"More Than Just a Shadow"
The caste system is one of the oldest forms of social stratification in India, much like the other class systems that existed in other early civilisations. Among the Hindus, the caste system was divided into four separate classes. There was, however, a fifth group known as the Dalits who performed menial work, undesirable for anyone else to do. They were a group, at the time, believed to be so low as to not deserve a place in the caste system.
After India was colonised by the British in 1858, the caste system became more prominent. The Dalits were treated with extreme harshness and with unjust restrictions imposed upon them often referred to as untouchables, whereas the upper classes were employed into the government and given better work and education opportunities.
Pre-independence, the system was so severe that a Dalit was not allowed to be close enough to a person of a higher caste, preventing even their shadows to intersect. During India’s push for independence, activists, such as Mahatma Gandhi, took up the Dalits’ cause. Many Indians from the Dalit community also rose to have their voices heard. One such person was Dr. B R Ambedkar, who eventually went on to write the constitution of India which included giving new meaning to the caste system and providing certain privileges to the Dalits to bridge the gap between the two.
Today the way we look at the caste system in India has changed. The Dalits have become a powerful force in India and enjoy greater access to education and government assistance known as reservation in India. The system of reservation means to reserve access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and enrolment in higher educational institutions for the the Dalit community. The reservation is undertaken to address the historic discrimination and inequality faced by those communities and give them support and encouragement.