Caste System: The curse of Indian Civilization
What is Caste?
Caste by definition is the collection of families, bearing a common name, claiming common descent from a mythical ancestor. The cast system is highly complex in nature and many thinkers are not unanimous in their opinion regarding caste.
“When a class is strictly hereditary, we may call it a caste” (C.H. Cooley)
“Caste is the system of stratification in which mobility up and down the status ladder at least ideally, may not occur”. (A. W. Green)
A caste is a group having 2 characteristics
- Membership is confined to those born of members
- The members are forbidden by inexorable social law to marry someone outside the group
Caste system in Hindu Society
Hindu society is generally a gradational one. It is divided into small groups called caste and sub caste. These caste groups with a boundary of their own. A sense of highness and lowness is attached to it. An individual is determined by his birth and not by selection. No power, prestige, and self can change the position of a man. Hence, membership of each caste is unchangeable and unattainable.
Types of Castes in Hindu Culture
Hindu society is based on the four primary castes, that are Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Shudra. Brahmin is the top caste members and others come respectively. Some people were born outside of (and below) the caste system. They were called “untouchables.”
Although the early Vedic sources name four primary castes; in fact, there were thousands of castes, sub-castes, and communities within Indian society. These Jati were the basis of both social status and occupation. Practices associated with caste varied through time and across India, but all shared some common features. The three key areas of life dominated by caste were marriage, meals and religious worship.
Restriction on food Habits
Brahmin, the upper class would accept the “Pakka” (cooked in ghee) food from its lower classes but not “Kacha” (cooked in water) from anyone except their own. However, any kind of food made by Brahmin is acceptable by all the other cast members. This also makes sense why the Brahmins dominated the hotel industry. Traditional Brahmins do not eat Carrot, Garlic, and Beetroot, etc.
Restriction on physical contact
Brahmins were considered the embodiment of purity, and untouchables the embodiment of pollution. It is said that lower classes must stay 36 steps away from Brahmin. Physical contact between the two groups was absolutely prohibited. Brahmins adhered so strongly to this rule that they felt obliged to bathe if even the shadow of an untouchable fell across them.
Social and Religious disabilities
Lower castes usually suffer from many social and religious constraints. Generally, they are made to live on the outskirts of the city or village. They are also not allowed to enter in temples or places of religious importance. During the early days, public hotels, schools, temples, theaters and lecture halls were not kept open for lower caste people. Moreover, they are were also not allowed to drink from public wells.
The civil and religious privileges of upper caste
Brahmin are considered pure and superior, so they never salute others. They never bow to idols of lower caste people. Education and teaching are almost the monopolies of the higher caste. Brahmin enjoy political, religious and social rights.
Restriction on occupation choices
Each caste also has its own occupations like Brahmins are usually the priests, Kshatriya are warriors, Vaisya is farmers, traders and artisans, and Shudra are tenant farmers and servants. Weaving, shoemaking, sweeping, barbering and washing clothes are considered to be degraded. Education, teaching, the priesthood are prestigious professions which mostly Brahmin’s persued.
Restriction on marriages
Marriage across caste lines was strictly forbidden. These caste systems promote endogamy with the prohibition of marriage in another caste. Brahmin’s are strictly forbidden to marry in a lower caste.
Caste system in Early Indian history
The caste system was not absolute during much of Indian history. For example, the renowned Gupta Dynasty, which ruled from 320 to 550 CE, was from the Vaishya caste rather than the Kshatriya. Many later rulers also were from different castes, such as the Madurai Nayaks (r. 1559-1739) who were Balijas (traders). From the 12th century onward, much of India was ruled by Muslims. These rulers reduced the power of the Hindu priestly caste, the Brahmins. The traditional Hindu rulers and warriors, or Kshatriyas, nearly ceased to exist in the north and central India. The Vaishya and Shudra castes also virtually melded together. When the British Raj began to take power in India in 1757, they exploited the caste system as a means of social control.
Caste system in Independent India
The Republic of India became independent on August 15, 1947. India’s new government instituted laws to protect the long-existing castes which included both the untouchables and groups living traditional lifestyles. These laws include quota systems that help ensure access to education and to government posts.
Thus, over the past sixty years, a person’s caste has in some ways, become more of a political category than a social or religious one.