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Dominant and subordinate groups in India and South Africa

The caste system in India stratifies Flindus, constituting 80% of India’s population, into mutually exclusive groups, membership of which is determined entirely by birth, and the caste into which a person is born plays an important role in India in determining his/her life prospects. Very broadly, one can think of the “Forward Castes” (hereafter, FCs) as comprising the three subgroups: brahmins, Ksbatriyas, and vaisyas? Below these are the non- Forward Castes (hereafter, non-FCs). These comprise, first, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) who, while included in the Hindu caste system as its fourth caste, traditionally perform menial jobs. Then there are those persons (mostly Hindu, but some who have converted to Buddhism or Christianity) with whom Hindus regard any physical contact as polluting or unclean - this is the practice of “untouchability”. Such persons are regarded as, and regard themselves as, Hindus but are seen as outside the caste system. They are referred to in this chapter by their preferred name, Dalits (meaning “broken” or “oppressed”).

Also included in the list of non-FCs are the Scheduled Tribes (STs). There are about 85 million Indians classified as belonging to the STs. Of these, Adivasis (meaning “original inhabitants”) refer to the 70 million who live in Central India, in a relatively contiguous hill and forest belt extending across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattis- garh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, and West Bengal (Guha, 2007).

The last group of persons included in the non-FC category are Muslims. In terms of religion, it is Muslims who bear the brunt of deprivation and exclusion in India. The Sachar Committee (2006) in its report to the government of India highlighted the backwardness of Indian Muslims. This report drew attention to a number of areas of disadvantage, including the existence of Muslim ghettos stemming from their concern with physical security, low levels of education engendered by the poor quality of education provided by schools in Muslim areas, pessimism that education would lead to employment, difficulty in getting credit from banks, and the poor quality of public services in Muslim areas.

South Africa adopted a system of apartheid in 1948 which continued until it was replaced in 1994 by a government elected on the basis of universal franchise. Apartheid was founded on the notion of White supremacy and ensured that the country was dominated in all respects - culturally, politically, socially, and economically - by its minority White population. During the apartheid years, a series of laws institutionalised racial discrimination by classifying the people of South Africa along racial lines - White, Coloured, Asian or Indian, and Black (African) - under the Population Registration Act of 1950 and then regulating their range of permissible activities.3 The legislation specified where and how the different “races” could live, travel, work, be educated, get married, and mingle. This included a complete separation of races, prohibiting all intermarriage between Africans, “Coloureds”, and Asians. Indians were to be repatriated back to India, and the national home of Africans would be in the reserve lands. Africans in urban areas were to be migratory citizens, and Black trade unions would be banned (Boddy-Evans, 2019).

As a result of apartheid, there were glaring inequalities in economic and social outcomes and opportunities between South Africa’s White and non-White population. During the apartheid era, Black people were not allowed to run businesses or professional practices in areas reserved for White South Africans. Certain jobs were designated “White only”, Black education was specifically designed to prepare Blacks for the labouring class, and Whites, who were only 10% of the population, owned 80% of the land (Archibong and Adejumo, 2013).

The origins of stigmatisation often lie in a history of dishonour. So, the stigmatisation of Blacks in South Africa and the US has its origins in slavery - slavery in South Africa lasted from 1658 to 1834 (Worden, 2000) - which represented the violent domination of “natally inferior” persons (Loury, 2002; Patterson, 1982). Similarly, in the traditional scheme of the caste system, the untouchables in India, who are at the bottom of caste hierarchy, were denied rights - civil, social, cultural, religious, and economic - in a manner that was clearly specified in the customary laws of the caste system. The Manusmrti (or the Laws of Manu) is the centrepiece of Hinduism’s varnasram-dharma and determines the rights and obligations of all those born as Hindus (Doniger and Smith, 1991). Like Blacks who, under apartheid in South Africa or under Jim Crow laws in the southern states of the US, were punished for “getting above themselves”, Manusmrti declared that “the king shall deprive of his property and banish a man of low caste who through covetousness lives by the occupations of a higher one”.4

So caste and race have this in common: they are both socially constructed hierarchies such that persons who are deemed to be natally inferior - whether by virtue of caste or skin colour - suffer from a history of stigmatisation and discrimination vis-a-vis their natal superiors. Under the umbrella of this primary similarity, there are, of course, secondary differences. One of these is that differences in caste are not as readily visible as racial differences, and the other is that the notion of caste is linked to the idea of pollution in Hinduism which, in turn, leads to the practice of “untouchability”.5

 
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