Author: Gaurav Singh
III Year | DES Shri Navalmal Firodia Law College, Pune
Caste system is an age-old strategy used to stratify people in India. Even though stratification has always been happening throughout history to smoothen work, however, the problem with the caste system is that it puts people into airtight compartments from which they cannot leave. This means that they can’t get rid of their caste. The caste of a person is decided by birth and it cannot change. A person born in a lower caste cannot climb up the hierarchy and become upper caste and vice versa. This system snatches opportunities from people and creates an ecosystem of exploitation.
Even in modern India, it is a reality. The only difference is that it is barbaric in some parts of India, and in others, it is subtle. This article will try to see caste and child rights in a single frame and determine how it looks.
Relation between Caste and Child Rights:
Human society has evolved to believe in law as something which is just and provides justice. However, it doesn’t seem just when a person’s fate is dependent on their birth. In independent India, there have been attempts to demolish caste hegemony, but it still exists on the ground. Children are the most vulnerable part of this whole scenario.
The sociological term “social conditioning” has a key role in this problem. It means society conditions people in order to make them behave in a particular way. The conditioning of an upper caste is to inherit their privilege, and the conditioning of a lower caste person is to accept their fate. This process of conditioning makes it difficult for the change to happen.
Let’s take an example of a child who has been born in a lower caste and economically poor background. It is not bizzare to assume that there might have been conditioning of the people around him to treat him without respect and dignity because he is a lower caste person. He might face discrimination due to his caste. Now, even if he manages to escape from the vicious cycle of poverty, there are fewer chances that he will have high self-esteem as he has got the conditioning by society to be of a particular caste.
Even if the government makes laws regarding it, it will not reflect on the ground. This is because it is the people who have to let go of the caste system. The solution to curbing the problem is creating a next generation that would bring change. In order to do this, securing the rights of the children is necessary.
Intervention of Law to Combat Caste-Based Discrimination:
Upliftment should be both social and economical in order to have upliftment in its true sense. Social upliftment is the starting point as no one can survive in a discriminatory world if the law doesn’t prohibit that act of discrimination.
Article 17 of the Indian Constitution abolishes the practice of untouchability, but still, it is prevalent in the country. Children are the most vulnerable victims of this practice. For example, data shows that nearly 40% of SC-ST and 36% of OBC children have stunted height in India; they are 35-50% more likely to be stunted than upper-caste Hindus. One of the primary reasons reported for this cause is malnutrition, which is aggravated due to the practice of untouchability.
Article 15 of the Indian Constitution talks about the “Prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (for citizens of India)”. Even after the complete prohibition on discrimination based on caste, “more than 33% students belonging to SC, ST and OBC categories drop out of state government schools in class 10”.
It is pretty evident that social upliftment just by means of law is not an easy task. One thing which the state can effectively do is economic upliftment. As there is a saying that you can’t make someone a philosopher if his stomach is empty, likewise upliftment of any section of society is not possible without an effective economic upliftment.
Efforts Taken by The State:
The two main things the state has done to curb this ill are the application of the reservation policy for backward classes and making the “Right to education” a fundamental right.
Apart from all the criticism, the reservation policy has done a great job securing lower castes’ representation in different fields.
Article 21A of the Indian constitution talks about the “Right to elementary education – for children of ages 6-14 years”. It is one of the most underrated yet most crucial fundamental right as education will empower children both socially and economically.
It is quite evident that caste is an existing phenomenon even though there are laws against it. The eradication of caste can only happen when society agrees upon it. At the same time, making the implementation of the laws more effective is necessary to create deterrence. Apart from all the legal solutions, the actual solution to curb this ill is to impart quality and liberal education to children. The availability of education is the main key.
Making the next generation aware of the issue, having a discourse on why caste is something which you should not be proud of and providing the skill set to the unprivileged so that they can escape from this vicious cycle of poverty are the most crucial things to do. Protecting children from caste-based discrimination by means of law and then converting them into thinking beings is the solution to the problems regarding the caste system.
 Atul Krishna, Over 33% of SC, ST, OBC students drop out in class 10: UDISE+ Report, News By Careers 360, (July 2, 2021), https://news.careers360.com/udise-plus-education-minister-ramesh-pokhriyal-nishank-school-dropout-sc-st-obc-class-10.
 Ashwini Deshpande and Rajesh Ramachandran, How Caste Discrimination Impacts Child Development and Stunting in India, The Wire (Aug. 4, 2021), https://thewire.in/caste/caste-discrimination-child-development-stunting-malnutrition-india.
Editor: Anugra Anna Shaju