Sex trafficking and Hinduism

May 23, 2012 | 8 a.m.

The strict caste system is a breeding ground for human trafficking

Culture | Dana Morrison

Sex trafficking and Hinduism

A traditional understanding of Hinduism doesn't respect women and lower classes.

How would it feel to go to a policeman to tell him you had been kidnapped from your family for slave labor and have him ignore or even punish you?  Luckily citizens of the United States do not have to answer this question because the law is upheld for our safety.  It is an entirely different situation in predominantly Hindu countries like India where the caste system, the rigorous social structure, separates humans and gives more benefits to one group over the other.

Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and is one of the oldest practiced religions.  A wide variety of Hindu traditions means that there are many variations of the Hindu religion throughout the world.  Although some of the beliefs and traditions have evolved over time, little has changed within the Hindu culture.  Much like Islam, religion and culture in Hindu countries are closely bound and sometimes indistinguishable.  

The implementation of the caste system was not done for religious but social reasons, when the Aryans arrived in India and ruled over the natives, subjecting them to a lower class.  As the system shifted over time, the Brahmins, priests acting as the ruling class over the remaining four castes, began to make the caste system a religious issue.  The religious leaders tend to be the most intellectual people and because of their education are perceived as natural leaders.  

The people at the bottom of the system, the Sudras and Dalits, make up over 60 percent of the population within India, a predominantly Hindu country.  These lower castes are usually uneducated and taught to follow their religious leaders.  The caste system remains because it is culturally accepted as tradition and custom, woven tightly into the Hindu culture.  They see the system as a fact of life rather than a flawed tradition.

The caste system allows for human trafficking to thrive .  Because those in the lower caste are taught that they have lesser value than the higher caste, it is accepted that those at the top take advantage of those at the bottom, even as far as trafficking them for slave labor.  

The members of the lower caste do not usually question the ancient tradition because they do not have people to help them, not even police.  Corruption occurs in the police force because they are part of a higher caste, above the Sudras and Dalits, and some feel that they have more rights.  Police crimes vary case to case, and include brutality, sexual harassment, illicit use of weapons, and more according to Arshrika Singh an Indian lawyer.

In the past few decades, there has been a cultural shift within the Hindu countries, especially in India.  The large cities of India have become more westernized and are accepting the inevitable global change to modernity.  Women have more rights like being able to get a good education and changes within the castes have begun to appear as well.  Although the caste system is still rigid, the edges have softened and there is more interaction between castes and those at the top are seeing more of the humanity of those at the bottom.  

However, in the villages, which are more remote and immune to these shifts, are slower to change their views.  Isolation from the big cities keeps these villages in an archaic state, accepting practices and degradation of the lower castes because they are seen as inferiors.  This view allows human trafficking to pervade because the villagers are unexposed to cultural change, especially in their view of women and the lower castes.


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