A Humanistic Perspective on the caste system in India and the UK

Sunday 22nd April

Amarjit Singh has been campaigning in the UK and elsewhere on behalf of the India’s Dalit (“untouchable”) and Adivasi Tribal communities for decades. Himself a Dalit, he talked about the Hindu caste system and how it still exerts a baneful influence in India today, and even in other countries, including the UK.

Keith Hayward summarised Amarjit’s talk as

“Amarjit Singh is an independent researcher, activist and a member of the British Association for the Study of South Asia (BASAS), an academic body of scholars interested in the study of South Asia. He was born a Dalit, the lowest caste also known as the “untouchables”. He began his talk by explaining that there various ways of defining caste: generally there are four main categories, and in this system the Dalit are the lowest of the low, being below the fourth layer. He traced the history of the caste system, which has existed for at least 2500 years. It has adapted to successive migrations into the Indian sub-continent, by peoples of various nationalities and religions. Although initially a Hindu practice, other religions, such as Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists have continued with, or adapted, the caste system.

The British colonial regime largely left the caste system undisturbed, and used it for its own advantage as an aid to government, “divide and rule”. After independence, the new government created India as a secular state, but the caste system was retained, and formalised by government legislation. In more recent times there have been government initiatives to protect the conditions of the Dalit population. Even so caste remains deeply entrenched in society, and the system is strongly supported by much of the population and by religious groups and politicians. There are attempts at social reform by enlightened organisations, such as humanists, and individuals including journalists and politicians, and the Dalit and other low castes are themselves campaigning for change. But the response to the pressure for change is often violence and murder, which often go unpunished. In the UK, the British government is “dragging its heels” on outlawing Indian caste discrimination under equalities legislation, apparently because investment, business and trade are seen to be at stake.”

If you would like to hear more about Amarjit’s views you can click on the YouTube link and see his conversation with a humanist interviewer, Vidya Bhushan Rawat which took place in 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fg2eZ4jUyw