Comparative Study Of Racial Discrimination In America And Caste Discrimination

Author: Radhika Soni
NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai 


Racism and Casteism have shown a negative influence on an individual person’s self-esteem.  Although racism and casteism cannot be said as a same thing, but there is a quite similarity between racial disparity in America and caste discrimination in India. The failures and possibilities for success which took place in one social justice campaign can be taken as a lesson from the failures and successes of another. In India, Dalits have been facing discrimination from many centuries just because they belong to lower caste group and even, they are forbidden in Hindu temples, same as in, Mormon churches, where African Americans were not allowed to sit at the front of the churches and were given last seats in several other Christian denominations. There is also competition in terms of ranking of castes among various caste category people in India, whereas there is struggle for powers between races in America. “The caste system tends to classify society into a class hierarchy, while racial animosity tends to split it vertically.”

Racial system in America 

This racial system in America is currently the subject of intense particular statement and debate. There is rapid growth of strong democratic Christian ideas in Western civilization which are still on the behalf of the coloured people. Whites who are in power and are assumed to be racially literate should have the responsibility of bearing the burden of ensuring that these views don’t really apply to Black people; and as a result, they must address democracy in such a way, where there can be equal treatment for black people in the abuse of White people. African Americans have been abolished by the justice system on a disturbingly regular basis. As a result, black people are denied chances and privileges. Another example of widespread racial racism and Oppression is the fact that blacks prosecuted for minor offences like drug offenses and theft and are sentenced to jail for up to 15 years.

The concept “manifest destiny” was used in 1845 to represent the widespread notion that European settlement and growth across North America was unavoidable, if not deliberately destined. However, this worldview offered justification for collective punishment and systematic migration long before that. It continues to influence legislation in many ways to this day. Between 1945 and 1968, federal laws revoked the status of more than 100 native groups and transferred them within state ownership, resulting in the loss of thousands of acres of reserve land. Throughout this time, legislators urged Native Americans to migrate, this time from tribes to cities, causing financial difficulties and residential instability. Although Native Americans have long seemed to be the major target of public sector land reform, other people of colour, particularly Black people, have been displaced and continue to be expelled. In the early 1850s, New York City legislators invoked wide powers to demolish a prosperous largely Black town in Manhattan, removing thousands of individuals in order to build Central Park, the public area we know today and it was just 30 years ago that Atlanta lawmakers bulldozed the country’s oldest federally sponsored low income housing project, removing over 30,000 mostly black residents. These are only good instances of the numerous programmes that have relocated Black communities for the ostensibly greater good of the society. However, there is no proof that all these restoration attempts helped Black Americans in the longer run.

Caste system in India

Despite slavery and the caste system were terminated as regulations in 1865 and 1950, respectively, the impact of hierarchical labour systems and superiority attitudes has persisted in the America and India. It can be said that, the caste system’s formal denial has still not been removed from the culture of India. One or the other way, discrimination on the basis of caste can be seen in several places. The caste system is not exceptional of its strict hierarchy, as many other cultures have hierarchies of various types.

There are certain words which can explain the exact concept of caste system which are “untouchability, varna, and purity.” During the Vedic times, with the help of Cosmic man, four “Varnas” were originated which basically means “colours.” These were Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. The Brahmans were considered to be priestly class, Kshatriyas were known to be the warrior class, Vaishyas were called the business class whereas Shudras were indicated as menial class. These names were given just to represent their work and they were allowed to alter the names if they decide to switch their professions.

All these segments grew more rigorous as the time passes, and one’s birth became the main indicator of one’s identity. The Brahmans established their personal conformity practices and preserved their caste status. They acquired accessibility to religious materials and manuscripts, which they translated for the rest of the community. As a result, the caste system is sometimes said to as being ruled by Brahmanical philosophy. The caste system was decided only by labour division, without any “moral judgement on the supremacy of one caste over the other caste”; but in reality, all this “Varna group” developed a hierarchy where almost every class descended on the other and all of them try to dominate the Dalits who were treated as untouchables. Although, there was no support of Cosmic man towards untouchability and the word “untouchability” wasn’t even addressed in Vedic texts, and the Cosmic Man’s genesis myth does not justify it. Since then, untouchability became a horrific practice just because they were referred to as “outcastes” as they were not included in “four varnas” system.

Dalits were giving the responsibility of burying the deceased, handling with dead animals, cleaning the toilets, and keeping the neighbourhoods free from any illness. Ironically, the outcasts were termed as “untouchables” just because they used to contact with the pollution that impacted entire community. Because of the threat of pollution, social engagement with upper castes was restricted, particularly dining together, seated beside each other, attending to the temple or school, and residing in almost the same neighbourhoods. As per the Brahmanical system, any violation of the above-mentioned socialisation standards may pollute the upper castes. There were also restrictions in the inter-caste marriages in order to protect the purity of brahmans.

Discrimination and exclusion

According to recent data, 27 percent of African Americans are poor, which is significantly greater than other ethnicities. On the other hand, Dalits in India have had a particularly bad situation for generations. In rural communities, they are prohibited from approaching Hindu temples or from entering higher-caste neighbourhoods with their footwear on. They are subjected to gang violence and also there are many cases of Dalit women who are the victims of number of sexual assaults.

Although there are anti-segregation laws, but political and social discrimination still prevails in America. Some Supreme Court justices, for example, are concerned that reshaping of voting districts which could worsen racial inequity. There is one similarity between both Dalits and African Americans, i.e., in their separate civilizations, they both have their position established by heredity, endogamy, social prohibitions, and manipulation. Furthermore, while the Dalits and African Americans are also both distinct and unique groups who hold a comparable presence in various cultures, it is vital to stress that “class divisions are different.”

Despite the disparities in their separate hierarchies, the resemblance between Dalits and African Americans seems to be apparent and striking. Even after the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the Indian Constitution’s elimination of the caste hierarchy in 1950, and equal opportunity in both the United States and India, these groups, on ordinary, have less academic achievement, extremely low employment opportunities, and high poverty than the ‘prominent’ groups who are white and upper caste people. All these factors shows that there is similarity between both the groups in terms of political beliefs.

Although, India gained independence in 1947, due to which all citizens were given true equality irrespective of their caste, class or gender. But then too, Dalit’s social relations and acceptance remained unchanged even when they were allowed to vote like others. Similarly, proclamation was announced in America about “equality for everyone,” but then too, slavery and subjugation were still practice in many parts of the America. This indicates that, there is gap between all prevalent political philosophy in both India and America.  It is also important to note that both the groups who are suffering discrimination in their respective countries is “internally homogenous” as “class or race” are all the concerns that create interruption in their distinct identities. There is vertical differentiation in the America which means black people are mostly discriminated in terms of education, income or employment status whereas in India, there is horizontal dimensions which means Dalits are discriminated on the basis of their spoken language, living in rural areas and subcastes.

The rural character of India has altered dramatically over the last decade, with people abandoning conventional occupations in favour of low-wage, low-skilled jobs in cities, contributing to a huge shift in India’s demography and wealth distribution. Furthermore, nowadays, there is growth of the middle class in African Americans and Dalits, and they have had educational opportunities, solid employment, and income security, that marked both of these historically oppressed groups, a whole new level in internal diversity.

According to the vertical and horizontal distinctions within the groupings, it is vital to highlight that vertical differentiation enables for the creation of superiors and subordinates even after limiting organisation and developing of personality among some of the African Americans. On the other hand, in the situation of the Dalits, nevertheless, interactions and improvement in the organizational status are challenging due to the immense variety of divisions and sub-divisions among classes, caste, territories, and cultures. As a result, B. R. Ambedkar, several of the strongest Dalit leaders, who is known to be internationally famous for his devotion to the misery of the Dalits and his resistance to elitist political figures such as Gandhi and Nehru. However, as he belonged to lower caste-category identities, so there was linguistic barrier due to which, he has never been possible to attain every area of the country. He could communicate in both Marathi and English. Marathi would have been the only medium because English couldn’t even (and still cannot) reach every region of India, particularly the massive remote areas. Furthermore, while impoverishment and dehumanisation characterised all Dalit situations throughout the nation, employment on the basis of caste and the manner of oppression differed from area to area. Although, Ambedkar’s effort was outstanding and motivating, but as a result, his influence was restricted, if it is compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work in the United States, whatever he spoke, the same was resonated all throughout the country even though all the black people weren’t present in Alabama. Of course, there are many activist groups who try their best to work for the betterment of Dalits conditions and rights but, since, Indian constitutions have lots of major languages and local dialects, reaching every part of country and conveying messages is a big challenge for the activist groups.

Americans are grown into a “race,” and the statistics utilizes race as a distinguishing demographic group. For the time being, genetic race is unavoidable by nature, despite the fact that others argue that “race” is a societal construct. In the same way, Dalits are also born into a caste that is unchangeable and they are suffering the consequences in this life for the faults of a past existence. Hinduism believes in the spirit’s regeneration after deaths, which means the soul takes place on a new personality after the death occurred and the reason is just that, they belong to a particular caste because they did some wrongful act in their previous life.

The Indian Constitution have identified and recognised the prevalence of caste injustice done to the people in Indian society. Discrimination has always been the focus of a variety of policy reforms, including legal amendments and legal judgements by the Supreme Court of India and several state high courts. The practice of “untouchability,” as well as any impairment or discrimination resulting from it, was abolished by Article 17 of the Indian Constitution. It’s worth noting that “untouchability” as a practice isn’t clearly identified. During the writing of the parliamentary commission’s Internal Report on Constitutional Provisions, Rajan Thakur, supported a lot for the Dalits, and he was the chairman of the “All India Depressed Classes League,” which was created in 1935 to support Dalits in achieving equality.

The lowest hierarchies of the caste system i.e., “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” are clearly acknowledged in Article 46 of the Indian Constitution, with the purpose of enhancing special attention in the policy and employment interests of communities, defending them from unfairness and any type of coercion. Also, to protect racial discrimination, several efforts were taken by the “United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) pronouncements,” in order to race first receive expression and meaning in International Human Rights Law. “The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights” (ICERD) was one of the first human rights agreements to create a monitoring agency. The manifesto, as well as its accompanying practices and processes, continues to be an important international direct action against racism.

It is difficult to notice that, caste is also the form of racial discrimination that derives from the fact that perhaps the caste system is linked with Hindu religious practice but the assumption of religious importance has confined the huge recognition of the centrality of human privileges. Only European or Western anthropologists can be considered experts on race or caste, which is a major insult to several Dalit thinkers who explored the issue for activism and inquiry in the achievement of liberty and respect. The caste system injustice is considered to be identical to racial discrimination. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States seems to have had a significant impact around the world, and Dalit Rights campaigning is no exception. It can be said that, both the Dalits and Blacks have some kind of history of subjection, enslavement, and social exclusion which has evolved in certain aspects but they show no sign of stopping even today, due to which, they both must rely on universally accepted redress mechanisms.

There seems to be no justification why states cannot contribute in a universal movement on minority rights by thinking about the perspectives of their political, historical, and social heritages if they can collaborate on commerce and industrialization. People must learn to embrace the truth that simply declaring a representative government does not automatically imply that it is equal under the law. Representative democracy has various powers that shows the significant national wealth, such as the country like United States and India, but they also have dark side that includes serious human rights breaches.

African Americans responded by emphasising racial ideas, while Dalit movements emphasised communal visions with more open borders. Because of these differences, African Americans were capable of securing more widely, while Dalits benefited from more favourable intercultural coalitions, party formation, and policy tolerance, especially in traditionally disadvantaged places. As a result, in India, group participation and government benefits expanded faster and more than that in the United States, particularly in areas of culturally interesting group disparity.


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