India is a country of contrasts. Brilliantly colored kurtas and saris set against the dark grays and browns of asphalt and dirt. Luxury cars streaking past sun-baked men pulling carts full of steel bars or fresh vegetables. Fashionable mansions next to makeshift shelters erected on fence posts. Artists and photographers search for contrasts to create powerful images. It is no wonder India is so often the subject of travel photographs and documentary films.
But the contrasts here are not only visual. Behind all of these differences, the caste system here, something I am only beginning to understand, creates artificial boundaries in Indian society that serve to limit opportunities for some, and open doors for others. When observing the extreme poverty problem in Delhi, it is impossible to ignore the role of caste.
The caste system for me has been somewhat of an enigma. My interaction with it has been limited to reading the newspaper and seeing the advertisements for “Marriages Wanted” where families note from which caste a suitable mate would come, and observing the debate raging over “reservations” for the scheduled and backward castes.
Since independence in 1947, India has put in place policies like reservations in universities to aid in the advancement of these lower castes. However, there is much animosity among higher classes that they are missing out on admission to top colleges because of these policies. This debate reminds me of our own Affirmative Action debate in the U.S. and claims of favoritism and discrimination. But like in the U.S., India must address the problems created by discrimination and limited opportunity. This is a difficult nut to crack, as we have seen in our own country.
While India moves headlong into greater modernization and economic development, these issues will continue to spark debate as people here grapple with these important questions of human rights and social equality. These issues are monumental in size and as the population of India continues to grow exponentially, they will only become more important problems to solve.
Posted By Donna Laveriere (India)
Posted Jun 23rd, 2006