational.