The Indian caste system is so foreign to the liberal West that we cannot fully comprehend why one’s caste matters so much that it determines how well someone is treated by others and the community. In other words, our focus on individual rights and merit has changed our society to one where mistreating someone based on their birth is considered immoral. Certainly, racism exists in our society while people discriminate based on factors like gender and poverty, yet openly acting on such bigotry is completely unacceptable. Conversely, treating someone of a lower caste as an equal can be terribly controversial in India.
Looking at the rape and murder of two teens in Katra, Uttar Pradesh, the fact that the victims came from the Dalit community, which is the lowest caste in India, the police actually threatened to arrest the father of the victims. Ultimately, these officers were fired, but this prevalent attitude in India sets up a massive culture. Using the fact that these girls were part of the so-called “untouchables” community to justify their abuse is thoroughly unacceptable in most of the world. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring revolutions and a general trend toward the democratization of the world means even the disenfranchised lower castes of India will be more and more likely to demand their interests be served. In fact, this is likely why this father even had the courage to ask the police to do their job.
For newly elected-President Modi, who has pledged to rule India based consensus with a focus on issues like the corruption and the economy, incidents like this one represent both a real challenge as well an opportunity for change. Looking at the fact Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually attended Modi’s inauguration means the new leader could represent India’s best chance at overcoming serious issues that are propagated by their culture, which the ongoing Pakistani-Indian conflict is an example of. That said, American officials were able to befriend Russian officials during the Cold War. Unfortunately, leaders are individuals and it is far easier for individuals to make choices than it is for people to change.
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