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Indian Caste and Climate Change - the case of water resources.

Updated: Jan 21

You must be wondering why does a climate related blog discussing about caste system in India. Most of you may not be even aware of what this system is all about. This article will help you to gather a new piece of information about a distant society and understand its relation with climate change.

Identity of a person is very important. Caste is one such identity in some of the south Asian countries. I will focus on India. It is a rigid hierarchical system of identity that a person is born into. One cannot choose it.

It is a four fold system - (top to bottom) :

  • Brahmins - the educated class

  • Khastriyas - the warrior class

  • Vaishyas - the merchant/business class and

  • Shudras - the untouchables (also known as Dalits)

It is still not clear how does this system entangle with climate change... Well here it comes in the most simple way..

Water is a valuable natural resources. In rural areas there are wells for collective use which are mostly segregated based on this caste system. It is because of the notion of purity and pollution. Untouchables touching the well of an upper caste would 'pollute' the water. They are not even allowed to go somewhere near to it. Instances of violence surrounding such events are still not uncommon in rural areas of India.

When the social structure is already divided and is not beyond conflict, it is not surprising that things can get ugly when such water become scarce. India is one of the countries where water will become immensely scarce in the next decade. Internal conflicts and inter-nation wars are also predicted surrounding its control and distribution. Water is gradually becoming costly. It is tightly controlled by powerful groups and communities - both class and caste wise.

In such a scenario, the untouchables are left with very few options. They are anyways struggling with stringent social conditions and strict societal norms when it comes to access to natural resources; things are getting worse with climate change. Climate change converts the already tightly controlled natural resources of water into an even more scant one beyond the easy reach of the lower castes. They travel to faraway places to collect water for daily uses hampering their income and sources of livelihood. Things are even worse for women who are generally in charge of household chores in which collecting and storing water is one of the primaries. Travelling to faraway places also raises concerns of security often increasing incidences of rape and sexual assault. Children, mostly girl child, drop out of school to help their mothers. During droughts things get even worse where access to water is not just denied but any attempt to access it is vehemently fought against by the powerful upper castes.

The easily available water sources are used and tightly controlled by the people from upper castes. Thus depleting sources of water due to climate change is becoming even more challenging for people of lower caste to access making their life miserable. This apart from robbing them of their basic dignity in life by denying them some of their fundamental rights.

The reasons for raising the subject and highlighting this issue are:

  1. More decentralised ideas and concepts to understand climate change.

  2. Democratising the involvement of the communities.

  3. Localised approach to local problems surrounding climate change.

  4. More in depth understanding of individual societies and

  5. Knowledge sharing and raising awareness about these issues on an universal level so that policy makers are more sensitive.

Just imagine we solve the problem of climate change and have many sources of water but the entire purpose is defeated when people from certain communities are unable to get even closer to it because of their identity which is not even of their own choice and making.

Once again reiterating the obvious that, approach to climate change should be interdisciplinary where not just natural scientists but social and political scientists should get equal space and platform. They will be able to bridge the gap and help us understand the intricacies and nuances of individual societies and communities.

Further readings:

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Jan 22
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

A good read in an interesting way showing the analytical comparison between India caste system and climate change.

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