Why Caste Matters

The  struggle to end one of the oldest and most entrenched systems of oppression in human civilization

Why Caste

The notion of a caste-based society and the entrenchment of the systems that perpetuate it continue to impact countless lives and communities around the world, but none more so than the 240 million Dalits alive today. Literally meaning broken, the term ‘Dalit’ refers to the group of people within the Hindu caste system sometimes called ‘untouchable’ due to discriminatory practices that have historically segregated them, by social custom, legal mandate, or both. 

In Nepal, one of the most stratified and unequal societies in the world, the caste system takes a unique form. The Muluki Ain, Nepal’s national legal code from 1854 to 1963, codified a graded notion of ‘pure’ (superior) and ‘impure’ (inferior) people, and continues to shape the everyday lives of Nepali society today.

Despite promulgating a new constitution in 2015 and claiming to have become a democratic secular state, Nepal is the only country that constitutionally defines the term ‘secularism’ to include respecting and protecting ‘sanatan tradition and practices.’ In this case, the term ‘sanatan’ primarily refers to the traditional Hindu caste-based society, which many experts believe would support continuation of systemic violence, indignities, and inequities for Dalits and other marginalized people in Nepal.

Equal rights and dignity cannot be realized without understanding and engaging with caste questions. On this page, we aim to curate a selection of materials and resources that help answer the questions of what caste really is, why it matters, how it manifests in the daily lives of people in South Asia and beyond, and how it persists. These explorations lay the foundation for the ultimate work of DASJ and allies around the world, on designing ways to annihilate the idea and practice of caste-based discrimination and other systems of oppression. DASJ actively seeks out opportunities to support, archive, and share new ideas and narratives, particularly for those Dalits whose work centers on social justice.

Caste and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated caste-based violence and injustice in many forms in South Asia.  The pandemic has also quickened the pace at which access to and control over power and resources is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a fortunate minority. If this continues, it will be at the detriment of the lives and livelihoods of Dalit communities.

Resources on caste

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