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Labels ‘Shudra’ or a ‘Brahmin’?

  “In the modern understanding of caste system, the element of caste is predominant and the element of system is less.”

Basic Question

Usually doubts arise in people’s minds-‘Why Shudra is a Shudra and a brahmin a brahmin? Can not a shudra become a brahmin and earn the respect of whole of the Hindu society?’

Need For Stratification

Usually it is believed that general similarities of taste, likes, dislikes, vocations, social status and such other factors make individuals agreeable to each other. They prefer company of people having common callings/occupations, common problems, and common solutions. Eventually it leads them to form their own social group.i

Such persons develop closeness within that group, due to a feeling of common bond underlying their activities and minds. Their mutual cooperation tends them to accomplish more skill, specialization, success and happiness in life.

A feeling, being different from other groups on account of differences in callings, problems and difficulties, leads a society to stratification. It decentralizes authority and resources. It makes management within each unit effective. Also it organizes human and social behavior in tune with the objectives of the society. Therefore, some sort of classification or stratification is natural and necessary for every society, be it ancient or modern.i

i

Being so, Hindu different social groups came into existence inphilosophy also believes that all persons are not identical. They differ from one another on the grounds of natural endowments, intelligence, skills, attitude, aptitude and other innate characteristics. Such differences give rise to the formations of different social groups.

The whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; Passion (Rajas)with comfort and action; and dullness (Tamas) with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.

These qualities determines physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals. It gives them direction for action.

Accordingly, Hinduism has also stratified society into four social groups known as Varna – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudra.

Test of Time

The whole system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. It has also acted as a shield by not allowing Mughal rulers or British missionaries to sweep out this established society off its roots. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.The whole system has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside because of its adaptability. It has also acted as a shield by not allowing Mughal rulers or British missionaries to sweep out this established society off its roots. Had it not been so, India would have been a society totally different than what it is now.

In the present scenario also, caste system in india appears to most of Indians a very dear, natural, valid and useful social institution. Had it become obsolete for the modern society, it would have given way to some other system long back. Its very survival is the proof of its usefulness to our modern Indian society. The system has given to India a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction, which still covers its entire social fabric. It has withstood the test of time.

Adjusted to Changes

The caste system adapted itself to the slow changes time brought in. Once changed, it did not go back to its original form. Its shades have been different during periods of industrialization and modernization.

It has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep off its own established culture from its roots. It presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

The Hindu Philosophy

According to Hindu philosophy, all persons are not identical. They differ from one another on grounds of natural endowment, intelligence, skills, attitude, aptitude and other innate qualities.

Further, all activities on the earth are the result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satva) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; passion (Rajas) coupled with comfort and action; and finally, dullness (Tamas) that is accompanied by ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness.

These qualities determine physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and gave them direction for action.

The Varna/caste System

On the above grounds, Hindu’s Varna system, has classified Hindu society into four Varnas embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold. It has assigned different duties to various groups according to their natural instincts, attitude, aptitude and qualifications. These are shown as follows–

  1. Brahmins – Those possessing intellectual and spiritual qualities and having a flair for learning were assigned the task of pursuing the path of knowledge and, more importantly, using that knowledge to set norms for the common man so that whole society could benefit.
  2. Khshtriyas – Those having combating skills and, men of action who could rule and set tenets to defend the community, were put in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and defend them from external aggressions.
  3. Vaishyas – Persons having a flair for commerce were included in this group. They were to carry on trade and be engaged in production and industry.
  4. Shudras – People unable to take the above three responsibilities or, captives ???(the conquered) were placed in this category. They were advised to do menial jobs and work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas.Like any other organic body, society is also supposed to behave, function or develop. It needs the services of all its constituents, each part doing a particular function and each part being equally important and indispensible for the whole body. All its parts need equal attention and care for balanced growth of the whole body. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together keeps the whole system fit and alive.

People, who fell totally outside the caste system, were anti-social elements, adivasis living in far off places and, foreigners. They did not subscribe to rules and values of the caste system and therefore could not be part of the same.

According to Hindu Shastras, it was not the birth but the deeds, attitude and nature of a persn, that determined, to which group a person belonged. As the number of different social groups increased due to assimilation of different groups at different points of time, different social groups came to be known as castes.

Emergence of Caste System

As several castes and sub-castes rose within each Varna, in order to save the society from confusion, the caste of a person came to be known by birth. Convenience and role of family background in developing the knowledge and personality of a person were the main reasons behind this change. Lower-castes could seek to elevate status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes. It was accepted by all and worked well till British rule started in India.

Like any organic body, a society is also supposed to behave, function or develop. It needs the services of all its constituents, each part doing a particular function and each part being equally important and indispensible for the whole body. Co-ordinated functioning of all parts together keeps the whole system fit and alive. All need equal attention and care for balanced growth. The creators of the Varna system would be called today-super Management Experts who tried to maximize functional utility of the then available human resources of the society.

Fulfill Aspirations

Some deformities developed in caste-system during the domination of alien’s rule for centuries in India. After Independence, traditional caste barriers and inappropriate practices crept into the system which started breaking slowly. But then, the process of modernization and industrialization, technological developments, especially in areas of transport, means of communication and information technology generated closer interaction with the world a reality.

Earlier, persons who had dreams and potential to step out and perform well outside their traditional occupation did not have access to opportunities. Now that time has come when they can move out to fulfill their aspirations.

Caste is no Barrier

With reformatory movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, introduction of modern education, attempts of constitution-framers, spread of education and growth of awareness among people,many changes have come about in the thinking, attitude and aspirations of all.  Caste is no longer a barrier.

Society has accepted the changeover to any profession a person wishes to pursue and for that he has to prove his suitability in the job market. Hence, the label of Brahmin or of Shudra does not matter at all. There is no dearth of opportunities. From all sections of society, people are acquiring necessary qualifications and are entering into areas of their choice. Experience shows that all are doing well in almost all spheres.

But inspite of all the freedom many of the youth now prefer to opt for their traditional occupations. It is not out of compulsion, but because of the familiarity with the norms and atmosphere of that particular job/occupation/profession. It gives them a better footing and more recognition in that area. It gives them more opportunities to move forward and get more success. A son/daughter of a politician is quite often seen to prefer to become a politician, of an industrialist a industrialist, of a doctor a doctor, of a film actor a film-actor, so on and soforth.

History Also Proves This

There have been many persons who would be called ‘backward’ or ‘untouchable’ as per  present yardsticks, but were honored by the society. Nand and Yashoda (Lord Krishna’s foster parents). Lord Rama, a king, who  ate half-eaten berries of Shabri – an untouchable. Vashishtha, (son of a prostitute) was the principal of the conservative school of Brahmanism, or Vyasa of Mahabharata fame and Balmiki, the original author of Ramayana (both untouchables) were revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers all over India

During medieval India also, Sant Ravidas, Namdev, Tukaram, Malika, Sunderdas were respected as a saint. There had been many instances many warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins’ help to acquire Kshatriyas status for themselves.

In modern times also, many persons are occupying important places in power corridors of government or Public or Private sectors like Sh Jagjivan Ram, Mayavati, Meira Kumar and a large number of bureaucrats at all the levels of government services. They are respected citizens of India..

Winding Up

According to Bhavat Gita, it is the deeds, not the birth which determines, who is who. In modern times, everyone is equal in the eyes of God and the law of the land. Caste system too has become socially more liberal and less restrictive.Hence, putting a label has no longer any meaning now.

i Ellis R.S. The psychology of individual differences – 1930, chapter XVI-Individual differences and social differentiation PP.386-404. Also Anatasi A, Differentials Psychology 1958

ii Mac lver RM, Community P.124-5, Cooley CH, Social Organisation, pt. IV Social Classes
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October 31, 2010 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems |

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  4. Although I know these facts already through Swami Vivekananda, you are very much honored for publishing it for people’s sake.

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    Vimal Rathinasamy.

    Comment by Vimal Rathinasamy (@valiantvimal) | August 4, 2012 | Reply


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