Caveat: This is a longish post related to Indian caste system detailed analysis.
If there is one problem that keeps India’s progress in check, it is that of caste. The Hindu caste system divides society so rigidly that everyone is either an outsider or insider. There is always a side, depending on where one is looking from. This also prevents the country from moving forward in a single-minded manner, for there is no unifying social force that can make everyone come together to change their lot. Political parties, of course, are the worst exploiters of caste. But there are many others who are equally responsible for maintaining the status quo, though always claiming to do otherwise. The cynicism of political parties can be dealt with since it is so obvious. It is the idealists who are tougher to handle, precisely because they believe they are right. here is greater socialisation across castes and communities and, unless politics intervenes, there is greater heterogeneity in living areas.Recently I have posted in Tamil regarding the disruption and chaos happened in Ramnathapuram and paramakudi in south tamil nadu due to mere paying respect and celebrating birth of two regional leaders statue (Pon Muthu ramalinga devar and imanuavel Sekharan) finally lead to several killed and ended with blood shed.But those leaders have fought for a noble cause of nation’s freedom. Caste discrimination becomes one of the chief cause of malady in many parts of India, though these are the social issues which social reformers should be resolving it, off course I am not advocating state to involve in these affairs, despite the current political system exploit through gaps, ignorance of people and make use to gain their personal advantage as the colonial legacy once left us a phenomenon of “Divide and rule” in India.I have complied an detailed analysis through various references.
The phenomenon of Caste has aroused more controversy than any other aspect of Indian life and thought. Some see India’s caste system as the defining feature of Indian culture and some have dismissed it as a colonial artifact. Since the days of the British rule, both historians and anthropologists referred to India as a ‘caste society’.Obviously this is an overstatement of the importance of caste. But for many leading
personalities, caste was, and is, a real force in Indian life. As explained by experts in the field such as Dr Susan Bayly, caste is not the essence of Indian culture and civilization. It is rather a contingent and variable response to the enormous changes that occurred in the subcontinent’s political landscape both before and after the colonial conquest.
Definition of Caste : the concepts of Jati and Varna:
The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines Caste as “a Hindu hereditary class of socially equal persons, united in religion and usually following similar occupations, distinguished from other castes in the hierarchy by its relative degree of purity or pollution.” The term Caste is commonly used to refer to two
distinct concepts of corporate affiliation: the ‘Jati’ (birth group) and the Varna (order,class or kind). The term Jāti is used for the units of thousands or sometimes millions of people with whom one may identify oneself for such purposes as marriage. There are thousands of titles associated with specific Jatis in different parts of the country:Rajput,reddy,mudhaliar,gounder,chettiar,vaniyar,Chamar and Jat – these terms have come to be widely recognised. But these terms are unfamiliar to people outside a limited geographical area. In contrast to this profusion of Jatis or birth-groups, the concept of Varna involves a scheme with only four divisions. Thus what would now be called Hindu society is conceived of as being divisible into four very large units which transcend specific regional associations.These are: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and sudhdra. They are commonly understood as a ranked order of precedence. Then there is another caste called the ‘fifth’ one (called Pañcama), the so-called ‘untouchable’ (the hill and forest population who are called tribals, inclusive). This group occupies a place below, outside this Varna scheme.
The Brahmanas are commonly identified with those who fulfil the calling of priests and spiritual preceptors. The Kshatriyas (etymologically, the ‘protectors’) are usually rulers and warriors. The Vaisyas are those who have commercial livelihood,and are associated with other producers and wealth-creators as well. The sudhdras are toilers and artisans. People belonging to the ‘fifth’ group perform ‘unclean’ services
such as cremation, killing animals for food, etc.
Caste in Theory and Practice:
Those sharing a common caste identity may subscribe to at least a notional tradition of common descent, as well as a claim of common geographical origin and a particular occupational ideal. For instance, an individual claiming Brahman parentage is not obliged to follow a priestly or preceptoral livelihood. A man professing princely descent automatically is not expected to wield a sword. But those claiming Brahmin or Katriya origin do not expect others to think that their ancestors were humble labourers or providers of menial service, as would be the case for an individual identified by a low-caste Jati designation such a Paraiyan or Chamar. In theory at least, civilized ‘caste Hindus’ regard it as wrong and unnatural to share food or have other intimate social contact with those who are dissimilar to them in terms of caste.The implication is that to be of a high or low caste is a matter of innate quality or essence. This is what is stated in many Indian scriptures dealing with caste ideals.But in real life, these principles have often been widely contested and modified. The implication would be that all who are born into the so-called ‘clean’ castes, rank as high and pure, regardless of wealth, achievement or other individual circumstances.Caste-society is mobile and fluid, rather than static and inflexible.Caste is explained by many specialists as a system of elaborately stratified social hierarchy that distinguishes India from all other societies. It has achieved much the same significance in social, political and academic debates as ‘race’ in the United States, ‘class’ in Britain and ‘faction’ in Italy. It has thus been widely thought of as the paramount fact of life in the subcontinent, and for some, it is the very core or essence of south Asian civilization.
The most primitive beginnings:
The Puruna Sukta of the rigveda contains the first symbolic reference to the emergence of the four castes, Brahmanas, Rājanyas (Kshatriyas), Vaisyas and sudhras, from the mouth, shoulders, thighs and feet respectively of the Cosmic Being. Interpretation then came into play, claiming that these castes are in the descending order of importance. As a matter of fact, the Hindu castes are not related to heredity or birth. What is implied in this symbolic description of the emergence of the four castes is that human society is given its ‘voice’(mukham),‘order’ (bahu), ‘form’(uru) and ‘change’ (pad) respectively. The vocational choice was mainly need-based and circumstantial, in terms of the availability of labour in certain places and certain times.Manu the Law Giver explains the principle of caste as a universal law of life.The key principle of ‘caste Hindu’ thought is understood as the code of duty,religious law and right human conduct which defines the path to virtue (Dharma) and spiritual fulfilment for all humankind. According to Manu, the source of this Dharma is the Will of the Divine Creator who gave each of the four human archetypes or Varnas a distinct moral quality, and a calling to follow. God, the ‘lustrous one’, made ‘separate innate activities’ for the different orders of humanity, says Manu. He called these, ‘Varnas’ and laid down their duties and responsibilities so as to make life in society comfortable and meaningful.The caste system was designed and expected to make social life a well-knit, self-dependent unit, implying of course, mutual dependence. Everybody was expected to contribute his mite to the well-being of the society at all levels. Manu also explains that the classification of castes based on profession, does not disqualify the members to inter-marry. He speaks of “anuloma” type of marriages (in the descending order) according to which a man belonging to the higher order may marry a woman belonging to the lower order. The Varna classification was of course, not rigid or inflexible. In the Ramayana for instance,Parasurama who was a Brahmin by birth but behaved as a Kshatriya. Viswavamitra who was a king by birth became a Brahmin by virtue of his spiritual attainments. Drona and Kripa in the Mahabharata were Brahmins by Jati but became Kshatriyas by profession. It is clear that this system of four divisions (caturvarnayam) is based on the division of gunas and activities corresponding with those gunas,elaborates that all occupations are important and correspond to various needs of the segments of society and are dispensed according to ability on the basis of qualifications(gunas).The duties relating to each adopted vocation are also listed in vedas.It is pointed out in
that no matter what a person’s duty or task is, one attains perfection or heavenly bliss if he is fully dedicated to it and performs it with pleasure and interest as if it were a service to the Lord Himself.It is thus clear that there was no ‘rigidity’ in regard to the caste divisions in ancient times, but it became unfortunately, a point of discord in course of time.Narrow walls were raised between one community and another. The Brahmanas,supposed to be the repositories of sacred knowledge, with the favour of the ruling class (kshatriyas) became the wielders of absolute power in religious domain. The affected party was the sudhra or the working class and the Pancama (out-caste).
The basic cause of the malady:
Hence it’s quite clear from the above analysis that the 4 varnas are like a cosmic being which should be inter dependent and in the middle ages certain anti social beings had discriminated these varnas and created oppression between last varna class.The sole cause of discord and animosity that affected various sections of society is non-discrimination between the two segments ‘Jati’ (caste by birth) and ‘Varna’
(caste by profession). One may claim to have been born in a particular Jati and consider oneself as (pure) or (auspicious). But the division in terms of caste by profession (varna) remains flexible. E.g., professions as those of Doctors,Lawyers, Engineers, Professors and Musicians. Those born in any Jati can take up any of the above professions. That was the original import and intention of ancient scriptures and law-texts. But in India, in the middle ages, people began to think of only one type of caste, i.e., caste by birth or Jati. An individual began to think of himself or herself as superior or inferior to others. This is the chief cause of malady in India. All the ruling parties in the country, since the dawn of Independence, both at
the Centre and in different States, have been missing this point and are as a matter of fact, widening the rift between one Varna and another. It is time this truth should be brought out in bold relief, publicized and popularized by all our statesmen, politicians, social reformers, educationists, religious and spiritual leaders, heads of monasteries and other organizations if they are really interested in creating an egalitarian society.
But through politicians state has intervened and exploit’s people ignorance fro vote banks and manifesting themselves as they are the saviors or messiah to guard them.
Post Mughal Period:
In the post-Mughal period, the religious atmosphere in India tended to show what may be described as ‘casteless’ and anti-Brahmanical signs. The religions during this period and even before, derived their support from the Bhakti traditions inspired by great teachers like Ramanuja, Guru Nanak, Caitanya and Kabir.
By the 16th century, the rise of Muslim-ruled kingdoms in the Deccan and North, spread the teachings of Islam to both humble and elite groups.After the decline of Mughal power in the early 18th century, Muslim continued to be revered by both Muslims and non-Muslim Hindus. These cult saints attracted
constituencies which were similar to the followings of the Hindu bhakti teachers and Sikh gurus, and which shared many of their ideas and spiritual practices. Thus, from these sources also, Indians encountered messages of devotion to a Deity which was to be seen not only as transcendent, but also as dissolving all divisions of rank and hierarchy through practices of personalised mystical devotion. The teaching of
devotional approach (bhakti) simply gave to the ordinary caste-Hindu, an experience of mystical and apparently ‘casteless’ union with the Divine. But at the practical level, the position did not change,still they do not deny or give up claims for the validity of their caste distinctions.Many bhakti sects denied initiation to ‘unclean’ groups. Some allowed only those of Brahmin birth to become gurus. Further, the activities of these ‘conversion’ faiths gave rise to assertive counter-movements like Bengal’s early 19th century Dharma
Sabha organisations which rallied self-professed preservers of orthodox faith to the defence of Brahmanical authority. In many cases both before and during the colonial period, battles took place in the Bengal between organized groups of Hindu ‘modernisers’ and ‘traditionalists’. This only helped to heighten the awareness of Jati and Varna concepts for people of varying social backgrounds, both before and after
the colonial era.From the later 19th century all the ideas about caste were given new impetus by their collision with two new forces in Indian life. The first of these was the encounter with notions of individual rights and nationhood which derive primarily from the writings of Western social theorists of the period. The second was the increasing self-confidence of the large and growing Indian intelligentsias which had
been expanding rapidly since the 1950s.
As the days go on the oppression of the sudhra class also insisted heavily and they were denied basic education and other rights.Certain strong social reformers evolved like Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, founder of the Arya Samaj (1875) and Swami Vivekananda, founder of the Ramakrishna Mission Movement (1897). Many other important social and political leaders also played an active role, most notably M.G. Ranade and other leaders of India’s most influential pre-1st World War ‘reformist’.
They were against the practice of ‘Jati’ and ‘Varna’,in their view, the values and solidarities to which they attached the English term ‘caste’raised issues requiring ‘public men’ (and sometimes women) to take a stand in the rapidly proliferating print media. What they wrote was an explicit challenge to those orientalists who saw caste as an immoral institution which had prevented Indians from acquiring the bond of a universal ethical code, thus debarring them from the achievement of nationhood. By the end of the 19th century, three basic views of caste had emerged:
1. The incubus view that caste in all its forms is a divisive and pernicious force, and a negation of nationhood;
2. The golden chain view that ‘caste’ as a Varna is to be seen as an ideology of spiritual orders and moral affinities, and as a potential basis for national regeneration;
3. The idealised corporation view that Jati is to be seen as a concrete ethnographic fact of Indian life, a source of historic national strengths and organised self-improvement or ‘uplift’.
To resolve this discrimination and inhuman sin the National Social Conference (1887) was founded by the Bombay High Court Judge M.G. Ranade (1842-1901) and the Madras Civil Sevant R.Raghunatha Rao (1831-1912). The supporters of this Conference were expected to endorse the so-called uplift for untouchables, as well as the education of women, the banning of child marriages and the abolition of
penitential seclusion for widows. Those who participated in the 1909 Conference declared that Caste was an alien and slavish institution which had been created in relatively recent times under pernicious ethnological and historical circumstances. Caste values were the badge of a ‘degraded’ and unfree people and a source of ‘irksome and painful customs’ which had rigidified a once free and open social order, ‘trenching on the liberty of interior times’ and ‘shackling’ Indians within a ‘prison house’ of superstition and social oppression.
Also Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) condemned the oppressive treatment of the so-called untouchables and other subordinate castes. He re-echoed contemporary Western ethnological themes in his remarks about the ‘natural differences of ability and character’ that separated persons of unlike Varna.His views became a source of inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi in dealing with the problem of Casteism. Swami Vivekannda wrote:
“Each caste has become,as it were, a separate racial element. If a man lives long enough in India, he will be able to tell from the features what caste a man belongs to”. ‘Two different races mix and fuse, and out of them rises one strong distinct type. This tries to save itself from admixture, and here you see the beginning of caste. Look at the apple. The best specimens have been produced by crossing, but once crossed; we try to preserve the variety intact. ‘Caste has its bad side, but its benefits outweigh its disadvantages.’ Hence, there is no reason why you are greater than I am?
Even now, some of the leading national news papers publish long columns of ‘matrimonial classifieds’ asking for brides or grooms of a particular community or caste. Marriages between people of substantially different caste background are still as rare in the countryside as they are in the cities. Further, in both towns and nucleated village settlements there are still older housing areas containing single-caste residential streets. These include the ‘Brahmin-only’ streets surrounding many Hindu temples as well as the concentrations of impoverished Harijan-untouchables who still live apart from the so-called ‘clean’-caste populations in their own separate hamlets and urban slum enclaves.Thus the making of caste-society in India has involved a sequence of complexity.
The present effects:
Even after fifty years of Independence, Caste continues to be a major theme in Indian politics. Many political parties try to make caste an issue in the electoral arena and cash in. They denounce it as a social evil and attack others for being ‘backward-looking’ and ‘casteist’. Many aspects of the contemporary caste-life in
India echo the principles found in classical Indian religious scriptures. But in the West, neither race nor class can be related to any comparable body of codified texts and teachings.For centuries the black African race was oppressed and impoverished by Americans,but now the situation is changed and Bararck obama was re-elected again as the mightiest president of U.S in 2012 where it has 80% of white population,but it’s a nation which very well understood that talent is greatest national resource and they respect that and provide opportunity to all who has irrespective of caste,creed,race and ethinicity.Where as the Indian Government, in the name of creating a casteless, secular society, and to compensate the injustice meted out by the so-called higher castes to the oppressed,down trodden, economically poor, educationally backward masses of India, created a plethora of ‘new’castes. These new castes are classified as Backward Classes,Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Tribal people are included in the Scheduled Tribes. These new castes are ‘protected’ by the Quota System or Reservation Policy for widening their educational and employment opportunities. The Tamil Nadu Government has created one more Community called the ‘Most Backward class/Community’ so as to benefit certain other groups. . These people are preferred to all other groups for getting admissions to Schools, Colleges and Universities, and also for getting selected for different types of jobs. The higher classes have been called the ‘Forward Classes’; and people belonging to this group face a tough challenge in what is called an ‘open competition’. This ‘reservation policy’ has been in vogue for quite some time and will continue indefinitely for some more years atlast people will be fighting as if it was their “constitutional right”.since it does not have any sunset clause for this policy officially. The resultant picture is that merit gets the back seat and people using their rights of reservation are benefited at all levels,
however unqualified they may otherwise be.Hence to abolish reservation first in place there should be provision of equality of opportunity like sports,education,basic facilities to all of the citizens,then reservation imposed by state should be abolished else brain drain will be there and India will lose its intellectual capital.FTI has discussed these issues in detail in many forums pls visit http://freedomteam.in/blog/main
What is the solution?
In the light of this, we have to come to certain conclusions and offer viable solutions to the problems created by a wrong understanding and application of the principle of Caste in India. What has been there for centuries cannot be undone in a day or two. There is no magic wand by which we can create a ‘casteless’ society overnight. We have to take the horn by his bulls and try to solve the problem. It is rather, a problem with our own understanding and interpretation of Caste. There is nothing wrong as such with the concepts of Caste as understood and practised by the wise of yore. As pointed out earlier, one has to draw a distinction between Jati (caste by birth) and Varna (caste by profession). Indians wherever they live, should
understand that there is no clash of interests between one Varna and another or between one Jati and another. So long as one can identify himself or herself as belonging to a particular birth-group and believe that they belong to a ‘pure’ origin,there is nothing wrong, so long as they do not harm others verbally or physically on the ground that they belong to a lower Jati and that they are not equal in social,religious and other matters. One should not and need not make much fuss about this factor. Then the division of society into the four Varnas and the distribution of labour is what should really cause worry too many. Even here, there need be no discord or dispute so long as the social needs are provided by different people who are proficient in different fields. A man of Brahmin Jati, for example, may be proud of his lineage
and parentage; but he may, by virtue of his educational qualifications and aptitude become an engineer or marine biologist and contribute to those departments of study.He may if he so desires, join military forces and combat the enemies. He may still retain his Brahmin identity.
Towards the end of the 20th century and on the threshold of the 21st century,in the urbanized areas inter-caste, inter-racial and inter-continental marriages have become quite common.A Brahmin boy may, for instance, marry a non-brahmin girl. A Hindu girl may marry a Muslim boy. Or an Indian may marry a French korean or English. In a majority of cases,there may be a cultural and commensal change. Those who were vegetarians are fast becoming non-vegetarians and vice-versa. Drinking wine is no longer a taboo in many Hindu families. Some do it openly and others, due to some compulsions, do it secretly. This is to point out that the original divisions of society into Jati and Varna are fast losing their relevance and sanctity. The worst affected parties are the people in rural areas where they are too much ignorant,exploited and illiteracy causes too much chaos in social harmony.
The world by nature is a wonderful and mysterious one. Diversity is the Art of Nature; but Unity should be the Heart of human.One of the stance from vedas mentions,
“What exists is one, but wise men call it by different names.”
Let people practice what they think is right and good for them; but let them not fight in the name of religion, philosophy, race, caste, class, community, faction, cult, group or political affiliations. All have their own place, their own grace and role to play in making the India beautiful and habitable to live peacefully only through 100% education at first. Let there be an understanding of the basic values of life and together we live as an egalitarian society.
Come together; speak to one another; let your minds be of one accord!
Jai Hind!!!Jai Bharat!!!
1. IK Foundation Lecture Series,‘Indian Culture in the Modern World’,Oxford Centre for Vaishnava and Hindu Studies.
2.Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age, Cambridge
University Press ,2001.