Why do caste-religion identities still persist in India?
Caste-Religion identities put group over an individual. People who argue for individual's freedom often wonder why the caste-religion identities run deep in India, even after 70 years of independence. There are no easy answers but here are some explanations.
1. The relationship between caste and democracy: Pratap Bhanu Mehta points to the paradox of social justice that deepens the identities. It's like this.
Caste is the unit of social discrimination. So, the demand for equality and justice has been on the basis of “caste”, which deepens group consciousness. Thus, paradoxically, the struggle against identity entrenches these identities.
2. Politics of recognition: In multicultural societies, when certain minority groups face discrimination, they seek recognition, often in terms of politics and other avenues. Taylor calls this the "politics of recognition". The struggle for caste representation in politics is rooted in this. This entrenches group identities.
3. Nature of Hinduism: Sociologist Dipankar Gupta says that humans want to belong somewhere but Hinduism provides some sort of rootlessness. There is nothing that two Hindus can do that one cannot. This is unlike Islam and Christianity, where you have to come together. For instance, one needs congregation for actual prayers. Even in Sikhs, it’s a Sangat only when you are together.
In Hinduism, the case is different. You can build own temple, have own guru, do your own prayer and so on, without the necessity of a group. That is why Hindus need to belong somewhere. This longing to belong somewhere is filled up political leaders rallying people along this unit.
4. Caste networks as a source of emergency safety net:. In India, in the absence of proper social nets, caste groups became the source of social insurance in times of emergencies. Prof. Kaivan Munshi documented this phenomenon. He also says that presence of caste security nets in villages is one of the main reasons for relatively low rural-urban migration in India.
So, better not be in bad terms with the caste group. The dependence on the caste group again entrenches the group identity.
5. Politicians' actions: Politicians have deliberately deepened the fissures along these lines, for electoral purposes, creating more consciousness and rigidity of the group.
The idea of citizenship is new and artificial. Its purpose is to combat these group identities. It will take longer than 70 years for citizens to shed their primordial loyalties and owe their primary allegiance to what Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism”.
One immediate thing that can be done is to make politicians stop deepening fissures along identity lines. They can be rallied around important issues, not around identities.