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About casts and inequalities in India - The big picture

The system of the castes in India dates back thousands of years. Hyper complicated but also quite simple in substance.

There are 4 varnas or “families” of castes (the most famous being the upper caste of the “Brahmins”) and then the out-caste known as “untouchables” and today called "scheduled class”. The varnas, representing the 4 parts of the God Brahma’s body (see diagram), are divided into thousands of castes, called jatis, which each have a specific role (more or less a profession). 


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 Every Hindu is born into a caste, shares its culinary habits, gets married within, and died within, hoping to get reborn in a higher caste. And people don't mix. Everyone at their place and the sheep will be well kept as we say in French...


The Indian Constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste.

That said it does not belong to the Government to abolish such a system because it is related to religion. As a matter of fact, the last census (2011) included a (optional) question about the caste.

Casteism is a pillar of Hinduism: "the fulfilment of one personal duty to the caste - and not a universal duty - and the system of reincarnation in a higher or lower caste as a reward for your good or bad actions are the two fundamental pillars of this religion until the final liberation and paradise."*). To the point that Dr. Ambedkar encouraged untouchables to convert to Buddhism in the 1950s.


To fight this discrimination, the Government has implemented quotas for access to education, civil servant positions, political seats. There even has been an untouchable president (K. R. Narayanan).

The problem is that today it is all mixed up and ultimately these quotas are based on the social status (caste) of people but not on the merit or the income. And as low and out-castes form a majority *, politicians are struggling to change this system...



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Besides, in the countryside, where 70% of the population still live, the caste system is still very much alive and rigid.

As Sampat Pal says*, " India has been a free and independent country for sixty years: yet the poorest people still don’t know what it is to live in an independent country. Laws are modern, but because of an administration rife with corruption, they are not applied. In sixty years, they have brought neither social justice nor improvement in the standard of living for the poor. Their daily life has not changed one bit." As I hardly go to the country side I can’t really comment on this but every day we can read stories of girls severely injured by their own gang and/or family for having wanted to marry a man of a different caste...


* In the shoes of an untouchable, Marc Boulet

* According to the latest census (source: the “untouchables” and tribes account for 30% of the Hindu population / 24% of the Indian population. And if we add the "feet" (the “kshudras” or lower castes) it gives us 54% of the population.

* I, Sampat Pal, head of the pink sari gang, Sampat Pal


To be continued in the next post…


About casts and inequalities in India - The pink sari gang

It is funny: I had just finished a book about poverty and inequalities in India, when my (foreign) colleagues started asking me tons of questions about untouchability and the moment I got back in India, I got stuck in many parades of untouchables...

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A parade with cars blasting music and displaying pictures of Ambedkar and Buddha (explanation in the next post)

First, I’d like to talk about the book. It is written in French and called I, Sampat Pal, head of the pink sari gang by Sampat Pal and Anne Berthold (2008).india,castes,casts,caste,system,untouchability,intouchables,pariahs,pink sari gang,sampat pal,ambedkar,inequalities,poverty,discrimination

This is the incredible story of a small shepherdess who skipped field work without authorisation to attend school at a time when girls had no access to education. And then the little shepherdess with a very strong personality grew up and began to learn to sew. She became self-sufficient, independent and even starting sewing to other people. She discovered that one can change things – which is far from being obvious in India, since the caste system is inseparable of an unquestioned sense of the order of things.


She rebelled against the injustices inflicted to lower castes by higher castes or to women by men, against corruption and stealing of subsidised food, lands, jobs which the Government reserves for the poorest.


Most notably she realized that fighting together is the only way to be heard and she gathered thousands of women: the gang of the pink sari (their website: here).


An uplifting read!


To be continued in the next post…


The Indian visa for dummies

The tourist visa:

1.     Validity: 6 months or 1 year

2.     Important: you can’t stay more than 90 days with a 1 year tourist visa!

3.     Entries: simple, double or multiple. But be careful, once you leave India, you need to wait 2 months before you are allowed to come back! (you can get a derogation from the local Indian authorities though). Apparently this rule has been lifted in December 2012 (see this site). The best is to check what is written at the bottom of the visa...

4.     Extension: can not be extended nor exchanged in India. But it is possible to extend it in another third country


The business visa:


1.     Validity: 3 months to 1 year

2.     Entries: simple, double or multiple

3.     Extension: can not be extended nor exchanged in India

4.     Important: You can’t stay more than 30 days with this visa in India!


The employment visa:


1.     Validity: 6 months or 1 year

2.     Entries: multiple

3.     Important : Can only be obtained in your country of origin, not in India

4.     Extension: You can extend it 4 times, every year, in India; after that you have to go to your home country and get a new visa (to sum up you can stay maximum 5 years in India with a visa)

5.     Condition to fulfil to be eligible: earning minimum 100 000 rupees (about 1 500 euros) per month except for ethnic cooks and translators

6.     For any change in location (moving to another city), of position (within the same company), of company, you will have to go back to your country of origin and get a new visa

7.     There is a possibility to change visa (from employment to tourist) in a third country

Important: Anyone staying more than 6 months in India has to register to the local Foreign Registration Office.

There are also other visas: journalist, student, spouse, yoga, medical etc. but I am not too aware…



In India (Mumbai) :

In your country: local website of VFS Global