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Discrimination and caste system

“All confrontation is based on deception.” Paul Watson, Canadian activist

Each is unique in its own way. “In nature, no two objects are identical. Comparisons and their limiting effect scan be reversed by our acknowledging the uniqueness of each individual we meet, including ourselves.” Swami Swaroopanand

“A society that puts equality (of outcome) ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom and force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”  Thomas Sowell        

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal” Aristotle

             “Opportunities present themselves every day. You just have to be alert and ready to act.” Marc Ostrofsky, an US Entrepreneur 

 “Equality consists in the same treatment of similar persons”         Aristotle

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at right time and for right purpose and in right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.   Aristotle

Introduction – Marc Ostrofsky, an US Entrepreneur has very correctly commented that “Opportunities present themselves every day. You just have to be alert and ready to act.” Nobody can deny opportunities to a person, who keeps his eyes, ears open and tries to make use of the opportunities present before him. Opportunities are not served in a platter to anyone by the government or the society. Both the government and the society are abstract institutions, which can not be seen or act directly. All the sections of a society or representatives of the people together form these institutions.

Discrimination – Guru Govind Singh has commented, “All human beings have the same eyes, the same ears. The same body composed of earth, air, fire and water. The names  Allah and bhekh are for the same God  : Recognize ye the whole human race as one.”

No doubt, discrimination of any kind is undesirable. But at the same time, not all difference is discrimination, it can be circumstantial. Discrimination is objectionable, when it is intentional and done with some selfish motive. There are some people in every society, who in their self-interest act inhumanly, irrationally and harm others. There is no justification for such irrational acts, which later on give rise to discriminatory practices.

Reality is much deeper than what is seen on the surface. It is not desirable to pass on comments based on half cooked information, half a truth, partial or incomplete knowledge, which could be harmful for the whole society. Many a times, irresponsible acts of some irrational and cynic persons create misunderstandings. National policies and plans of any nation should not be based on irrational acts of a few irrational people. Also it would not be right to blame the whole system or a society for  irresponsible acts of a few.

President Obama, while in India, has commented, “The dreams of those who do menial jobs are just as worthy as ours. In India and US the grandson of a cook can be President, A Dalit can help write the Constitution, a tea-seller can become a PM.” (President Obama, Quoted from TOI, Jan 18,2015) On the basis of the personal experiences of the two leaders of USA and India – both of whom have risen from humble backgrounds to top positions.

Caste system – One should not criticize any system or form an opinion or take a decision without analyzing rationally the whole scenario. Many misconceptions have been spread around about caste-system of India and its nature by vested interests of certain people during the last few centuries.

Ancient India did not sanctify discrimination. The present birth-based caste-discrimination, exploitation, oppression and suppression is a blot on India and is more recent than is told by vested interests. Ambedkar himself in his famous book, ‘who were Shudras’ said that in ancient times, India had widely respected Shudras rulers as well, and the oppressive scriptural verses justifying discrimination and casteism were included into the texts later. According to Bhagwat Gita, four Varnas were based on guna (attibutes) and Karma (deeds). Rishis/sages were accorded the highest status in ancient India. The two most popular epics ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’ were composed by Valmiki (a Shudra according to present ranking) and Ved Vyas (a backward caste).

Arvind Sharma, a Professor in McGill University says that caste rigidity and discrimination emerged in the Smriti priod (from after the birth of Jesus Christ and extending upto 1200 CE). During Medieval period, it was challenged by Bhakti movement led by many non-upper caste saints. At that time some powerful empires led by Shudra rulers  like Kakatiyas emerged. Caste discrimination became rigid again during British rule. Now education, economic reforms and urbanization can remove caste discrimination and poverty to a great extent.     For sustainable development of the nation, all Indians must oppose and fight against any kind of discrimination

Issue

Bitter criticism of the caste system – Caste system is vehemently criticized in modern world without understanding and analyzing what caste as a system is. How, when and why, the system got derailed and how to bring it back on rails.

Recently Rikke Nohrlind, co-ordinator of the International Dalit Solidarity Network said, ” Caste discrimination is a global issue, affecting hundreds of millions of people in many parts of the country” Therefore, an amendment in Equality Act 2010 has been made to outlaw Caste in UK to give legal protection to 816,633 Hindus based in the UK.  Till now, the Act prohibited race discrimination, harassment and victimization in the work-place. “Very strong views have been expressed in the Lords on this (caste) matter and we have reconsidered our position and agreed to introduce caste-related legislation. … We hope that this decision will serve as an example to other countries” Jo Swinson – Equalities Minister, U.K. (Quoted from daily Newspaper, Times of India, P.24)

Dalit pressure group criticizes ‘Caste system’ for its being highly discriminatory. The Imperial British rulers had condemned the Caste system strongly earlier also before the Independence. Now many political parties, many intellectuals Dalit activists and their leaders have joined them. They are born, educated and brought-up in an atmosphere, which is deeply influenced by rhymes and reasons of western societies.

Needs an analysis – Blaming caste system for all discriminatory practices or suggesting bringing to an end a well established and accepted system in the name of discrimination, needs to be given a second thought. For understanding the problem, answer of the following questions with an impartial, rational, sensitive and perceptive mindset is required –

  • Is it that discrimination exist only in India because its social structure is based on Caste System. Other society especially the Western free from any kind of discriminatory practices socially or politically?
  • Are really the practices and values of caste-system problematic and complicated?
  • Is it the caste-system, which is responsible for discrimination and exploitation of weaker/ unprivileged sections of society?
  • What is the position of different castes as it exists presently in ground realities?
  • Why the system is politicized?
  • What is the difference between caste as a system and casteism?

Discrimination elsewhere in the world

Discrimination to some extent exists everywhere in one form or other – be it a social, political and economic system or institution, be it a big or small institution as small as that of a family. Vulnerable individuals or weaker sections of society have always become an easy prey for discrimination. Within a family, vulnerable family members like children, old or widowed parents, poor relatives or unemployed youth become an easy prey of discrimination. And in a society, poor, illiterate and ignorant people quite often become victims of exploitation. Fear of being discriminated or exploited springs from ignorance.

Equality of all exists only in theory , but no power on earth can ever turn it into a reality.

Racism and Western World 

Racism is a much more serious problem than caste in matter of discrimination, as it is based on the color of the skin, which can not be hidden. Societies in Western World are divided sharply into four water-tight compartments. “Whites” at the top of social hierarchy, then comes Yellows (Japanese, Chinese or Philippines) followed by “Browns” (Indians, Pakistanis and people from other South-Eastern nations and at the bottom “Blacks”. The western world is witnessing a rise in white supremacist movements. Last two categories have always been humiliated. They have to struggle to get suitable jobs according to their qualifications. They are forced to work for less money, accused for snatching jobs from “whites” and having slavish mentality.

Treatment to Indian students in western nations

Every year, on an average 430,000 odd Indian students go to Western nations for further studies. In recent past, in Australia, Europe and America, Indian and Pakistani students along with Vietnamese students of middle-class background are being targeted, racially abused, insulted, ridiculed and assaulted physically now and then by Whites. They take bank loans, borrow money and pass through many difficulties to get a degree from foreign university. Life is not easy for them in any way. They have to work very hard to fund their education there.

Despite everything the exodus of students from upper castes continues because due to reverse discrimination policies, they are being treated as second rate citizens in their own country. It is an anomaly that Western society, where discrimination on racial grounds has always been a part of life (only it is being highlighted by media now), wants to reform India.

Reasons behind discrimination

Intolerance – Usually, in every society, differences in behavior, character, education, language, way of life, culture, social background create a distance between two individuals or groups. Resistance to tolerate, adapt or appreciate each other widens the distance. Some become so aggressive that they openly abuse or oppress others. In order to be one up, either they let down others or try to control their destiny by adopting discriminatory practices. And in this rat-race, stronger always wins and weaker suffers.

Grounds for discrimination – In every society and a nation there exists numerous identities based on factors like race, class, caste, religion, gender, language or region. Craving for more power – muscle, money or political – of some individuals or groups tends people to adopt discriminatory practices. Discriminatory practices work on whims and fancies/likes and dislikes of strong persons. Controlling the destiny of others satisfies their ego and serves their interests.

Caste system and British rulers

In the past, British rulers in India, while laying foundation of democratic institutions of India, started many discriminatory practices. In order to keep balance of power and counter Brahmins hold on Indian society passed some discriminatory Acts like Act of 1919 (Minto Morely Reforms)or Communal Award of 1932.Till 1947, they kept their railway compartments, waiting rooms, parks, clubs, hotels, places of other entertainment and residences segregated.

Two aspects of caste system have amazed the British rulers in the past –

  • influence of Caste system on Indian society;
  • Reluctance of its people to convert into other religions, on the ground that all religions are valid.

Dalit Activists and caste system

Dalit Activists criticize caste system vehemently and hold it responsible for keeping 750 million Hindus – dalits, tribals and other backward classes – poor, “subjugated, discriminated against and humiliated.” “Technologies for human survival …. were all developed by lower castes”, but “upper castes took away the fruits of their labour and invention.” “In the hearts of the oppressed castes, there is anger and hatred.” ‘Social-justice’ demands their emancipation by ending all kind of discrimination.

There are two options: “either complete equality to Dalit Bahujan communities or their conversion into other religions.” Such comments of Dalit Activists and political leaders arouse emotional sentiments of poor masses, generate venom in their heart and create a feeling of ‘otherness’.

According to Pr. Kancha Ilaiah, an activist, complete equality means –

  • Embracing all lower castes,
  • Eating with them,
  • Treating them as their equal, and
  • An end to the allegation that they are merit-deficient.

Inspite of all such comments, it is the lower segment of society, which is sticking strongly to its caste-identities.

India and ‘Caste’ as a ‘System’ 

Caste is a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India. It is difficult for the western world to understand its role – past or present – in Indian society or because of its complete localization and unfamiliarity to see it in its totality.

Strong features of ‘caste-system’ – 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.

Following are the strong features of ‘caste’ as a system –

  • Assimilation of different social groups without conversion– In the past, caste assimilated numerous social groups – immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or others into its mainstream without any conversion. It assigned each incoming new group a separate caste identity and made them its integral part in due course of time.
  • Freedom to prosper according to their internal rhythm – This way, neither it disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented new groups to join the mainstream. It did not annihilate the faith, way of living, internal order, customs, culture or language of new groups. Instead, it gave them freedom to prosper according to their internal rhythm.
  • Caste regarded as a natural institution by Hindus – Indian society regards family, extended family, Kula, Caste and religion as fundamental social institutions. An individual is a natural member of a family, which is a unit of an extended family, extended family of Kula, Kula of a tribe (Vish) – and a tribe of a Jana of Jati (Caste). 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 the members within a caste enjoy equal social status vise-a-vise other castes. 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.
  • Closer relations with like-minded persons – It is natural that relation between like-minded people are closer than others in any society. In India, a person’s relation with his caste-fellows is closer than with those belonging to other castes. Internalized caste norms define an individual role in the society. A person feels good and loved, when he lives up to these norms, and anxious and guilty, when he transgresses them.
  • 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. Even as today, it does so in rural areas. Each caste still maintains its own rules, regulations, customs, and way of life and controls the conduct of its members. It encourages self-discipline, conscious, self-control, and self-direction.
  • Castes as a series of vertical parallels – The key, to understand the caste system, is not in seeing it as a framework of hierarchical layers of social order, each fitting neatly below the other, as pointed out by census operations done during imperial rule, but as a series of vertical parallels. Each caste is an independent entity, with its own hierarchy, based either on a tribal identity or an occupational identity.
  • Inter-dependence an integral part of caste system – In ancient and medieval India, all people living in a village or city were bound together by economic and social ties. All castes living in a local area, whether high or low, had a strong bond of mutual dependence, caring, sharing and supporting each other in fulfilling different kind of needs. There was hardly any room for any section of society to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. Concept of forwards or backwards or feeling of exploitation of lower strata by upper castes was almost non-existent at that time. Industrialization and modernization have changed the scene.

Criticism

Some people blame Caste system for its being ‘discriminatory’ in nature. They say, it serves the interests of “haves “and enhances the agonies of “have-nots”. But it is an anomaly, that still it is only the ‘have-nots’, who cling more tightly to their caste identities today. Caste system has been criticized for –

  • Giving importance to birth -_Caste system has been alleged for giving rise to disparities in the society, because it gives importance to birth in determining social status of a person. But same is the position in Western world also, where wealth determines social status. Wealth is also acquired through birth. There also exists a sharp distinction between the Aristocratic/elite society and common man.
  • Critics say that for centuries in the past and even at present, people born in lower castes have been suppressed or oppressed by people belonging to upper castes. Upper castes are accountable and punishable for the miseries of lower caste. They should make reparations for the sins/historical wrong done by their ancestors. However their opponents argue why should the present generation of so-called upper castes be punished for the injustices done by their ancestors centuries ago? Justice ‘Social, economic and political’ never allows punishing somebody else for the crimes committed by others.
  • No access to education – It is alleged that upper castes has kept its monopoly on education to reinforce its traditional dominance and prevented lower castes from getting educated. When British rulers allowed legally admission to all irrespective of caste or creed in government schools, higher castes opposed admission of the children belonging to lower strata.

Reason for illiteracy of masses, poverty – It is only half truth that backward castes were debarred or denied access to education because of discriminatory caste system. Masses remained uneducated mainly because of their poverty. The relentless effort of missionaries and the reformers could educate a very small number of people from lower-castes. Mostly it was the impoverished group caste Hindus in search of livelihood, who looked upon modern education as means to earn their living respectfully and devoted their scarce resources on it. The reasons for mass-illiteracy were the following  –

  • Modern education system was very costly and therefore, unaffordable by masses. The costly nature of education tended to make it a monopoly of the richer classes and city dwellers.
  • The medium of instruction was a foreign language – English.
  • Lower-castes did see any immediate use of education. It was more important for them to work and arrange two square meals day rather than spending on education.

Ranking – In the past, ranking of different social groups was done on some principles. Self-discipline, hygiene, cleanliness, morality, knowledge, spirituality of different social groups i.e. castes and usefulness of their work to the society as a whole were the considerations, which determined the social, economic or political status of a group in society vise-a vise others. Higher a caste, purer it was considered, and greater were the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals.

Mobility – Mobility of individuals from one caste to another was restricted in the past. But upward mobility of a group in the social scale was though difficult, but not impossible. Ancient India had allowed upward mobility of a caste through good deeds – by adopting more orthodox practices, cleaner habits, self-discipline and observance of rituals or the position of a caste could be improved. This way, lower-castes were encouraged to follow discipline in life.

Now different castes prefer to be called backwards. They are racing to get a tag of backward castes, so that they can avail the benefits of quota fixed for backward castes in jobs an.

Wealth – Doors for honor or wealth were always open to deserving individuals/groups of any caste. History is the proof that even the lowest rank attained even sovereignty in India such as Maratha Kings, who fought their way up-to the throne against Mohammedan and commanded respect of all Indians. From fourteenth to the eighteenth century, soldiers came from all strata of society including the lowest in the ritual term. There was no discrimination in the recruitment and treatment of soldiers on caste basis. Rajput status was given to soldiers.

Occupation –Critics of Caste system allege that there was no freedom/choice to individuals in matter of occupation in the past. They were forced people to employ themselves in hereditary occupations. This allegation is not wholly truth.

In ancient Europe and Asia also, occupations were not only hereditary, but also limited it to be followed by specific classes only. It was considered natural and convenient for a person to do a job, which he knew, the knowledge of which, he acquired in a natural way.

  • Changes brought in by Industrial revolution

It was the industrial revolution, which had changed the trend. Now total aversion of modern youth from their traditional occupation has rendered millions unemployed or underemployed or confused about what they want to do. They waste their time, energy and efforts in search of white collared jobs rather than pursuing jobs, which suits to their knowledge, aptitude and qualifications. There is more job-satisfaction, happiness, success or contentment in doing a job, one knows well rather than in stepping on someone else’s toes.

Sir John Shore, who was Governor General of India during 1793-1798, observed that there was considerable latitude in matter of work in India. Among many castes, it was constantly found that one brother pursuing hereditary vocation and another entering army. HT Colebrooke also confirms it, “It may be received as a general maxim that occupation appointed for each tribe is entitled merely to a preference. Every profession, with few exceptions, was open to every description of persons and the discouragement arising from religious prejudices is not greater than what exists in Great Britain from the effects of Municipal and Corporate laws.”

  • Alternative ideologies to provide breathing space

In the past, whenever rigidities and discriminatory practices of society in the name of caste system suffocated Indian society, there arose alternative ideologies or styles of life, which gave people breathing space. Rise of Buddhism in Ancient India, Sufi tradition of Islam and Bhakti movement of Hindus in medieval India (around 10th century), and reform movements of 19th and 20th centuries taught sympathetic attitude towards lesser human beings, brotherly love for each other and fellowship, love and respect all human beings irrespective of caste or creed and rejected practice of elaborate rituals and caste pretensions.

Modern India 

Most of the allegations against caste system, which were there in the past, can not be justified now in modern India. Process of modernization, industrialization, spread of education and growing awareness among masses have already brought to an end slowly but steadily many of the discriminatory practices of Caste system. It has become more liberal and less restrictive in all walks of life. Castes no longer enjoy legal or religious sanctions. 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. 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.

Constitution of India

Preamble of the Indian Constitution promisesto 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.

Legislations for equal opportunities

A number of amendments in the Constitution and legislation have been passed to remove the disabilities of backward people. Un-touchability 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?

Reasons for the miseries of downtrodden

There are many reasons, why people do not get respite from discriminatory practices. There is no denial of the fact that with the passage of time, and for a long time, living under alien rule, caste system had developed many deformities. The system became too rigid to keep its identity continuing. Still it is not so much because of the caste-system, but because of bad politics and poor governance, that millions of people have still to suffer discrimination and exploitation in modern India. Some of the causes are as following –

  • Emergence of Political Identities

During their imperial rule, the British had divided the Indian society into five major groups, giving each one an independent political identity based on the political power and the amount of wealth, they hold. The water-tight compartmentalization of Indian society had been done by Censuses during British rule into Minorities, Scheduled Castes, now popularly known as Dalits or SCs, Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward castes (OBCs) and Higher Castes.

  • Political compartmentalization of Indian society

Modern Indian society has been polarized on caste and communal basis into following unbridgeable sections – Upper castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes, Other Backward Class and Minorities. Stratification of Indian society has been done in most insensitive manner for the purpose of balancing the power. It has become a bye-word for Indian politicians.

  • Poor execution of rules and regulations

Indian society is sharply divided into two broad divisions- “haves” and “have-nots”. The most important factors responsible for disparities are present-day-politics, irrational and corrupt ways of pursuing the paternal policies of the government at cetral and State levels and government’s failure to address real issues.

  • Use of ‘Caste’ as the most powerful tool to create vote-banks

 ‘Caste’ has become for the present-day political leaders as the easiest and most powerful tool to sway public emotionally and to create a larger vote bank. It may be called ossification of caste-system fallen into the hands of power brokers and vote guzzlers.

  • Priority to abstract issues in order to divert public attention

Day in and day out, public attention is being diverted from real issues and public sentiments are aroused by floating in political world abstract issues like discrimination, social justice, affirmative action/reservations, secularism. Sectional interests are being promoted on caste basis. 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 are pushed into the background.

  • Centralization of control systems

There is complete centralization of control systems in the hands of a few individuals, families and groups irrespective of castes or creed. They have enough money, muscle and political power plus and the support of criminals.  They are flourishing day by day and control almost all the national resources. They enjoy life at cost of tax-payers. This very small section of society virtually controls the destiny of millions. They have a say in almost every walk of national life.

  • Corruption

Corruption has become a major/perennial impediment to implement various developmental schemes. Ignorance and pessimist attitude of masses makes corrupt persons bold. Once the public raises its voice against arbitrary behavior/actions of powerful lobby, all discrimination and malpractices would get automatically controlled.

  • Aversion form human, moral or traditional values

Aversion of people from human, moral or traditional values has aggravated the problem. The total concentration of educated people is on pursuit of money and materialistic pleasures by hook or crook. Favoritism, in-discipline, violence, corruption, and chase of materialism based on ruthless competition have given sharp rise to disparities and discrimination. It leads to cut-throat competition and creates rift amongst different groups. Political expediency and opportunism has made sectional forces more assertive/aggressive in attitude and vocal about their rights but ignores duties.

  • Reconcile the claims of growth with the claims of equity

It is one of the big challenges for the government to reconcile the claims of growth with the claims of equity. Compassion, sensitivity, equality or fraternity can not be imposed or enforced by any outside agency or authority. Such a step may prove to be a cause of social unrest. It has to be in-built in the social economic and political system of a country through education and awareness – education, which is the source of knowledge and power; and awareness, which comes from availability of information.

  • Narrow loyalties of caste and religion

Narrow loyalties of caste and religion are encouraged generating sub-cultures like caste-ism, favoritism, and lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism, bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments, 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.

  • Discriminatory measures taken by the Government

In Independent India, Governments at centre and the provinces are continuously thrusting upon the public many discriminatory/lofty/populist rules, regulations and policies in the name of helping “poor masses”. Common men especially belonging to upper castes feel threatened, helpless and suffer from discriminatory policies of the government. Protective policies and laws can neither convert an iniquitous Society into an equitable one, nor does it help in any way the vulnerable, oppressed and submerged masses.

Most of measures taken by the Governmental authorities touch the problems superficially at its periphery only. Most of the solutions pursued by the government are totally unrelated to day to day problems of common man in real life. Instead of benefiting or helping the poor, on one hand such developmental programs increase corruption, and on the other it encourages lethargy, agitation and attitude to depend on authorities for each and everything.

‘Reservation policy’ as means to end discrimination

Successive governments both at the centre and provinces are trying to tackle problem of discrimination and disparity by openly favouring policies of ‘reverse discrimination’, which give more importance to distribute power on pro-rata basis by fixing quota. The sustainable development of submerged sections can be achieved by providing quality of education to everybody and making people aware of different opportunities available to them.

Reservation policy can hardly be able to bring in desired transformation in the society. In a democratic country, discrimination anywhere or in any form – be it positive or negative – is the most objectionable thing. The problem of discrimination or disparities can not be tackled by fixing up quotas or by adopting the path of reverse discrimination or treating a few sections of society more than equals by entitling them for preferential treatment by the governmental agencies in different spheres of life.

Political leaders of various political parties desire to fix up quotas in all governmental institutions for different sections of society on pro-rata basis. Such a demand is based on negative exhortations. The government’s policy of Reservation in jobs and education has resulted in a tough competition amongst various castes to demand a lower status, so that they can also avail more concessions and facilities.

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.

Meaning of ‘No Discrimination’

‘No discrimination’ does not mean sharing power equally. More than thousand million people can not be accommodated in power echelons. It means a harmonious partnership between people belonging to different sections of society and the authorities responsible for governance. Governance should be done on the basis of mutual help, mutual respect and mutual trust. Governance is a continuing process, through which conflicting interests and diverse needs of all the people are looked-after and a cooperative action is taken.

Pathetic condition of upper castes belonging to middle class

Middle class has always been the backbone of society. Now 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.

Lower castes more tenacious about their caste-identity

Today lower castes, which are more tenacious about their caste than the higher, could be easily swayed emotionally in the name of caste-based reservations. Reservations Policy has given the ‘backwards’ an identity as a composite and powerful political pressure group. They have grouped together and increased their numerical strength. It has helped them to emerge as a powerful and assertive pressure group and unite, organize and fight vigorously for the seats of power.

A large number of educated people of so-called ‘Backward-castes’ have already entered into the corridors of power and are occupying important places, exercising authority. Dalits and Muslims are being wooed with vigor by all major national political parties. Even Naxalite groups find in Dalits an allies, as most of their action squads are formed of Harijans. No political party could dare to annoy them. All concede to their demands openly or discreetly.

The transformation of untouchables into Harijans, Depressed class and now Dalits is a classic example, where a fraction of society is increasingly distancing itself from the mainstream and establishing firmly its separate identity. The organized intolerance of some groups due to over-consciousness about their separate identity has grown out of proportions now, perpetuating agitation and violence. They desire a complete hold on political power plus protection of those laws and policies indefinitely, which were started sixty years ago for enabling them to join the mainstream. They want to have a cake and eat it too, but without much effort or blending their ways.

Conclusion

It is a matter of shame that after giving so much constitutional and government protection to weaker sections, incidents of discrimination keep on increasing. Instead of over-looking the interests of the whole society or whole of the nation, it is desirable that law-implementing machinery should get tough on perpetrators of injustice. Discriminatory practices or oppression of weaker sections of society is unacceptable to the whole of humanity.

Instead of blaming an invisible institution (caste-system) for discrimination, deep wisdom and honesty of purpose is needed to find out right methods and courage to strive for it sincerely.

So-called ‘Backward castes’ need to understand the spirit of Indian Constitution and try to adapt thinking, culture and life-style of the mainstream of the nation. Otherwise, there will always be cultural rifts, both in their lives and minds, threatening the unity of the nation from time to time.

Today, when the whole world is reeling between economic depression and and terrorism, people expect from the government to bring in change in economic situation and in fight against terrorism. Hate, jealousy, anxiety or fear leads to violence and give rise to wars, riots, antagonisms and class or caste conflicts.

After-effects of the great economic depression of 2008 has brought many social and economic changes and aggravated the problems for present government. The GDP growth has fallen there, business investment has dipped alarmingly. Unemployment has risen.

Therefore, Government needs to be very careful, while planning for measures – developmental or punitive – to be taken. The needs and aspirations of the people as a whole should be taken care of by the government, not of any specific section of the society.

Present atmosphere demands to resolve sensibly the differences and clashes of interests peacefully with rational thinking and understanding for each other. For a change, India needs collective nation building efforts of both the authorities and the public with a sense of justice, commitment to the nation, understanding for each other and consciousness about duties along with rights.

Winding up

Following steps could to be taken to bring to an end discrimination of any kind –

  • First of all, government should find out root causes of discrimination and deprivation,
  • Government should identify without bias vulnerable groups, which are discriminated against by the present modern society. It should not be on the basis of caste.
  • Identify the special needs or problems of each group separately,
  • Accordingly plan about the measures to be taken to protect the interests of vulnerable individuals.
  • Well meaning judicious laws, which could directly improve day today life of common men, should be carefully legislated.
  • Such laws should not remain only on papers but have to be executed/implemented in real life for dealing with social injustice effectively.
  • To give relief to ‘Have-nots’, the way out is to tackle effectively local crimes against common man whether in rural or urban areas and improve law and order position.
  • The money meant for the development purposes should actually be spent for which it is intended i.e. the betterment of submerged sections of society.
  • Power generally rests with physical strength, wealth and knowledge. Knowledge brings in both physical strength and wealth. Therefore, stress on knowledge through ‘education for all’ should be the top priority for the government for empowerment of weaker sections, which are victims of discrimination.
  • Widespread human rights violations should be stopped by punishing the culprits.
  • It is necessary to put honest and right persons at crucial positions. There are very few people, who have the knowledge/understanding what to do, how to do and when to do;

A strong political will and courage is needed to bring to an end caste-ism and with it all kinds of discriminatory attitudes, repressive laws and practices. For the prosperity of the nation and tension-free/stress-free life of common man, as suggested by First Backward class Commission’s Chairman Kaka Kalelkar in mid fifties, “National solidarity in a democratic set up demands Government to recognize only two ends – the individual at one end and the nation as a whole at the other. Nothing should be encouraged to organize itself in between these two ends to the detriment of the freedom of the individual and solidarity of the nation. All communal and denominational organizations and groupings of lesser and narrower units have to be watched carefully, so that they do not jeopardize the national solidarity and do not weaken the efforts of the nation to serve the various elements in the body politic with equity. Mutual help, mutual respect and mutual trust are the touchstone, on which all communal and denominational activities will be tested.”

April 14, 2016 Posted by | General, Social and political values and systems | | Leave a comment

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)

In modern understanding of caste-system, element of ‘system’ is less and ‘caste’ is dominant.’

Introduction

Conceptualized, originated and practiced exclusively in India – 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.

Covers the entire social fabric of India – 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 (extended family), and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. It is quite natural for all human beings to have closer ties with ones own fellow-beings and the persons following same kind of occupation and having the common traits/mindset. So emerged the 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. It has greatly influenced the thinking of people and their culture allover India.

One of the oldest living institution – 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.

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.

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?

Why so much criticism? – Usually, suspicions or misunderstandings about any system arise, when the fundamentals and knowledge about the system or ground realities of the place 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 society. Many a times, such opinions turn out to be a great lie.

Reality is deeper than what is 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 and caste system

Hinduism and its caste-system, a way of life – Hinduism and its caste-system do not mean religious festivals, sacred texts, and statues of deities, rituals or show off religiosity. It is a way of life.

Criticism of Caste by British rulers and why? – In the past, British Imperial rulers and missionaries criticized caste-system bitterly. Ward alleged “Not only is the caste contrary to every principle of justice and polity, it is repugnant to every feeling of benevolence. The social circle is almost invariably, composed of persons of the same caste, to the careful exclusion of others. It aims one class of men against another; it gives rise to greatest degree of pride and apathy. It forms a sufficient excuse for not doing an act of benevolence towards another, that he is not of the same caste, Ney, a man dying with thirst will not accept a cooling drop of water from the hands or the cup of a person of a lower caste.” They intentionally highlighted the weaknesses and suppressed the salient feature of caste as a system.

Karl Marx remarked that 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. The reactionary and destructive character was seen in the economic and social sphere. The growth of casteism had a close connection with these developments. (Dutt RP, India Today, p476).

Pursuance of sectional interests – Along with them, a group of intellectuals, activists and reformers, who were deeply influenced by the thinking of western world, condemned caste-system. In the beginning of 20th century during British rule in India, with the introduction of electoral politics, many political groups emerged in the scene taking up the interests of particular section/sections. Such a development gave a new shape to caste system and placed pursuance of sectional interests over the interests of the all the people. At present, a large number of political leaders/ groups/political parties are vocal in criticizing caste and pursuing sectional interests, as it helps them to attract the illiterate masses and creates vote-banks for them. For them, caste has become a derogatory word. They consider it problematic and complicated and wish to create a casteless society.

Why Western World is mystified?

There are some basic differences in ‘class’ as the system adopted by West for stratification of society and ‘caste’ in India. Western world is mystified by amazing pluralities and unique social structure of India based on caste. It is difficult for the western world to understand the role of caste – past or present – in Indian society. Complete localization and unfamiliarity makes it difficult to understand caste as a system in its totality and to know the nuances, the nature, role (both in the past as well as in present) and value of caste as a system. Because –
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 and social status 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 a social group lives or 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 have till now 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 the past, other nations had passed through many bloody revolutions like in ancient Greece, Rome or other European countries, and made people to work under the threat of a whip, tolerance in India had prevented people from doing that.  It is continuously  Internalizing the changes and has kept on adapting itself to changing times. India has entered the modern era without any cultural break.

                                             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 – 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

Perfect guide to art of living – Vedic literature is a vast reservoir of knowledge. It presents a 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 –

  • Basic qualities of human beings – 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.
  • Four Varnas – 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.
  •  Why different groups are formed in a society – 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 is out of functional necessity as well. It 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 – Initially in Varna system, 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.
  • Together these principles organized inter-relationship – 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 

 Took thousands of years to evolve – 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 their 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.

Caste as a natural response of many small and primitive groups – 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 (decentralized) 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.

Sharing joys and sorrows together – It held all sections of society 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.

Influenced 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 on masses– 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 social 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.

Scientific and technological changes – 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 on society

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.

Changed work-culture – 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 education – 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 was hoped that modern education 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. As hoped modern education, eighteenth century onwards, 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. National leaders 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 reformists could feel the harmful effects of modern education on people. British rulers intended to educate 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. They forget as Abdul’ul-Baha describse cleanliness that “in every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition. ” (Abdul’ul-Baha)
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 many 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.
•Start of Brahmin vs Non-Brahmin movement – 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.

‘Census operations’

Regenerative effect 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.

Degenerative effect of Census –

  •  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. But at the same time destructive nature of new policies alarmed national leaders. 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.

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? Is caste system responsible for it or problems lie somewhere else?

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.

Winding up

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.
  • ‘Caste’ has become the most powerful tool in the hands of political parties for garnering votes and creation of vote-banks.

Values of caste system 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. But every time when caste-system along with Hinduism had been criticized vehemently, it re-emerged with greater force/strength.

It is high time when all kinds of discrimination, exploitation, oppression or suppression should be stopped. Change one must. 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. 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.

April 8, 2016 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | 1 Comment

‘Caste’ as a system, ‘Casteism’ and ‘Casteless society’

 “In present-day understanding of caste system, the element of caste is   predominant and   the element of system is suppressed considerably.”

Introduction

Very Sensitive issue – Caste- system has been both defended and opposed over the course of Indian history and up-to the present day. In the past or at present, quite often Caste-system has been criticized vehemently by politicians, intellectuals, activists or reformers from other faiths. There has always been a section of society, which has desired either to make drastic changes in the Indian social structure or completely wipe it out from Indian scene and create a casteless society.

Caste system as problematic and complicated?

Critics  of caste system regard practices of caste system as problematic and complicated. It has become a fashion in certain quarters to criticize caste system. Caste has become a derogatory word in present political scenario. Indian society is being portrayed as a ‘caste-ridden society’ and caste for all the miseries of submerged sections of 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, discrimination and exploitation of weaker, unprivileged sections of society to forcing destitution on vast number of people.

Issue

Demand for castless society – Therefore, Opponents of caste system wish to substitute this ‘caste-ridden’ Indian society with a ‘casteless society’. Is it possible? If yes, then how? And if no then why? Arguments in favour and against caste system lead to some basic queries like what is caste system? Has it become obsolete and useless in modern context? How, when and why did it come into existence and develop in its present form? What have been the factors, which contributed to its development? What are the strengths and weaknesses of caste system? How much influence does it still exercise on modern Indian society? Is it really responsible for discriminating and exploiting weaker, unprivileged sections of society and forcing destitution on vast number of people? Is there a need to replace caste system with a casteless society? Is it possible to create a casteless society in India?

Before forming any opinion or reaching to any conclusion, it would be better to understand the difference between ‘caste-system’ and ‘caste-ism’ and ‘caste-less society’ on the basis of ground realities that exist today.

Venom against caste-system started only in recent past – There was not so much heart-burning because of caste earlier. Venom against caste in some quarters does not lie in distant past, but only about 150 years back. It got escalated during British Imperial rule in India. The roots of present socio-political and economic ills and deprivation of masses on large scale lie not so much in caste system as mainly on the issues like poverty, illiteracy, population-explosion, or mass un-employment etc.

Has caste system become obsolete?

Even today, caste-system has not become obsolete despite all the weaknesses developed into the system and all the attacks on it from time to time. It has survived the vicissitudes of time and saved itself so far by erosion from within or assault from outside. Otherwise, it would have given place to other systems. It still presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world.

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. But caste system, on which Indian social structure is based, has proved to be an exception. After each assault, it re-emerged with greater force.

Is creation of a casteless society possible?

Substituting caste-ridden Indian society with a caste-less society is no solution for empowering weaker sections of society. So far the supporters of “caste-less society” have not been able to suggest a better alternative scheme. So far, they have not thought of new support systems and norms needed to substitute caste-system.

Common men, too, are not willing to experiment new systems. They are reluctant to replace or abandon caste-system – an institution of proven value on trial and error basis. They are not sure about the effectiveness of proposed new systems to be created by the proponents of caste-less society. Therefore, elimination of caste still remains a distant dream.

Majority wishes for rational reforms in the already existing system – People understandably wish to make improvements in the tried and tested old system by removing deformities developed into it with time. A change is good for the growth of a society. But changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions, present requirements and existing ground realities of the place and future prospects.

Difference between ‘caste’ as a ‘system’ and ‘caste-ism’

In the modern political understanding of caste system, the element of caste is predominant and the element of system is less. There is a difference between ‘caste-system’ and ‘caste-ism’.

  • Caste as system – Caste is an organised social institution. This term is specifically used to refer the social structure of Hindu India. Broadly speaking, the fourfold division of society has been sanctioned in ancient scriptures and said to structure all social relations.
  • Caste-ism – Entry of caste in politics, government basing it uplift of submerged sections of society on caste, rigid attitude in observance of caste practices without having regard for reason or rhyme or using it for vested interests of powerful lobbies -be it Brhmins, musclemen, politician to garner vote-banks  lead to casteism. It has generated many abnormalities and distortions in the system. Caste is a social institution. Bringing it into politics and using it for political gains is the biggest disservice one can do to the nation done by the leaders of various political parties in recent past.

Caste as a tool to further their following for the Critics of caste-system – It is an irony that those very people, who criticize caste-system vehemently, them-selves cling to their caste identity very strongly. Entry of ‘caste’ into politics led to unchecked growth of caste-ism. For politicians, it is a recipe for creating vote-banks. For others it is the base to enjoy special privileges/benefits of affirmative action programs initiated and implemented by the Government of India. Elite section amongst lower castes protects its turf under the banner of backward castes. The interest of all lies in keeping the majority of people ignorant, insecure and out of mainstream. And here lies the crux of present day’s caste-ist politics.

Raising expectations of agitated youth – Rising expectations of people, political ambitions and economic interests have aroused the militancy among the discontented youths of different castes and communities all over the nation, which has divided the Indians into innumerable unbridgeable groups. ‘Politicization of caste’ needs to be arrested at its earliest.

Stratification of a society, a natural phenomenon

Individuals differ from each other 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 and systems. It is quite natural that in every society, anywhere in the world emerge different groups out of functional necessity. Each society devises its own principles for stratification, for coordinated functioning of all parts together, for keeping its whole system fit and functional as well as for taking care of the interests of its people as a whole. Its basis may differ from place to place. It may be on basis of class, caste, religion, region, language or occupation.

Class’ a basis in Western Societies

Individualistic by nature – Usually, class stratification begins with individuals. Division of society along ‘Class’ lines forms different groups on the basis their economic and cultural level. What determines ‘class’ varies from one society to another. Usually possession of wealth determines hierarchical distinctions between individuals or groups within a community . Distinction between two groups depends on their being powerful and powerless. Social classes with more power usually subordinate classes with less power, which Power was closely linked to ability to assert one’s status through physical strength.

Ranking – Different variables are also adopted to decide status of different groups within a society, like occupation, education and qualifications, income, wealth, ownership of land, property etc. Besides, there are other factors as well considered as important as one’s wealth in determining class status, at least at higher levels, like costume and grooming, manners and cultural refinement (tastes and sensitivities of different groups). Political standing vis-à-vis church/temples/ mosques, government, and/or social clubs, as well as use of honorary titles, reputation of honor or disgrace, language, race determines degrees of influence on class standing.

Western societies stratified on basis of class – Western societies are stratified on basis of class. Its focus is on individual. Individuals of same economic and cultural level form one social group/class. Social status of a person depends on material success and control over power/authority. Wealthy class usually rules over poor classes in such societies. Broadly, a society is usually divided into –
◦Upper class includes those persons with great influence, wealth and prestige.
◦Lower class/Working class includes poor, alienated and marginalized members of society. This class constitutes majority of people in any nation.
◦Middle Class – In between comes Middle Class.

Caste’ as basis India

Inclusive by nature – In India, stratification begins with a social group, called caste. Caste-system is different from class on some points. It is not concerned with persons individually, but includes all persons belonging to a social group.

Separates wealth from status – Caste-system separates wealth from status, power from authority and knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts. All individuals within a caste group – irrespective of ones financial position – are equal having similar rank, rights and duties. Its constituent members are supposed to be independent, yet their roles complementary.

‘Caste’ as a system

Caste system is one of the oldest social institutions in the world. Caste-system gives Indian society a distinguished identity and a solid social structure with a system of thought, way of life, and sense of direction.

Covers entire social fabric of India – Caste system covers almost the entire social fabric of India. Not only in the past, but at present also, caste system commands respect and attention of a common man in India as a natural, valid and inevitable institution of society. It is popular not only amongst Hindus, but amongst other sects as well living in India, whether foreign or indigenous. Muslims or Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist could not remain immune from its caste system for long. They also have been influenced and absorbed many of the systems and practices of caste-system.

A natural social institution – An individual is a natural member of a family, which is the unit of an extended family, extended family of Kula (clan), Kula of a tribe (Vish) and a tribe of a Jana or Jati (Caste). Caste is second only to the family and is a natural, valid, useful and inevitable unit of Indian society. Family, extended family, Kula, and Caste are fundamental social institutions. Caste is nothing but a large extended family bonded by same language, customs, thinking and way of living and occupation. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence, specialization and hierarchical order of social units were its important traits.

Closer relations – A person’s relations with members of his caste are closer than with those, belonging to other castes. Caste values, beliefs, prejudices, injunctions as well as distortions of reality are the indivisible part of a person’s psyche and conscience. Internalized caste norms define an individual role in the society. It makes one feel good and loved, when he lives up to these norms, and anxious and guilty, when he transgresses them. In a way, caste is still second only to the family in widening a person’s social radius and in getting importance in his/her private and occupational life.

Indian culture and caste inseparable – Indian culture and caste are inseparably related each other by traditional customs. It is virtually impossible to think of one without another. Being a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India, it is difficult for Westerners and non-Indians to understand what ‘caste system’ is and what caste means to a common man.

Origin of Varna/Caste system – The origin of Caste-system can not be found in one single authoritative text, nor can it be attributed to one single founder. It evolved in a natural way over thousands of years. The experiences and deep thinking of many learned sages and intellectuals belonging to different communities at different points of time have contributed to evolve this system. It is a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India.

Natural response – As Basham has pointed out, 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. It provided a mechanism, by which numerous discrete tribes, all sorts of groups and associations arising for political, sectarian or other reasons could be internalized and preserved within the whole.

Development of thousands of years – Caste is the development of thousands of years of the association of many racial and other groups in a single cultural system. The arrival of Aryans hereditary kinship and tribal groups in India in waves, from different parts of the world and their mixing up with the indigenous people (popularly known as Hindus) gave birth Varna-system of Vedic culture.

  • Pastoral tribal society -The beginning of the system can be traced from the times of pastoral tribal society, when people started forming small groups mostly living in hilly areas, not far from rivers. Tribal communities were nomadic or semi nomadic and egalitarian. They depended on nature for its subsistence.
  • Settled agricultural society – Gradually pastoral tribal society transformed into a settled agricultural society, confining its activities and life within a small area or territory. Clans and tribes settled permanently in different parts of the country. As reflected in ‘Rigveda’, during early stages of Vedic Age people ceased to be a wandering people, started a settled life.
  • Entry of Aryans – Aryans arrived in India in waves at different points of time. Aryans, after entering into India first conquered its original inhabitants of Northern part of India, colonized and established kingdoms, then Deccan and then south. During the period, it was possible to have high ranks, but not high social classes. Initially a simple class division was seen in the social structure, i.e. nobility and the ordinary tribesmen.
  • Development of structures and systems – Socio-political structures and systems were evolved leisurely over about 2000 years (roughly between 2000 BC to about 600 BC) and kept on coping with the changes slowly, time had brought in. 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.
  • A simple class division – Initially, there was a simple class division in the social structure, i.e. nobility and the ordinary tribesmen. Later on, possession of land, slaves and hired laborers started. People started producing and possessing more than they needed. The kings collected their surplus yields. The power of kings gradually increased. For regular collection, administrative and religious methods were devised.
  • The units of social-political organizations – The units of social-political organizations were family, clan, village, tribe and Jana. Family was the unit of society headed by father. Three or four generations lived together, and probably owned property in common. A number of families living in one locality formed grama (village). A number of such fighting units dwelling in a particular region constituted constituted a vis (canton). Jana (a group of tribes) consisted of a number of such cantons, with a king as their ruler.

Principles of ‘Varna’, ‘Dharma and ‘Karma”, a base for stratification of society – Indian social structure is based on the principles of “Varna”, “Dharma” and “Karma”.  Varna system has engineered a system for social stratification placing people into different groups according to aptitudes, occupation, and location. Principle of Dharma taught Indians to place one’s duties above rights and principle of Karma imbibed in them tolerance and belief in concepts like ‘live and let others live’ as well as ‘Vasudhev Kutumbkam’ (meaning whole world is a family). The multi-centricity of present society has given it a synergetic character, a pluralistic tradition and an absorptive nature of internalizing alien influences.

Principle of Varna (meaning color) – Principle of Varna, one of the guiding principle of Vedic society has divided the society into various groups. The principle of Varna was based on the assumption, that all persons were not identical and differed from one another on the grounds of natural endowments and aptitudes. Therefore, it gave rise to the fourfold division of society and assigned duties according to natural instincts and qualities of its people –

  • Brahman – Meaning all pervading and consciousness – The people, who could keep themselves away from ignorance, illusions and lust, and have a flair for learning were put in this category of Brahmans. They possessed intellectual and spiritual qualities. They were debarred from indulging in the pleasures of material world. They were assigned the duties like learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that whole society could benefit from their knowledge.
  • Kshatriya – People having warrior skills and men of action were put in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and external aggressions.
  • Vaishyas – People having business acumen were included in this category. They were engaged in production, business, trade and commerce.
  • Shudras – People, who needed guidance and support for doing a work, were advised to do menial jobs and work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas. They were either the people unable to do the above three tasks or the conquered ones. Mostly people belonging to this category were supposed to be incapable of taking independent decisions, maintaining self-discipline and contributing to the society directly without any guidance.

Groups outside Four Varnas – People, who fell outside Varna-system were anti-social elements, Adivasis living in faraway places, which were not easily approachable and foreigners. They were exempted to subscribe to rules and values of the Varna system. Groups of lower-ranks were advised to elevate their status by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes.

Ranking of various groups – Fair skinned Aryans, being the conquerors, kept themselves on the top. People, who were conquered and admitted into the fold of Aryan society, were looked upon as the lowest of the four classes. Conquered Kols and Dravid tribes formed the fourth class of Dasas or Shudras. However Aryan princes did not regard Dasa princes as inferior, for they made alliances with them.

Dream of an Ideal society comes true – The dream of an ‘Ideal Society’ dreamt by Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle of ancient times came true and was actually realized in real life through Varna system of India. According to Plato there should be the following four groups according to aptitude, assigned jobs accordingly and did ranking in following order –
• “Philosopher Kings” – (Intellectuals).
•“Army men” – (Warriors).
•“Business Community”.
•“Slaves” – People unable to do the above mentioned jobs or conquered people to do menial works.

In their ideal state, all people were supposed to belong to one group or the other, not on basis of birth, but on basis of their capabilities and aptitudes.

Most scientific social system – Many intellectuals and social reformers regard Varna system, in its purest form, as one of the most scientific social systems ever evolved anywhere in the world. Don Martindale says, “Hinduism was the ideological and emotional buttress of caste. Caste was the system of social life, in which Hinduism was expressed. …… 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, 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 “itself to an almost endlessly varied system of semi-autonomous community and at the same time bring 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).

Varna-system giving way to Caste-System – As the population increased and more and more indigenous and foreign groups were joined/merged into the Hindu-fold, Vedic Varna system gave rise to caste system. Numerous castes and sub-castes emerged within each Varna. ‘Varnas’ were never more or less than four and always remained the same.

Ethnic roots of a caste in ritualistic mannerism and symbolic significance in Varna aspect – Each caste found its place under a Varna on the basis of their nature of work, its being ritually clean or unclean and amount of self-discipline, they exercised. Castes had its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. For over 2000 years, their order in precedence remained the same. As far as castes were concerned, they rose and fell in their social order, some died out and new ones were formed from time to time.

Start of Caste-system – 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.

Created an atmosphere of co-existence and harmony – It has given Indian society coherence, stability, continuity and led to its all round growth. It has prepared generation after generation an atmosphere for co-existence of different castes and communities despite numerous foreign invasions, centuries of foreign rule, migrations and assimilation of various groups having diverse languages and practices into it. It has provided unity of culture, which binds together all people of Indian peninsula from one end to the other, thus making unity in diversity a reality.

Strength of caste system

The strength of caste system mainly comes from its foundation pillars, which are based on principle of Varna (which later on gave birth to caste system), accompanied by principles of Dharma, and Karma. Principle of ‘Varna’ gave Indian Society a stable, sustainable and a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life and sense of direction. These principles together have ensured the continuity despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups. The strength of a caste depended on consensus and unanimity within every caste. Everyone was having some responsibilities along with rights and one shared his experiences and feelings with other cast-fellows. Achievement of one was shared by all within the team. Following are the reasons of the strength and survival for such a long time –

  • Ingredients of a good organization – Almost all the ingredients of a good organization are found in caste system. It provides strong structure based on principles of ‘Varna, Dharma and Karma”, keeps its members comfortable and satisfied, assigns duties to different sections of society according to their natural instincts and qualities and instills amongst people feeling of interdependence and team-spirit etc. Caste-system believes in lofty principles like “Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam” (whole world is one family), “live and let live”, “Self restraint”, “automatic checks and balances” “division of labor” along with “to each according to his needs and from each according to his capacity” etc. etc.
  • Assimilation without conversion– Caste system is a natural response of mixing up of numerous social multi-ethnic groups with indigenous groups of the land into a single cultural system. Beauty of caste system lies in the way; it assimilated numerous social groups coming from different parts of the world at different points of time in waves.– immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or others – into its mainstream. Unlike Islam or Christianity, it has brought them under one umbrella without any conversion.
  • Caste as a mechanism for inclusion of other groups – Caste system has provided a mechanism for inclusion of other groups without any disturbance. The system had assigned each incoming new group a separate caste identity. Society remained stable, while offering a place to a new community. The system neither disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented any new group to develop itself. Without any conversion, caste system made new groups its integral part. It never tried to annihilate their faith, originality, internal order, customs, culture or language. Instead, it gave them freedom to prosper/make changes into their systems according to their internal rhythm.
  • Based on the vision of an organic society – Caste-system has been based on the “vision” of an organic society. Society as an organic body needs services of all its constituents equally. Each part has been assigned a particular function. All the parts are equally important and indispensible, need equal attention for its growth and care for balanced growth of the whole system. Coordinated functioning of all parts together keeps whole system fit and alive.
  • Employment, dignity and honor for all – The unique feature of caste system was that it provided work and employment to everyone. There was no dearth of employment opportunities for persons willing to work or wanting to become soldiers. Caste system inspired people to do their jobs well, as all worldly honor and spiritual happiness were vested there. It assured the people that proper performance of one’s work, whether high or humble, whether of a priest, warrior, Shudra or yogi were equally important for the society and were, therefore, right, respectable and worth pursuing. It had provided the whole society a quality of life in the past.
  • Basis of segmental-ranking – Though the caste system believed in segmental ranking of different caste groups, according to their relevance and contribution to the society, it placed all the individuals, within a caste group – rich or poor – on the same footing. All members of a caste had similar rights and duties, similar thinking process, similar customs, language, food habits, domestic routine, and style of dress. Elders took care of maintaining discipline within the caste and helped the members, who were weak and helpless.
  • Not glaring disparity – Varna system was so conceived by the genius sages that there was hardly any room for any Varna to consider itself, as being placed in greater or lesser disadvantageous position with reference to another. The ranking of different castes was dependent on the nature and social relevance of their work, contribution of their work for social subsistence, efforts required to perform their duties and amount of self restraint/self discipline, they exercise, their relative purity, morality, knowledge and spiritual standards. Considerations of self-discipline, hygiene and cleanliness on the basis of climatic conditions of the region were also given importance, while ranking different castes.
  • Concepts of forward castes or backward castes non-existent – There was not much disparity between different castes or between urban and rural people. The concepts of forward castes or backward castes, disparities between different sections of society and exploitation of the weak were almost non-existent earlier. The tropical climate of the country compelled the people to the distribution of surplus, as it was difficult to store anything for long.
  • Stress on self-restraint and self-discipline – Every caste was supposed to lead a self restraint and self disciplined life in all respect, be it in the matter of daily routine, occupation or inter caste relationship. Brahmins, occupying the highest place in the society, were put under maximum restrictions and were denied accumulation of wealth. They were directed to lead a simple life, devoted to the spiritual and intellectual pursuits. The higher the caste within a Varna, the purer it was considered, and greater was the self-restrictions on its behavior through rituals. 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 the people and promoted social equilibrium and solidarity.
  • Inter-dependence because of its local character – Local character and semi-autonomous nature of caste system made close interaction and cooperation between different castes a reality. All the activities of urban or rural areas were confined within a small local area, having very little links with the outside world because of slower means of transport. Only merchants visited different distant places. The local societies used to be self-sufficient mutually `supporting and caring” for each other.
  • No caste took an all India character – No caste took an all India character. There was no nationwide hierarchy of castes. However, in a local area, the relative standing of castes was more or less fixed. All local castes, whether high or low, living in an area mutually depended and supported for fulfilling different kind of needs and cared for each other. All people living in a village or city, were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. Rituals required the participation of all castes.
  • Inter-dependence in social life and self-reliance in personal life – 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. People living in a local area shared moments of joy and sorrow with each other. All castes including untouchables were assigned important social duties. Harijan women helped all castes at time of child-birth. Harijan males beat drums in front of Hindu’s houses or in front of a procession on important occasions/ceremonies. Village barber spread news, arranged marriages and served food during celebrations. Occasionally non-Brahmins or Harijans served as priests of temples of goddesses like Sita or Kali, where all castes made offerings. The key, to understand the caste system, was not in seeing it as a framework of hierarchical layers of social order, each fitting neatly below the other, but as a series of vertical parallels. Each caste was an independent entity, with its own hierarchy, based either on a tribal identity or an occupational identity. All the castes were independent, yet their roles complementary.
  • Automatic checks and balances – Decentralized self-regulated systems managed various activities in social, intellectual, political, and economic life and controlled its malfunctioning or dis-functioning. There was hardly any question of all India tyranny of any caste group. There was not a single group identifiable as very strong-dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat. Laws remained unmodified and flexible with the capacity to adapt to local customs and situations. People in power and position cared for the lower castes in order to acquire and retain local followers. The system made upper castes generous in matters of food, drinks and loans, when required.
  • Control over arbitrariness of any social group – The plurality of society provided automatic checks and balances and controlled the arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of power of any group. Till medieval period, Indian peasantry in UP, Bihar and MP were armed and put pressure on Kshatriyas. In fact, non-Kshatriya peasant provided leadership of most armed bands, which were numerically predominant and economically and politically strong at the village level. The monopoly of powerful peasant was a reality of the rural life of Medieval India. The Brahmin strongholds were the centers of learning. The floating population, consisting groups like Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers, who remained outside caste system, 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. Thus, from time to time, and place to place, different castes rose and fell in their social order, some died out and new ones were formed.
  • More stress on duties – The system clearly specifies duties, privileges and restrictions of each role separately and managed relationship with others. It encourages self-discipline, self-control and self-direction. Sprees on one’s responsibilities/duties rather than on rights, combined with principle of inter- dependence provides its own system of checks and balances over arbitrary use of one’s authority and leads to automatic decentralization of authority.
  • Flexibility and adaptability – Caste system took different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Once changed, it never returned to its original form. Its adaptability and absorptive nature has pronged its life. The system evolved its structures and systems leisurely and kept on coping with the slow changes, time brought in. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. It is different in context of village, locality, region or religion.
  • High level of intelligence and specialization – The Caste system served as a spawning bed for social and technical skills. 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. It was encouraged with religious and semi-religious sanctions. Assignment of different functions to different communities led to the transfer of knowledge and expertise, from one generation to another, through inheritance and evolved an atmosphere, where a high level of Specialization and wisdom in different areas of activities could be achieved. 
  • Natural training without investment – The Caste system transmitted the tricks of a trade, hidden intricacies, solutions of their occupational problems, intelligence, abilities, experiences, values and skills from one generation to another in a natural way. They learned it while growing up, informally from their elders. It gave them confidence and saved them from confusion or unhealthy competition. Being in constant contact with the family occupation, it was natural for the people to learn maximum about their traditional occupations.
  • Acted as a shield – During medieval India, caste system was a major force for failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway even after mass conversion. Though many evil practices developed in the system during this period, but it acted as a shield for Hindus to retain their cultural identity, while living under alien rule, whether it was of Mughals, Portuguese or British.

 Caste-system worked so well and efficiently in ancient India that when the world was passing through Dark Age, India was full of light. First few centuries are recognized as the golden period of Indian history. Caste system had wisely organized all activities of society properly. 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. Many travelers visiting India, from alien lands at different points of time, confirmed that India possessed huge wealth, knowledge, and quality of life. It was a cheerful land. Each person found a niche in the social system. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It was a cheerful land.

Weaknesses developed into Caste system – has travelled a very long distance since then. Many changes have taken place in the system during the long period of its evolution, especially during centuries of foreign rule in the country. Many deformities and social evils have been developed into caste system. British rulers drew the attention of Indian intelligentsia towards those weaknesses, but carefully avoided telling its strong points. They developed a complex in Indian minds about efficacy of caste system.

System of Caste under British rule

Karl Marx had remarked that 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. The reactionary and destructive character was seen in the economic and social sphere. The growth of casteism had a close connection with these developments. Caste-ism and communalism were fanned by British imperial power for political reasons.

Ideological attack on caste system by British rulers British rulers made purposely an ideological attack on Indian social structure based on caste-system. They developed a complex in the minds of Indian intellectuals about efficacy of caste system. British rulers portrayed caste-system as “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and “highly stratified”. They held caste system responsible for 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. They criticize caste-system as “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and “highly stratified”. They hold it responsible for 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.

 British rulers vehemently criticized caste system for –

  • Its being highly stratified – According to rulers caste system had divided the population into vast number of groups having distinct and diverse thinking and life styles. However, the British thinkers could not appreciate the role of caste system in integrating different tribes, groups and communities together under one system for centuries. Instead of adopting the policy to convert the new groups in Hindu religion and thrusting on them its own values, thoughts, processes, superstructures and practices Hindu religion, through caste system, presented an unique example in the world history. All the incoming groups were welcomed and accommodated in Hinduism on their own terms. It legitimized their beliefs, behavior patterns and life styles with freedom to evolve and change according to their internal rhythm.
  • Its being discriminatory system – It is an anomaly that British, who themselves played discriminatory practices by keeping their railway compartments, waiting rooms, parks, clubs, hotels, places of other entertainment and residences segregated, criticized caste system as being discriminatory. It was not very difficult for the British to present the examples showing the prejudice, high handedness or rude behavior of some of the caste Hindus towards the lower strata of society.
  • Disregard for menial work – it was not the caste system, but the industrial revolution, which taught humanity to hate or escape from menial work. The creation of new white collared jobs by British developed the attitude to discredit manual work. The more a person withdrew from physical labor, the more civilized and qualified he was regarded by modern society. Such an attitude lured all the sections of society to leave their traditional occupations and join white collared jobs in organized sectors, irrespective of their background, aptitude, skill and knowledge.
  • Employment, dignity and honor for all – The unique feature of caste system was that it provided work and employment to everyone. There was no dearth of employment opportunities for persons willing to work or wanting to become soldiers. Caste system inspired people to do their jobs well, as all worldly honor and spiritual happiness were vested there. It assured the people that proper performance of one’s work, whether high or humble, whether of a priest, warrior, Shudra or yogi were equally important for the society and were, therefore, right, respectable and worth pursuing. It provided the whole society a quality of life.

Caste and community tools for Indians to fight amongst themselves – British rulers redefined caste-system and politicized it according to their administrative convenience. They made caste and community tools for Indians to fight amongst themselves. On surface, everything appeared fine, but in reality different communities were divided by recognizing officially political formations on basis of race, religion, caste, creed, or place. They adopted the path of ‘divide and rule’. The policies, which gave a boost to caste-ist tendencies like –

  • Modern education 
    • On one hand modern education equipped Indians with the intellectual tools, with which they fought the oppressive British Raj. On the other, imperialist rulers planned it in such a way that it disassociated Indian people from their traditional way of learning, classical roots and knowledge. With it faded Indian values, philosophies and traditions. 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.
  • Modern means of transport
    • The modern means of transport and communications on one hand, shortened distances and made mobility and communication faster and easier, but at the same time, it destroyed the local character of society. Small local community was confined within a small area earlier. Now it grew in size, embracing a much wider area than before. Many caste organizations emerged and entered into region-wise caste alliances. It sharply restricted the hold of caste-elders over its members and replaced the traditional pattern of checks and balances and leadership by voluntary associations, social reformers and leaders.
  • Industrialization
    • Industrialization led to the decay of village industries as the competition was directly with the cheap machine goods. It also led to urbanization. The British discouraged local genius, cottage industries and fine arts. It made many traditional occupations obsolete. Many castes of rural artisans, craftsman and traditional occupations abandoned their traditional work. They either migrated to cities as industrial labor or became agriculture labor. The British apathy towards indigenous skills, knowledge and occupations pushed millions backward in a very subtle manner and loosened the sanctity of caste rules and caste consciousness in matters of occupation.
      Industrialization pushed millions towards poverty – It was not the caste system which was responsible for pushing millions of people towards poverty. With the beginning of industrialization in India under foreign rule, many traditional occupations became obsolete or less paying or were regarded more hazardous and more time consuming. White collared jobs gained importance. 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.
  • ‘Census operations’
    • 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. Through Census operations, British rulers divided Indian social structure in a fundamental way 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. The new way of classifying the Indian society instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made 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.
    • Destroyed the flexibility of caste system – Census operations are responsible for destroying the flexibility of caste system and giving rigidity to social stratification and hierarchical ranking. Caste was a flexible and fluid unit of Indian society. Census operations codified the castes and standardized the system by placing all the jatis into four Varnas or in the categories of outcastes and aborigines. Census operations, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group-for upward mobility. It led to caste-ism in politics.
    • Pigeonholed everyone by caste and community – 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.”
    • Census enumeration far from neutral – 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. All the floating population like Gujjars, Bhattis, Ranger Rajputs, who remained out-side caste system were fused into one. The Census operation kept Brahmins, whom, the British administrators, Christian Missionaries and Orientalists, pinpointed as the potential threat to the British, at periphery and, instigated other castes against them.
    • Venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community – The leaders of the downtrodden like Mahatma Phule, Baba Saheb 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.
    • 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 untouchability in the political circles.
    • The leaders vehemently criticized its hierarchical structure based on caste, 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.
  • Introduction of Electoral politics
    • The introduction of electoral politics, in the beginning of the 20th century gave rise to “Power in numbers”. It gave political leverage to the non-Brahmin castes on account of their numerical strength. It started cut-throat competition for scarce positions of power and prestige under British Raj.
    • Granting of separate Muslim Electorate by Minto Morley Reforms Minto-Morley Reforms, known as Government of India Act of 1909, brought the idea of communal electorate to the forefront in the minds of all the castes and communities, which led successfully to divide Hindu population also into two uncompromising groups, viz. `We” Non-Brahmins vs. `They” Brahmins and caste Hindus.
    • Communal Award, Poona pact of 1932 – Communal Award of 1932 created a permanent split in Hindu Society and perpetuated casteism further. It made impossible the assimilation of different castes under one fold. 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.
  •  ‘Policy of Reservations’

Resentment against Brahmin’s domination – Muslims and non-Brahmin castes resented dominance of Brahmins in education and administration. To restrict Brahmin’s entry in Government jobs and make it available to non-Brahmins communities, British rulers started practice of “Preferences” by giving them 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.

Privileges bestowed on ‘preferential-basis’ by the rulers – British rulers devised a novel method to distribute and balance the domination of Brahmins in education and employment on ‘preferential-basis’. The patronage of British rulers to non-Brahmin castes and Muslims led them to emerge as powerful pressure groups. The powerful voice of Non Brahmin leaders made government to pursue the principle of special attention on the basis of caste. It was strongly established in the South at provincial level, which ultimately gave birth to the policy of reservation. 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.

Many traditional occupations becoming obsolete – This very change in occupational pattern had scattered efforts, sense of direction and manufacturing skills of millions of artisans, craftsman, weavers etc. Very few of them could join modern occupations. Majority belonging to different castes could neither enter modern sector, nor could stick to their traditional occupations considering menial work derogatory and lost their creativity, sense of achievement and pride. Such people added the numbers of poor agricultural laborers, industrial workers or marginal labors or unemployed. Outcome of such a development has been casualty of workers first, afterwards their work style, commitment, motivation and culture.

                                                                         After Independence

The Nature of caste system has been different during the periods of industrialization, modernization and now the period of globalization. Modernization, industrialization and urbanization have lessened the rigidities of caste system in social arena. But in politics of independent India, the seeds of ‘divide and rule’ sown by British imperial rulers have blossomed in full. Casteism, corruption, criminalization etc. are some of the direct consequences of political expediency and opportunism. Present-day politics encourages sectional forces, which are vocal and demand enough space for themselves in job-market and higher education aggressively. There is no respite from casteism.

Weakening of caste system in social arena and its growing politicization has made life difficult for all sections of society. Aversion of people from traditional and moral values has created confusion in the atmosphere. Their total concentration is on pursuit of money and materialistic pleasures by hook or crook. Erosion of basic moral and human values has turned life of men, “nasty, brutish and short”. Favoritism, in-discipline, violence, corruption, and chase of materialism based on ruthless competition have weakened the social fabric beyond repair. Scientific progress has endowed man with tremendous power both to preserve and destroy, but at slightest provocation, he does not hesitate to unleash destructive powers accessible to him. There are alarming disparities of power, wealth and culture amongst different sections of society.

There is complete centralization of control systems in the hands of a few Individuals and groups with political, money or muscle power, who control destiny of millions and have say in almost every walk of national life. Attempts for social changes make a virtue of narrow loyalties of caste and religion, generating sub-cultures like favoritism, lure for easy money, nepotism and, in-discipline in the society. Caste and communal conflicts are increasing. There are sectarian and regional imbalances generating social and psychological tensions. The work culture has been degenerated. Under-currents of caste politics have made the task of governance difficult, making the governance of the nation difficult and ineffective. The administration has become incompetent to solve the burning national issues. It has turned the vision of national development into an empty dream.

Vivekanand said, “It is we, who are responsible for our degradation.” … “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its center, the principle note, around which every other notes, comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality or the direction, which has become its own through the transmission of centuries, it dies.”… “The main reason of our economic and spiritual degeneration is that we have not correctly followed the “Varna System”. This is the main reason of poverty and unemployment and one of the main reasons that there is un-touchability”. He suggested that for the growth of a self-contained and self-regulated society, it was necessary to encourage education amongst the masses, all the occupations be given equal importance, people no be forced to adopt their hereditary occupations and difference of income derived from various occupations be narrowed down to the minimum.

Winding up

Empowerment of masses depends on inculcation of knowledge and awareness through ‘education for all’. Usually Power rests with those having either knowledge or physical strength or wealth. Knowledge brings in both force and wealth. Instead of putting blame on caste-system, it would be more desirable to make arrangements for sound system of education for empowering the submerged sections of society.

Despite all the undesirable developments taken place in the system, caste system is still quite popular amongst Indian masses. Not only Hindus, but other sects living in India, with all their egalitarian faith, whether foreign or indigenous, like Muslims and Christians, Sikhs or Buddhist, have not remained immune from its caste system. They have also absorbed many of its practices and systems.

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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