Origin, Westernization, Sanskritization and Modernization of caste system
“If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity- any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”. C. Rajgopalachari
“Caste was the system of social life, in which Hinduism was expressed. …… Hinduism was the ideological and emotional buttress of caste…. Caste and Hinduism succeeded in doing in India, what no state, no conqueror and no economy was able to do – the establishment of a single unified system of society throughout the whole of India (accommodating numerous semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places), a system of society, which was able to comprise a greater range of local differences in a single system than any society has previously accomplished.” Through caste system, India has simultaneously accommodated “it to an almost endlessly varied system of semi-autonomous community and at the same time, it brings considerable unity, harmony and condition of peace.” It “succeeded in wielding an enormously varied plurality of semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places and adopting themselves to many different conditions into a single system of society…” (Don Martindale, India since 1947, p 39)
India presents one of the oldest, continuous and uninterrupted living civilizations in the whole world known as Hinduism. (Other well advanced civilizations of ancient world were of Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia). One of the prominent features of Indian civilization is its ‘Caste-system’. Caste system is a unique way of stratifying the society. It has been conceptualized, originated and practiced exclusively in India. It has given a distinguished identity to Indian society.
Caste-system is one of the prominent features running through the entire social fabric of India. Castes have its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati, and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. It has greatly influenced the culture of the whole of India.
Caste system has maintained its continuity without interruption. It has survived the vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside only because of the adaptability. Its absorptive nature has internalized alien influences. It has taken different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. Its shade is different in the context of village, locality, region or religion. Once changed, the system never returned to its original form. Its absorptive nature has internalized alien influences. That is why it presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the entire world.
It is quite natural for all human beings to have closer ties with ones own fellow-beings. So is there in caste system. Internalized caste norms define an individual role in the society. Common men feel good and loved, when they live up to the norms set up by their elders, and anxious and guilty, when he transgress them.
Issue – Caste system has always been a centre of attention for Westerners, politicians, intellectuals, activists or reformers from other faiths. It has been both defended and opposed vehemently in the political circles of modern India. Many assaults have been made on caste-system, especially because of the deformities and rigidity developed into the system during a very long period of its evolution and its being under alien rule. However, after each assault, caste system has re-emerged with greater force. In the past, British Imperial rulers and missionaries had criticized caste-system vehemently.
In the past, British Imperial rulers and missionaries criticized caste-system vehemently. They intentionally highlighted the weaknesses and suppressed the salient feature of caste as a system. Now in 21st century, for a group of intellectuals, activists and reformers, who are deeply influenced by the glamour of western world, consider system a problematic and complicated issue. For many of them has become a derogatory word. They desire to create a casteless society.
The combination of the two – emergence of electoral politics and creation of new political identities during British rule in India – has placed pursuance of sectional interests over national interests. At present, a large number of political leaders/ groups/political parties are vocal about sectional interests as it garners votes and create vote-banks for them.
Why misunderstanding about caste-system – Usually, suspicions or misunderstanding about anything arise in mind when the fundamentals and knowledge about the ground realities are not clear. Half cooked information, half a truth, partial or incomplete knowledge with a purpose to let down somebody is harmful for the whole global society. Many a times it turns out to be a great lie.
Reality is deeper than seen on the surface – Reality is much deeper than what is seen on the surface. One should not form an opinion or take a decision without analyzing rationally the whole scenario. Many misunderstandings about caste-system would not sustain itself, once there is even a moderate understanding about its origin and true nature of its beliefs, systems and values and a little knowledge about the ground realities of 21st century of India. One should form an opinion or take a decision after analyzing rationally the whole scenario.
Western World and Hinduism/caste system
Hinduism and its caste-system did not mean religious festivals, sacred texts, and statues of deities, rituals or show off religiosity. It is a way of life.
It is difficult for the western world to understand its role – past or present – in Indian society because of its complete localization and unfamiliarity to see it in its totality and to understand its nuances, the nature, role (both in the past as well as in present) and value of caste as a system.
- Mystified Western World – Western world is mystified by amazing pluralities and unique social structure of India. It is difficult for the western world to understand role of caste – past or present – in Indian society because –
- Complete localization and unfamiliarity makes it difficult to understand caste as a system in its totality and to know the nuances, the nature, role) and value of caste as a system.
- Caste not class basis of stratification – Stratification of a society becomes necessary for organizing human and social behavior in tune with the objectives of a society. While in Western world, usually anthropologists, historians and sociologists identify ‘class’, as universal basis of stratification within a society, Indian society has been stratified socially on the basis of Varna/caste-system.
- Power associated with wealth – In materialistic Western societies, wealth has always been associated with power, authority and social status. In India, its Caste system has separated wealth from status, power from authority, pursuit and achievement in knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts. The greatness of a state is judged on the basis of the degree of righteousness and justice, with which the administration governs lives of the people, and not on the basis of the size of a state or its treasury. Similarly, in the society, status of a person or a caste is ranked on the basis of knowledge, discipline and moral standards, and not on the basis of material success, or control of power.
- Stress on duties rather than rights – Whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights‘, forming the natural foundation of human relationship, caste system evolves around the concept of “duty, tolerance and sacrifice”. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant. Its value-system helps people to adjust themselves, without much difficulty, to most drastic changes. India has achieved its freedom in a peaceful manner under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Common men, here, are filled with a sense of duty.
- No conversion – Unlike Christianity or Islam, Hinduism has made new groups its integral part without any conversion and brought them under one umbrella without annihilating their own faith.
- Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression – Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression have always been the part of Indian ethos. Indians had accepted oppression and exploitation without much protest.
- Indian way of life and tolerance of its people has prevented the masses to exercise coercion so far. While in the past, intolerance of people led to bloody revolutions elsewhere in the world, India kept on adapting itself to changing times. Whereas in ancient Greece, Rome or other European countries, people were made to work under the threat of a whip, it stopped people from doing that.
- While other nations have passed through many bloody revolutions, India kept on adapting itself to changing times and the nation entered the modern era without any cultural break.
How Caste-system has changed its complexion with the changing times continuously, can be seen in its origin and process of evaluation – its origin, and moving through the eras of modernization, Sanskritization and politicization?
Origin of Caste System
Initial stages of Caste system
Caste-system in the making – Caste-system is very old and indigenous one, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India. As reflected in ‘Rigveda’, when people ceased to be a wandering people, started the Vedic period – the period when the process of building up socio-political structures and systems started leisurely. It took over about 2000 years (roughly somewhere around 2000 BC to about600 BC) to develop Vedic culture, its values and systems.
Many nomadic or semi nomadic, egalitarian tribal communities formed small groups and started living together a settled life, mostly in hilly areas, not far from rivers. Pastoral tribal society ceased to be a wandering people and transformed itself into a settled agricultural society, confining its activities and life within a small area or territory.
This was the time when Hinduism emerged in the scene. Initially people living beyond Indus River were called Hindus and their way of life as Hinduism.
Initially a simple class division was seen in the social structure, i.e. nobility and the ordinary tribesmen. In the beginning people hardly possessed more than what was needed for their subsistence/survival. The practice of cultivation, rise of crafts and iron tools transformed the egalitarian society into fully agricultural and stratified society sometime during 6th century BC.
Possession of land, slaves and hired laborers started. People began to produce and possess more than they needed. The kings began to collect their surplus yields. The power of kings gradually increased. For regular collection, administrative and religious methods were devised.
Start of Vedic period – Vedic culture came into being due to intermixing of the thinking of Aryan invaders, who came to India in waves, with the culture of indigenous tribal people of India during 2nd century BC to 650 AD.
Varna/caste system is mainly based on Vedic literature and philosophy. Its sacred knowledge has been handed down from time immemorial, earlier by verbal transmission and later on, in written form by the ancestor to succeeding generations.
Vedic literature and philosophy
Vedic literature is a vast reservoir of knowledge. Itpresentsa magnificent example of scientific division and orderly arrangement of rules, in a few words, in different branches of human knowledge, covering almost all the aspects of life, be it phonetics, arts, literature, medicine, polity, metrics, law, philosophy, astrology or astronomy. It is a perfect guide to art of living. It speaks of everything- on staying healthy, social values, improving concentration and tenets of behavior, which are relevant till today. Its rituals are techniques for leading a harmonious life.
According to Vedic philosophy –
- The world of activities – Hindu philosophy believes that whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature – goodness (Satwa) associated with purity, peace and knowledge; Passion (Rajas)with comfort and action; and dullness (Tamas) with ignorance, sloth, sleep and carelessness. The combination of these qualities in different degrees determines physical strength, mental capacity, aspirations, likes and dislikes, inclinations, expectations, tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of individuals and gives them direction for action. Originally, as per enunciation of Hindu scriptures, Hindu society was classified into four Varnas. Only anti-social elements, adivasis and foreigners fell outside this social structure, because they did not subscribe to rules and values of the Varna system.
- Vedic philosophy believes that individuals differ from one another in natural endowments, intelligence, aptitudes, attitudes, skills, personal needs and other innate characteristics. Such differences are apt to give rise to the formations of different social groups. Emergence of such groups, out of functional necessity as well, needs to be organized systematically.
- Duties assigned on the basis of ‘Attitude’ and ‘Aptitude’ – The duties were assigned to the four Varnas according to their capacity, attitude and aptitude. Brahmins having flair for learning and possessing intellectual/spiritual qualities to preach were assigned duties of acquiring knowledge and setting norms for common-men; Kshtriyas having warrior skills and men of action were assigned duties to rule and defend the community; Vaishyas having business acumen were supposed to carry on business; and Shudras unable to do above three tasks without any guidance were supposed to assist/serve the above three or conquered ones were also supposed to serve the community of conquered.
- Not by birth – No one belonged to a Varna by birth. Varna was interchangeable. It was governed by one’s thoughts and deeds. The basis of categorization was qualities, aptitude and occupation of an individual.
- Principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma – Principles of ‘Varna’ ‘Dharma’ and ‘Karma’ are the Foundation pillars of Vedic culture. These principles together have given Indian society a distinguished identity and a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life, and sense of direction.
- Principle of ‘Varna’ has engineered a system for social stratification placing people into different groups according to their attitude, aptitude and innate qualities.
- ‘Dharma’ had assigned duties to different groups according to their natural endowments, instincts and qualities. Principle of ‘Karma’ has given due meaning, direction and value to human effort and provided the whole society a quality of life. Principles of Dharma and Karma inculcated self-discipline amongst ignorant masses and taught them to be self-reliant.
- Principle of Karma imbibed in people tolerance. These principles together gave the people a sense of direction through infinite variety of rituals, prayers, practices, customs and meditation.
- These principles together organized inter-relationship of various sections of society. It prepared an atmosphere for co-existence of different sections of the society – be it ruler or ruled, be it rich or poor. It had organized orderly performance of various functions needed to provide a quality of life to its people in the past. It gave Indian Society a stable, sustainable and solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction. It kept the continuity of its way of life intact, despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups and contributed to its growth.
The basic tenets of Vedic culture, values and systems served to give Indian society coherence, stability and continuity; and held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality.
Varna-system giving way to Caste-System – Caste-system came into existence, when numerous racial and other social groups – be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal or professional desired to join the main-steam of the nation and be an integral part of thei cultural system. It took thousands of years to evolve. It was done cordially through caste-system at different points of time. The beauty of the system was that the main society as a whole remained stable, even while offering a place to new groups within the main-stream.
Caste as a mechanism for the merger – ‘Caste system’ has provided unique mechanism for the merger ofnumerous discrete tribes/social groups and associations arising for political, sectarian or other reasons. As more indigenous and foreign social groups desired to merge into its fold, Varna system gave way to caste system, which assigned each new group a separate caste identity. Numerous castes and sub-castes emerged within each Varna. There always remained only four Varnas. All new social groups, known as castes and sub-castes, were fitted under the four Varnas.
Origin of caste system not attributed to one single founder – Origin of Hinduism lay embedded in a very remote past. Initially people living beyond Indus River were called Hindus and their way of life as Hinduism. Hinduism and its caste-system do not mean religious festivals, sacred texts, rituals, show-off religiosity or statues of deities. It is a unique principle of stratifying the Hindu society, conceived thousands of years ago.
The origin of Varna/caste system can not be be attributed to one single founder (like Budhha for Budhhism, Christ for Christianity or Mohammad for Islam). Nor can it be confined to one authoritative text (like Bible for Christians, or Kuran for Islam).
As Basham says that Varna followed by caste system may well be called a natural response of many small and primitive groups of people, who were forced to come to terms, with a more advanced – economic and social – system.
Evolved in a natural way – It has been evolved in a natural way over thousands of years. It is the synthesis of the collective thinking and wisdom of generations of learned seers in search of giving meaning and substance to human life. It was “conceived through intellectual contemplation and empirical observation.” Aryans and numerous other social groups arrived in India in waves at different points of time from different parts of the world. Their mixing up with the indigenous people (popularly known as Hindus) gave birth Hinduism and Vedic culture. The experiences and deep thinking of many learned sages and intellectuals belonging to generations of almost all the communities assimilated under Hinduism have contributed to evolve this system.
Castes in the making – The first faint trace of caste is to be found in the careful cataloguing of traders and professions in later Vedic literature. Many traders were organized into guilds around 5th century AD, in which some authorities have seen the origin of commercial castes. These can be seen as the castes in making. Even up to 7th century AD, people showed no clear knowledge of the existence of castes. Huan Tsang, in the Seventh century was well aware of the existence of Varna, but not of castes. Later on, instead of Varna, caste became a dominant factor, a natural unit of Hindu society, running through the entire fabric of its social structure.
Strengths of Caste system
’Caste system’ as a mechanism – Caste system acted as a mechanism for assimilation. Caste system never tried to liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream. Through it, numerous discrete tribes/social groups – be it immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or others have been internalized in the mainstream of the society. Each was assigned a separate caste name and made them its integral part in due course of time.
No conversion – Hinduism does not believe in conversions. It has not imposed its own beliefs, practices and customs on incoming social groups. It concedes validity to all the religions of the world and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false. It has accommodated people belonging to all the faiths, that is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance.
Assimilation of different groups – Hindus never prevented new social groups to join the mainstream of the land. Outsiders were neither repulsed, nor allowed others to sweep their own established culture off the roots. It never tried to annihilate the originality, internal order, customs or language of incoming groups. Through Caste-system their beliefs, behavior patterns (rules and regulations and life styles were legitimized with the freedom to evolve and change according to their internal rhythm. It has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots.
Caste a natural institution for Hindus – The units of social-political organizations were family, clan, village, tribe and Jana. Common-men regard them as natural and fundamental social institutions. A number of families living in one locality formed grama (village). A number of such units dwelling in a particular region constituted a vis (canton). Jana (a group of tribes) consisted of a number of such cantons, with a king as their ruler.
Every individual born in a family has a caste. Family was the unit of society headed by father. Caste is second only to the family in widening a person’s social radius and in getting importance in his/her private and occupational life.
Equal status to all within a caste – All members of a caste enjoy equal social status with similar rights and duties, similar and similar thinking process.. A person’s relation with members of his caste remains closer and equal than with those belonging to other castes. His relations with other castes are usually formal. Caste values, beliefs, prejudices, injunctions as well as distortions of reality become an indivisible part of a person’s psyche and conscience. They share moments of joy and sorrow.
Why assignment of Caste by Birth – Over the time, due to economic and social reasons, caste system became a hereditary system. Assignment of different functions to different communities led to the transfer of knowledge and expertise through inheritance. It has evolved an atmosphere, where traits of a trade, intelligence abilities, experiences, values and skills were transmitted from one generation to another in a natural way through inheritance.
Employment, dignity and honor for all – There was a close bond between individual and the society and individual and the occupation through caste. It managed a specific work for all. Doing one’s job properly boosted the morale of the people and promoted social equilibrium and solidarity.
Spawning bed for high level of excellence -The system served as a spawning bed for social and technical skills and led to achieve a high level of Specialization and wisdom in different areas of activities. By its very nature, it encouraged the development and preservation of local skills. There was a tendency to bring in the most diversified skills to high level of excellence.
Local character and Interdependence – No caste took an all India character. All the activities of urban or rural areas were confined within a small area, having very little links with the outside world because of slower means of transport. Local character and semi-autonomous nature of caste system made close interaction and cooperation between different castes a reality. Inter-dependence in social life and self-reliance in personal life were the intrinsic features of caste system making each local area self-sufficient and capable to fulfill all the needs of its people.
Caste, providing social security and stability – Earlier, instead of government, elders of each caste (having sense of belonging, not a desire to exercise authority) used to take care of maintaining discipline within the caste and helped its destitute/helpless members.Caste provided to all its members social security and stability.
Controlled arbitrariness of strong and powerful persons – There was not a single group identifiable as very strong-dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat. The plurality of society provided automatic checks and balances and controlled the arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of power of any group.
Importance to self-discipline and knowledge – Vedic culture has given importance to the considerations of self-discipline, morality, and knowledge. All social groups i.e. Varnas/Castes were supposed to lead a self restraint and self disciplined life in all respect, be it in the matter of daily routine, occupation or inter group relationship. Higher a caste, purer it was considered, and greater were the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals.
Not much disparity – Earlier there was not much disparity between different sections of society. Authority/power was decentralized. Each caste was an independent entity, with its own hierarchy, based either on a tribal identity or an occupational identity. There was not much disparity between different castes or between urban and rural people. As far as castes are concerned, they rose and fell in their social order, some died out and new ones were formed from time to time.
Caste fellows sharing moments of joys and sorrows – It held them together. People shared with their caste-fellows moments of joys and sorrows.
Rationale behind assigning rights and duties to different groups – The system of each caste having a specific position in the society and a specific work to do with its rights and duties boosted the morale of its people and promoted social equilibrium and solidarity. Their relative position in society depended on purity, morality, knowledge, contribution of their work to the society as a whole and spiritual standards, they could maintain. Considerations of self-discipline, hygiene and cleanliness on the basis of climatic conditions of the region were given importance.
Most scientific system – In its purest form, caste system may be regarded as one of the most scientific social systems ever evolved anywhere in the world. The genius of the philosophers of ancient India has provided a philosophy, the rationality of which is in conformity with the laws of nature. It provided a strong social structure to Indian society, which led to the all round growth of its cultural heritage and given Indian society coherence, stability, continuity. It kept its members comfortable and satisfied. It instilled in people, self-discipline, consciousness, self-control and self-direction. It assigned them duties according to their natural instincts and qualities. It developed in them a feeling of belonging, interdependence and team-spirit.
Belief in concepts like ‘live and let others live’ as well as ‘Vasudhev Kutumbkam’ (meaning whole world is a family) prepared an atmosphere.
Brought different groups under one umbrella – Hinduism has made numerous new groups its integral part without conversion and brought them under one umbrella. Generation after generation, people of different castes and communities could co-exist despite of numerous foreign invasions, centuries of foreign rule, migrations and assimilation of new groups. Its unity of culture has bound together all people of Indian peninsula from one end to the another. It gives the nation a synergetic character, a pluralistic tradition and an absorptive nature of internalizing alien influences.
Ingredients of good organization – Almost all the ingredients of good organization are found in the system like “team-spirit”, “division of labor”, “automatic checks and balances”, “to each according to his capacity” etc. Decentralized self-regulated systems directed all activities in social, political, and economic life and controlled its malfunctioning or dis-functioning. Inter-dependence in social life and self-reliance has been the intrinsic features of caste system.
Covered the whole Indian society – All sects living in India, whether foreign or indigenous, have throughout been greatly influenced by Vedic culture, its thinking, practices and systems. Discipline has been inculcated amongst ignorant masses and a sense of direction was given to them through infinite variety of rituals, prayers, practices, customs and meditation.
Golden period of Indian History – The system had been able to provide such an atmosphere in the past that when the world was passing through the Dark Age, India was full of light. The first few centuries are recognized as the golden period of Indian history. During this period, arts, commerce, crafts, philosophy and knowledge flourished magnificently. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It has become rich in literary, philosophical and religious fields.
Caste system before Westernization
Seventh century onwards, the great Indian civilization gradually declined with the fall of Hindu rulers. Islamic civilization flowered, nourished by the wealth of commerce.
Damage because of Continuous invasions – The continuous invasions resulted not only in the downfall of Hindus’ value system, The whole of medieval period India, especially the western and northern parts faced continuous attacks from the borders – of Turks, Afgans and Mugals – Ghazani (998-1030) and others, establishment of slave dynasty (1206- 1030), Khilji Dynasty (1290-1320), Tuglak Dynasty (1320-1412), Sayyad Dynasty (1414-51), Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526) and Mughal Empire (1526 to 1757). Initially Muslims were interlopers in the subcontinent. They established their empire from the 13th century onwards. For a period of over one thousand years, Islam had walked hand in hand with power.
Many social evils developed into the system – Widespread misunderstanding gave birth to many social evils, caste-conflicts, feudal oppressions and mass poverty. Continuous loot, arson, killings and violence on poor and women developed feeling of insecurity in Hindus, which led them to religious fundamentalism in order to retain their cultural identity. While living under an alien political order, whether it was Turks, Mughal, Portuguese or British, ignorant masses blindly followed the dictates of Hindu Priests and all the rituals suggested by them. To Hindus, rigidity in observing the rituals appeared as a shield to retain their cultural identity. They rigidly and blindly observed all customs and traditions, which had lost their sanctity in the light of the circumstances of that time. It tended to develop many evil practices in the system.
Start of discriminatory practices – The discriminatory governance of Muslim rulers prepared ground for stiffening / hardening / crystallizing social norms, practices and rituals. Most of the time under Muslim rule, non-Muslims, especially in the North were continually at the receiving end of the discriminatory practices of the rulers and forced conversions at the hands of Muslim invaders. Intolerance of rulers towards their Hindu subjects made it difficult for Hindus to preserve their culture and continue their indigenous identity.
Rise of communalism – Hindu and Muslim priests arbitrarily distorted and misinterpreted tenets of their respective religions. They purposely highlighted and criticized the differences on the surface like “Hindus are idol worshippers” or Islam believes ‘either you are a Muslim or else a ‘Kafir’ etc. It tended to make people superstitious. Indian society was torn by acrimony between Hindus and Muslims. Sometimes it took an aggressive form. Both the communities had forgotten that God is the same whether you call Him ‘Ishwar’ or ‘Allah’. All human-beings are equal in his eyes. He never divides man from man.
Reaction – People blindly followed the dictates of Hindu and Muslim priests. People blindly followed the dictates of Hindu and Muslim priests. Ignorant mob concentrated more on observance of rituals rigidly than understanding the substance/meaning/or reason behind them acted as a shield to protect and preserve identity and the basic roots of Hinduism.
Emergence of evil practices – Continuous loot, arson, killings and violence on poor and women, kidnapping of beautiful girls/women for sexual pleasures of those in authority led to emergence of many social evils and practices like child marriage, Sati Pratha, Purdah system to save one’s honor, Polygamy, dowry etc. During Medieval era, also started the feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of Mogul rulers and those at helm of authority. Disparity between rulers and ruled had increased. Ignorance, superstitions and helplessness of poor masses had led to the oppression of weaker sections of the society especially the women and poor workers/shudras.
Nature of Caste during Medieval Period
Automatic checks and balances – The plurality of society provided automatic checks and balances and controlled arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of any particular caste-group. There was not a single group amongst Hindus identifiable as very strong dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat. The existence of powerful peasant was a reality of the rural life of Medieval India. They provided leadership of most armed bands, which were numerically predominant and economically and politically strong at the village level. Non-Kshatriya peasantry in UP, Bihar and MP kept a check on Kshatriyas’ arbitrariness. There was a cut-throat competition between Kayasthas gave a tough competition to Brahmins in the fiela of learning.
Floating population – Floating population of groups like Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers remained outside caste system. They were so strong, that they terrorized settled agriculturists for centuries. Forests, which competed with arable land in size and importance, till the 18th century, gave shelter and food to large sections of society and served as havens for those in search of escape from society.
Equal status to all within a caste – Throughout medieval period also, all the members within a caste enjoyed equal social status vise-a-vise other castes. Caste values, beliefs, prejudices, injunctions as well as distortions of reality became an indivisible part of a person’s psyche and conscience. They shared moments of joy and sorrow. A person’s relation with his own caste-members was closer than with those belonging to other castes/communities.
Westernization of caste-system
Rise of European powers with Renaissance Movement – The Process of Westernization started with the Renaissance during late middle ages in Italy around 14th century. This cultural movement has profoundly affected European intellectual life. It started in Italy, and spread to the rest of Europe by the 17th century.
The Renaissance movement was a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life. Its influence was felt everywhere, in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry. The sincere knowledge seekers of Western world did not care for inconveniences or challenges for creating modern civilization. They sacrificed their time (for about two centuries), energies and comforts in search of knowledge. Then only they could develop great modern scientific knowledge, technique and wealth.
Europe set out on path of scientific and technological change. Reliance on observation and rationality had led to many inventions in the field of science and technology. The invention of printing, being one of them has helped in the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century onwards.
Changes due to the development of technology – In 1492 the “discovery” of the “New World” by Christopher Columbus challenged the classical world-view. It changed the relationship between different parts of the world. It led to the rise of the European Maritime economics, the colonization of the Americans and South and Southeast Asia.
Process of Westernization of Caste system
The process of Westernization of caste-system in India began with the frantic efforts of missionaries to convert as many Indians as possible into Christianity and coming of East India Company in India first to trade and later on to increase its political power in India. East India Company successfully established ‘British Imperial Rule’ in India by 1958.
Karl Marx on the objectives of British Rulers in India – Karl Marx had rightly remarked that while laying down the foundation of Modern democratic government in India, British had a double mission in India, one destructive, the other regenerating; the annihilation of the old Asiatic Society and laying the material foundation of Western Society in Asia. The regenerating character was concerned with social transformation through modern education, English language as a medium of learning and official language, modernization in economic sphere, political unification of the country and laying foundations for many democratic institutions like Parliament, Indian Civil Services, Judicial system etc. etc. The reactionary and destructive character was seen in the economic and social sphere.
Divide and rule policy of Imperial rulers – The rulers adopted the path of ‘divide and rule’. The way British governed India, served double purpose for them. They got the credit for amelioration and protection of primitive and inward-looking society of Indians. At the same time, they kept the natives busy in their in-fights.
Development of modern means of transport – The positive effect of the process of modernization and industrialization, technological developments under British rule, especially in the areas of transport, means of communication and information technology was that it had made closer interaction possible. Shortening the geographical distances had brought people living in distant areas together.
Negative influence – The modern means of transport and communications brought to an end the local character and inter-dependence of various caste groups. Small local castes living in distant places grew in size. Caste organizations and pressure groups entered into region-wise caste alliances and emerged as a strong force for the pursuance of their sectional interests in the politics. It led to polarization of different caste groups and watertight compartmentalization of Indian society.
Effect of Industrialization – The process Industrialization began under British rule to build a modern India. While Britain, along with other European nations, was producing high technology, high productivity, high wage and high profit commodities, India remained to produce low technology, low productivity, low wage and low profit items. It left India economically far behind the advanced nations. During British rule, India missed out first few phases of Industrial revolution –
- One that revolutionized agriculture and textile production.
- Second one occurring in the first half of the 19th century, which was based on capital goods industry. And
- The third during the last quarter of the 19th century, when science was fused with technology.
Discredited traditional occupations – Industrialization and emergence of white-collared jobs based on formal education tended to make many traditional occupations obsolete, as they were considered less paying, more hazardous or time consuming. Industrialization had eroded the authority of caste and kinship in matters of occupation. New occupations that emerged gave choice of occupation, but accessibility to them depended on modern education, knowledge of English language and loyalty to British.
Adverse effect of traditional occupations becoming obsolete – Due to the apathy of rulers towards indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations, many traditional occupations became obsolete and led to the decay of village industries. It pushed millions backward in a very subtle manner and loosened the sanctity of caste rules and caste consciousness in matters of occupation. It discouraged local genius, cottage industries and fine arts. Many castes of rural artisans, craftsman and traditional occupations abandoned their traditional work. They had no option but either to migrate to cities as industrial labor or become agriculture labor.
It scattered the efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. There had been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture. They lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride. Work culture has changed tremendously since then. More, a person withdrew from physical labor, more civilized, honored and qualified he was regarded by modern society. It resulted in discrediting many traditional occupations and in destruction of Indian handicrafts and cottage industry.
Unemployment increased – Very few of them could join modern occupations. Majority of people could neither enter into modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations considering the menial work derogatory. In the near absence of industrial, commercial or social service activity, most of them had no option, but either to join band of agricultural labors, industrial workers and marginal labor for their survival or increase number of unemployed or under employed.
Policies which divided the people and prolonged British rule – After consolidating their power, British rulers used social, demographic, linguistics, religious and cultural diversities of India to enflame anti-national, anti-secular/communal and castiest feelings of the people. To keep their power intact, they played off one part against other, caste against castes, Hindus against Muslims and province against provinces.
The Imperial rulers created split in 3 stages, first they appeased Hindus, then Muslims and at last backward castes. They continued their ‘divide and rule’ policy till end and kept Indians busy with their internal problems.
Start of cut throat competition – After consolidating their position in India, the Imperial rulers devised a unique method of distribution of power, to keep balance of power and prolong their rule in India. Cut-throat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige under British Raj was the starting point for the entry of caste into politics. Later on it led to uncontrolled feelings of communalism and casteism.
Regenerative and degenerating policies and their effects on Indian society
National leaders, Reformers and a section of intelligentsia were intelligent enough to understand the positive effects of policies as well as to feel the damage, British racial discrimination and their repressive policies were doing. There were following regenerative as well as degenerating policies started by British rulers in India –
‘Modern education’ – In 1834, Lord Macauley laid successfully the foundation of modern education in India. It was based on colonized British Grammar School type education.
- Regenerating effects of modern – Introduction of modern education was welcomed by all – Missionaries as well as Humanitarians, intellectuals and nationalist leaders. The atmosphere was completely ready. National leaders and reformists considered modern education “the key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of the modern West.” Spread of the Principles of Democracy across the nation led the people to resist imperialism and tyranny of British rule.The elite and intellectual sections of society hoped that modern education would give the people the key to open the treasures of scientific discoveries. Through Western literature and philosophy people would understand the democratic, liberal and humanitarian thoughts of the modern ‘West’.
It would make people aware of the real issues hampering the progress of Indian society, remedy the social, political and economic ills of the country and improve the life of common men by enabling them to conquer ignorance, hunger, poverty and disease.
education – Eighteenth century onwards, modern education led to social awakening, gave impetus to social progress and brought many reforms. It had influenced substantially the working style and thinking of the people. They welcomed rationality and good features of Modern English education. Some of the positive effects of modern education on Indian society were as follows –
- Opened up the doors of the knowledge – Modern education opened up the doors of the knowledge flourished in Europe after Renaissance movement of Middle Ages. It had widened the mental horizons of Indian intelligentsia.
- Education for all – During second half of the nineteenth century, British government in India opened the doors of education to all the sections of Indian society, irrespective of caste or creed. Still, very few amongst the general public could avail the advantages of formal modern education. Education remained confined within a small section of society.
- Highlighted evil practices – Modern education had highlighted the evil practices and weaknesses developed into the system like rigidity and harshness of many social customs and practices prevalent at that time for the weaker sections of the society i.e. un-touch-ability and inhuman treatment to women, Sati, Polygamy, child marriage etc. etc. prevalent at that time.
- Attracted attention of social reformers – Modern education had attracted the attention of intellectuals and social reformers towards real issues evils caused by ignorance, irrationality of mumbo-jumbo of rituals and superstitions created by some selfish people to entangle the ignorant and poor masses. They suggested remedies for social, political and economic ills of the country. They took upon themselves the responsibility to build a modern, open, plural, culturally rich, prosperous and powerful India out of a fragmented, poverty stricken, superstitious, weak, indifferent, backward and inward looking society.
- Realization of the worth of liberty and freedom – It equipped national leaders with intellectuals tools with which they fought the oppressive British Raj. Indians realized the worth of liberty and freedom. They got exposure to the philosophies of thinkers like Locke, Mill, Roussseau, Voltaire, Spencer and Burke etc. They understood the reasons and impact of English, French, American revolutions.
Degenerating effect of modern education – Many Indian leaders, intellectuals and reformisHarmful effects – British rulers intended of educating Indians in such a way that they “should through western education get Anglicized in terms of both cultural and intellectual attainments”. The traditional Indian system of education had withered away for the lack of official support. Its gradual disappearance had disassociated Indian people from their culture, classical roots, knowledge and traditional way of living. Along with it faded Indian values, philosophies and traditions. Some of the adverse effects of modern education system on Indian society were as following –
- Brainwashing through education – In educational institutions under British government or Missionary schools, educated them, preached people and instilled in the minds so much complex about the primitiveness of Indian society, its social structure and its values and systems that they started feeling their social practices as indefensible.
- Many Educated Indians regarded native practices as “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and “highly stratified”. Indian social-structure, based on caste system, was held responsible for all evil social practices, feudalistic attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, and whimsical concept of purity and pollution.
- A good recipe to convert individuals into christianity – Missionaries considered modern education a good recipe to brainwash Indians and to attract Indians towards Christianity. Modern education system had made their job easy. Missionaries’ schools were opened allover India. Government gave them liberal grants for providing free education to lower strata of Indian society and providing for them permanent jobs. Modern education prepared ground for mass conversions.
- Disassociated Indian people from classical roots – Modern education has also disassociated Indian people from their traditional way of learning, classical roots and knowledge. With it faded Indian values, philosophies, systems and traditions. It made them to loose their faith in social values and systems.
- Rise to unhealthy competition – Modernization of the pattern of education and occupations (making knowledge of English as basic qualification for white collared jobs especially in government) increased role of formal education and training for employment. Limited opportunities in modern education and government jobs became the bone of contention between different sections of the society. Tough competition between different sections of society to get hold on modern occupations, led to inter-caste rivalries, social tensions and group conflicts among Indians.
- The monopoly of Brahmins in these areas cautioned the British and generated anger amongst the non-Brahmin communities and Muslims. In the Southern states, there emerged two rival groups – Brahmins and Non-Brahmins and in the North – Hindu and Muslims.
Need of Census operations – After consolidating its position, the British Government in India made an effort to know about the people, whom they want to rule and chalk out strategies for the colonial governance. British anthropologists worked very hard to collect data and to catalogue various castes and tribes. For the first time, the Census operations drew the attention of the rulers, intelligentsia and public to the diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes throughout India.
Administrative convenience, main concern of rulers – British rulers redefined the structure of Indian society through Census operations according to their administrative convenience. So far, Caste was a flexible and fluid unit of Indian society. Census operations destroyed its flexibility and gave rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. The older four Varnas, embracing numerous castes and sub-castes within its fold were divided into five new unbridgeable compartments – Backward caste, forward caste (caste Hindus), untouchables or scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minority. Through legal process, each one got a new separate and distinct identity. It led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group for one-up position in the echelons of power.
Codification of all castes – The process of Census enumeration was far from neutral. The British retained the distinctions between different sub-castes, relevant to them for organizing labor and homogenized all those sub-castes, for which they had no use, therefore, no interest. Middleton, a Census Superintendent remarked, “We pigeonholed everyone by caste and community. We deplore its effect on social and economic problems. But we are largely responsible for the system…Our land records and official documents have added iron-bonds to the old rigidity of caste…. The government’s act for labels and pigeon-holes had led to a crystallization of the caste system, which, except amongst the aristocratic caste, was really very fluid under indigenous rule.”
Instigated caste rivalries – The knowledge of such diversity of Indian society and multiplicity of castes and sub-castes helped the rulers to instigate caste consciousness, caste animosities and make caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles that Hindus fought amongst themselves from now onwards without any sign of relief even as of today.
Introduction of Electoral politics
The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to leading to inter and intra caste rivalry and made politicians to understand the “Power in numbers”. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. Since then, their influence in politics has been growing continuously.
Importance to the idea, “Power in numbers” – The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to “Power in numbers”. Government of India Act of 1909 also known as Minto Morley Reforms granted separate Muslim Electorate.
Divided Indian population into uncompromising groups on caste and communal lines – It brought the idea of communal electorate to the forefront in the minds of all the castes and communities and led to divide Hindu population also into two uncompromising groups, viz. `We” Non-Brahmins vs. `They” Brahmins and caste Hindus. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength.
Suggestion to exclude Untouchables from Hindu-fold – The suggestion of Census Commissioner to exclude untouchables from Hindu fold in the coming 1911 census immediately increased the importance of untouchables in political circle, in social circle, and in their own eyes too. Around 1909, the non-Brahmin Community, which resented the Brahmins hold in modern occupations, was divided into two Backwards and untouchables. For the first time, the lowest layer of Hindu Community was conceptualized under the name of ‘untouchabes’ in the political circles.
Communal Award, Poona pact of 1932 – Communal Award of 1932 created a permanent split in Hindu Society and perpetuated casteism further. Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, ‘the principle of dividing population into communal groups, which had been adopted in the Minto Morley reforms had been considerably extended, even beyond what had been done by Montagu Chelmsford Reforms… The electorate in 1919 was broken up into 10 parts, now it is fragmented into seventeen unequal bits…’ Hindu community was further weakened by giving separate representation to Scheduled castes. Division on the basis of religion, occupation and service were made. Every possible cross division was introduced by the British. The Communal Award strengthened the roots of casteism in politics.
Instilled venom against caste system and Hinduism – The leaders of the downtrodden like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh taught the lower castes to get united. They instilled deeply in the minds of millions of unlettered Hindus, venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community. Caste system, to them, was responsible for treating them as lesser human beings; engaging them in forced labour, unsavory jobs imposing many restrictions on them; preventing them from joining the mainstream of the society; and the subjugation of lower castes with the help of religion. They vehemently criticized its hierarchical structure, and regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of caste system. Dr. Ambedkar made it abundantly clear that, it was through political power that untouchables were to find their solution, not through acceptance by Hindus. Eradication of caste system became the major plank of ‘backward’ castes and ‘untouchable’ castes.
Start of the practice of giving “Preferences” (Reservation Policy)
British rulers devised a novel method to distribute and balance power on ‘preferential-basis’. To restrict Brahmin’s entry in Government jobs and make it available to non-Brahmins communities, British rulers started practice of “Preferences” by giving non-Brahmins financial assistance and preferences in education and Government employment at local and provincial level. It served double purpose for them – getting credit for amelioration and protection of downtrodden and keeping natives busy in their in-fights. Later on, it gave birth to the ‘Policy of Reservations’.
Brahmin-Non-Brahmin movement in South – Practice of giving non-Brahmins financial assistance and preferences in education and Government employment at local and provincial level by the government was strongly established in the South at provincial level. The patronage of British rulers to non-Brahmin castes had led to the emergence of powerful pressure groups and increased their demand for preferential treatment in education, jobs and elections. It ultimately gave birth to the quota system. 1905 to 1940 was the period, when idea of Reservation/positive discrimination was conceived, experimented and established firmly. It opened up various channels of confrontation.
Sanskritization of Caste system
Modern education, Western literature and philosophy widened the mental horizons of visionary national leaders and reformers. They welcomed rationality and other good features of and made good use of liberal, and humanitarian ideas/thoughts of Modern Western World.
Destructive nature of new policies alarmed national leaders – On one hand, national leaders got alarmed at the erosion of Indian Culture and divisible policies of the rulers. They realized the impact of British racial discrimination and their repressive policies on the Indian people. The destructive character of British imperialism lit the fire and gave birth to national movement. Economic loot, political subjugation, assertion of lordly superiority over the subject on the ground of race, assumption of a haughty exclusiveness, persistent insulting and supercilious behavior towards all Indians, exclusion of Indians from all places of authority and responsibility and denial of their capacity for self-governance united Indians against British rule.
On the other hand, national leaders and reformers tried to revive their own rich ancient culture and prevent the masses from being swayed away by the glamour and materialism of alien culture. Social Reformers advised people to remain firmly rooted to the Indian Culture.
Reformers and intellectuals fought for Reformation –
Reformers observed that ignorance, superstitions or irrationality of people was hampering the progress of Indian society. Reformers organized meetings to make people aware of the social evils/real issues. They advised people to stop treating low caste Hindus inhumanly. They advocated for giving women their rightful place in society. It was considered it vital because woman as a mother is the best teacher. Also women needed to be protected from evil social practices like Sati, Polygamy, child marriage, infanticide, feticide etc.
The intellectual ferment was strongest in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. In 1928, Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded Brahma Samaj in Bengal. He inspired the people of Bengal, UP, Punjab, Madras and other provinces, to form similar organizations and interpret religion rationally. Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra (1867), Arya Samaj in Northern India, Rama Krishna Mission, Theosophical Society of India (1879), Dev Samaj in Lahore and Servants of India Society took up the job to awaken the masses. They talked about the greatness of Hindu Vedic culture and about Vedas as the source of all knowledge and truth. Swami Vivekanand founded the Rama Krishna Mission tried to reveal to the world Indian Philosophy and culture. Some reform institutes like Vivekanand’s or Rama Krishna Mission or Theosophical Society of India tried to familiarize the Western World, too, to the charm and graciousness of Indian Culture.
Reform movement of early 20th century – Swami Vivekanand and many others gave a call to “Return to Vedas”. He said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its center, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries the nation dies.”
Reformists and their organizations had purely social thrust. They aimed at establishing a social order based on Vedic teachings and practices. They criticized the mumbo-jumbo of rituals and superstitions created by some selfish people to entangle the ignorant and poor masses. They laid emphasis on interpreting Vedas in a rational and scientific way.
They explained that –
- Knowledge alone is the key to truth.
- Vedas has been conceived through intellectual contemplation and empirical observation and Upnishads (speculative interpretation of Vedas or Mythology) are the creation of human imagination..
- Their rationality is in conformity with the laws of nature.
- No one belongs to any social group because of birth. It is inter-changeable and depends on ones thoughts and deeds.
- True religion does not discriminate mankind in terms of race, color, nationality, caste or gender.
- The most noble task of every individual is to work for the enlightenment and uplift the weaker persons.
- The markings of Indian culture are simplicity and solidity.
They advised people not to be swayed away by Western culture. First they should know their own heritage and try to revive what is good in it. They made sincere efforts to make religion as bedrock of the value-system. Religion in its pure sense does not lead to discrimination. It does not teach people to hate or divide mankind. These were the noble ideas that had influenced greatly the young minds of educated middle class.
Modernization of caste system
“By independence, we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong” (BR Ambedkar, quoted from TOI, P.20, Jan 26, 2010)
Post Independent India – From 15th of August 1947 onwards, Independent India is committed to democratic, secular and egalitarian principles as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Preamble of the Indian Constitution promises to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination on grounds of caste, race, religion, gender or place of birth; Article 16 gives equality of opportunity in matter of public employment, Article 338 creates National commission for Scheduled Castes to safeguard their interests etc.
Concern of Government for the protection of underprivileged-castes – A number of amendments in the Constitution and legislation have been passed to remove the disabilities of backward people. Untouchability has been declared a crime. Bonded labor is abolished by law. Civil Rights Act, 1955, aims to eliminate injustice against weaker sections. Amendment to Prevention of Atrocities Act (SCT) 1989 provides for stern punishments for offenses committed against SCT by Upper Castes. Special Courts, under SCT Act, have been established for punishing officials, if found guilty. Still, there is no respite from discriminatory practices. Why?
Caste more liberal in social sphere – In modern India, spread of literacy and growing awareness among masses has already brought to an end slowly but steadily many of the discriminatory practices and deformities developed in Caste system, while living under alien rule. It has become more liberal and less restrictive in social life of the people. Castes no longer enjoy legal or religious sanctions.
Castes Less restrictive – Expulsion from castes means little, while earlier it meant complete social ostracism. Old style of authority and power exercised by caste-elders has already diminished except for a few rural areas especially in Haryana and Rajasthan. Restrictions or interactions between different castes arising due to considerations for purity and pollution are fading away from public life even from rural areas. Traditional barriers on marriage, hereditary occupations and commonality are loosing its importance.
Poor governance – In modern India, millions of submerged people suffer from discrimination and exploitation, it is not the caste-system, but the bad politics and poor governance, which is responsible. Modern India is sharply divided into two – “haves” and “have-nots”. The most important factors responsible for disparities are vote-bank politics, irrational and corrupt ways of pursuing the paternal policies and government’s failure to address real issues at central and State levels.
‘Caste’, the most powerful tool for creation of vote-banks – ‘Caste’ has become a bye-word for Indian politicians. For the present-day political leaders caste is the easiest and most powerful tool to sway public opinion emotionally and to create a larger vote bank for them. It may be called ossification of caste-system fallen into the hands of power brokers and vote guzzlers.
Emergence of political identities – For political and governance purposes, modern Indian society has been stratified in most insensitive manner. For grabbing the political power, the modern Indian society has been divided into the following unbridgeable groups – Upper castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes, Other Backward Class and Minorities. Sectional interests are being promoted on caste or communal basis shamelessly.
Narrow loyalties of caste and religion – Narrow loyalties of caste and religion are encouraged in political arena. It has generated sub-cultures like caste-ism, favoritism, and lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism etc. Bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments are spreading in-discipline in the society. The rising aspirations and demands of people, with the spread of education and awareness, has created added problem for the government.
Under-currents of caste politics – Under-currents of caste politics have made the government incapable to solve the burning national issues. It has made to maintain law and order difficult. Inter-caste and intra-caste, inter-community and intra-community and inter-tribal and intra-tribal conflicts are increasing day by day in order to get more space in the corridors of power.
Real issues pushed into the background – Real issues like mass-scale illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, inflation, deteriorated law and order situation, increasing violence or general coarsening of moral fiber of the Indian society etc. are pushed into the background. the voice of upright and honest people belonging to middle class is being continuously throttled mercilessly. They are being punished for following sincerely family-planning norms, which has decreased their numbers. In present day vote-bank politics based on game of numbers, it is very easy now for the pursuers of political power to sideline them.
The voice of upright and honest citizens of India irrespective of caste or community is being continuously throttled mercilessly. In present day vote-bank politics based on game of numbers, it is very easy now for the pursuers of political power to sideline them.
In modern India, the powerful and assertive pressure groups already emerged in so-called backward and Dalit castes have grouped together and increased their numerical strength. They have become more tenacious about their caste-identity than the higher.
Caste system has travelled a very long distance since then. Many changes have taken place in the system especially during centuries of Muslim and British rule in the country. As time passed on, vested interests in each era had distorted or interpreted the original concepts in the manner, which suited to their purpose. Many deformities and rigidities had developed into system to preserve its indigenous identity and culture.
In political circles, caste is blamed for all the agonies of submerged sections of Indian society – it could vary from illiteracy to creating disparities of power, wealth and culture, escalation of violence, crimes and corruption leading the nation towards disintegration and discrimination and exploitation of weaker, unprivileged sections of society, forcing destitution on vast number of people. But the fault lies somewhere else.
Still Caste-system presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world. The strength of caste system has been proved by the following facts:
- Despite centuries of foreign rule over 75% of Indian population remains Hindu and have strong feelings for caste-system.
- Had caste system become obsolete, it would have given place to other system.
- Caste system has influenced all other communities living in India.
Its values have acted as a shield. During medieval and initial period of modern India, caste system has been a major force for failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway during the Muslims or British rule and even after the mass conversions of Hindus into Islam and Christianity. Even in 21st century’s atmosphere of chaos, as C. Rajgopalachari has pointed out “If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity- any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”.
Allover the world, many systems, institutions, structures, principles, and cultures have been developed from time to time, which created a wave sweeping the entire world with it for some time. But soon, they became obsolete and were replaced by anti-waves which replaced them and wiped off the previous influence. Caste system, on which Indian social structure is based, has proved to be an exception. Its character is different in the context of village, locality, region or religion. Its absorptive nature has internalized alien influences.
Change one must. Past should not be idolized. Any system, which in light of modern times appears to be ineffective or inefficient should be replaced by a better one. But it will be suicidal to sacrifice something to an increasing passion for change. Changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions.
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