Factors, that changed caste-system into casteism
The Government of India Act of 1858 brought an end to British East India Company’s rule and placed India directly under the Crown. With it ended the era of expansion and commercial exploitation and the nation ushered into the era of economic exploitation and policy of divide and rule.
At that point of time, it was difficult for Europeans and British understand and appreciate the role of caste system in totality. They were mystified by the amazing pluralities and unique social structure, because of its being an indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India. Its complete localization and unfamiliarity with the rest of world made the task more difficult.
Discredited caste-system along with Hindu religion – The Western thinkers and sociologists from Max Weber to Louis Dumont, discredited Hindu religion, which had given birth to caste-system. Showing his occidental irritation, Kitts criticized caste-system, as lacking all rational arrangements. Many British thinkers held caste system responsible for all social evils and practices, feudal attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, beliefs and whimsical concept of purity and pollution.
Prejudice against everything native including case system
Through sophisticated ways, the British imperialists vehemently criticized caste system. They held Hinduism, caste-system and its practices for being as “discriminatory” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and its social system “highly stratified” where “multiplicity of communities and their cultures were exploiting each other for their own advantage.” They divided different castes and communities living in India in every possible manner.
Caste responsible for all miseries of Hindu society – The European teachers, missionaries, bureaucrats and British rulers developed a complex in Indian minds about their heritage, and social structure based on caste system. They forcefully implanted in the minds of Indian intelligentsia, the real and imaginary, a complex, exaggerating the distortions developed into the system during its long period of evolution and carefully avoiding telling people the salient features whole truth or strong points of Indian culture.
Ward’s and others British intellectuals’ charges, that were levied on caste system were not wholly correct, were not based on the real-situations existing then in India. Ward commented that “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 drought of water from the hands or the cup of a person of a lower caste.”
An humble attempt has been made to show how correct are these allegations in the following paragraphs: –
- Stratified System – British vehemently could criticized caste system for its being highly stratified, which divided the Hindu population into innumerable caste-groups having distinct and diverse thinking and life styles. But could not appreciate the role of caste system
- All the incoming groups were welcomed and accommodated in Hinduism on their own terms. Hinduism had assimilated all new groups through caste system. For centuries in ancient times, Hinduism integrated different tribes, groups and communities together under one umbrella. Without conversions and by giving each one a new caste-name, it set a unique example in the world history.
- It did not thrusted on incoming new groups its own values, thoughts, processes, superstructures and practices. It legitimized their beliefs, behavior patterns and life styles with freedom to evolve and change according to their internal rhythm.
- An iniquitous society – They easily put all the blame on caste system for peoples’ poverty, misery and deprivation. They told the people that caste was one of the greatest scourges of Indian society. Caste was blamed for the selfishness, covetousness, indolence and apathy of some individuals. It had doomed masses to mental and physical degradation and kept them away from education, prosperity and honour. It had created an iniquitous society, exploitative and oppressive by nature, which fostered caste-conflicts and caste rivalries.
- 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. But criticized caste system for opposing admissions of children belonging to untouchable communities, in public schools.[i]
- Prevented upward mobility of lower strata of society – Ward’s blames caste system for intentionally denying upward mobility of lower strata of society, because individual’s social status depended on the caste of his/birth, over which nobody had any control. In western world, wealth had been the determining factor to decide the social status rather than birth, which made social mobility easier and faster. But this belief is not wholly correct as it forgot that wealth was also acquired through birth. That is why, there was a sharp distinction between nobility and commoners.
- No choice in the matter of occupation – British rulers, along with Missionaries criticized that Caste system forced people/individuals to pursue hereditary vocations. There was no choice in matter of occupation in caste system. The system had killed spirit of initiative, creativity, and innovation. It prevented people from taking any risk. It is also alleged that caste system gave importance to birth in matter of occupation and showed utter disregard to social or material environment of a person. Therefore, it served the interests of “haves” and enhanced the agonies of “have-nots”. However, in ancient and medieval societies in Europe and Asia, occupations not only tended to become hereditary, but also actually allowed to be followed by specific classes. It was the industrial revolution, which had changed the trend.Westerners could not appreciate that system to do traditional jobs kept everyone engaged, prevented in large scale unemployment, made almost everybody to contribute something to the society and saved them from any confusion in matter of job or being guided, not by aptitude, but by whims and fancies in this matter choosing their vocations. Professor Shah says, “Caste system has a long range and permanent plan embracing every class of society. If applied to every individual, regardless of age and other conditions, no one could be unemployed. Nor could have one worked inappropriate to one’s ability, training, environment, aptitude and attainment, nor could any work be inadequately remunerated.” [ii]Some liberal thinkers like HT Colebrooke, one of the early Sanskrit Scholars says, “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.” [iii] It was after 1858, that with the introduction of modern education and start of the process of industrialization, the avenues for entering into different occupations increased.Disregard for menial work. – It was argued by British rulers that giving Shudras the lowest place in social structure, engaged in menial jobs, showed disregard of Hindus for menial work. But for Hindus work was worship. So it was not the caste system, but the industrial revolution, which taught Indian masses to escape from or disregard the menial work. In addition to it, creation of new white collared jobs by British rulers 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 organised sectors, irrespective of their background, aptitude, skill and knowledge.
- Concept of purity and impurity – Systems which were based on concept of ‘purity and impurity’ developed in ancient India were nothing more or less than systems developed in modern world, which are based on the idea of ‘hygienic and unhygienic’.
- Gradation of different professions – Gradation of different professions was based on its being clean or unclean. Unclean occupations were given a lower status. Even Brahmins, who opted for menial professions for their livelihood, were assigned the status of Shudras. Such as Brahmins, known as ‘Mahabrahmins’, performing last rites, were also treated, ike Shudras. It was only the learned/knowledgeable Brahmins, who were given a superior status and their stronghold was the centers of learning.Apart from that warrior kings of Shudra and tribal origin sought Brahmins help to acquire Kshatriyas status. Bengal was among the last areas to come into contact with Brahminical Hinduism. It was only during the reign of Sen Guptas, that Kanyakubja Brahmins from Varanasi were invited to settle in Bengal. Brahmins never acquired status of dominant group there and remained just yet another Jati. In Punjab, it was Jats (farming community and protector of the outer periphery of the city-states), that were politically and economically dominant groups, says Prakash Tandon. Thakurs held prominent status in the eastern region of present day U.P. The Aine-Akbari informs that in the year 1600 AD, Thakur Zamindars paid more than two third of the total revenue in the middle Doab, Awadh and eastern parts of UP, Rohailkhand and Doab were controlled by Jat Chief-tons and later by Muslim Zamindars. In Bihar, around Darbhanga region, Maithili Brahmins held political control, though they also continued their traditional occupations as priests and scholars of Sanskrit.
- Another yardstick of gradation was their contribution/utility of their services to the society. Many studies have shown that in many parts of the country, like Punjab, Gujarat, and Marathi speaking areas of western India, tribal MP. Orissa, Bengal etc. people other than Brahmins held superior status. Iqbal Narain and PC Mathur inform that in Rajasthan, Rajputs and Kshatriyas served as the models of caste, with emphasis on personal valor and military skills, for over a thousand years. In large part of peninsular Gujarat, according to Ghanshyam Shah Biswas, Banias had overshadowed Brahmins in economic and political areas for several centuries. Maharashtra, Jayant Lele says, Brahmins were far behind the Maratha – Patils (village headman) and Maratha Deshmukhs (regional administrators). In Orissa, Brahmin influence remained confined to small areas around the royal palaces.
Untouchability – It is alleged that untouchability was an integral part of caste system and kept Shudras at bay. This allegation is not wholly correct. Shudra community had always remained the nerve-system of Indian society. It performed essential social and economic tasks and provided different kinds of services, whether in agricultural or other sectors, to the whole of society living in their respective regions.
As said earlier, relations between various castes were expressed in terms of the ideas of hygiene, cleanliness and purity.[iv] Caste Hindus were very particular about eating dressed food, because it became stale very quickly in the past. Undressed food or fruits were regarded pure, whatever hands it came from. As far as Shudras causing pollution was concerned, Shore said that despite British being so powerful and the ruling community, Indians called even Whites as ‘Mlechch” meaning not clean in their mannerism. They were treated at par with the lowest natives in all social functions. But still a Brahmin in the service of Englishmen never hesitated in doing his duties. “Certainly the lower castes are more tenacious on the subject of their caste than the higher. A low caste man, if asked for a drop of water from his pot will often refuse, A Rajput or a Brahmin will not only consent, but will show his respect by offering it decently.” [v]
It was also alleged that laws of punishment were mild for caste Hindus, but severe and horrible for Shudras.[vi] Shore said that it was impossible to say laws never were stringent for lower castes. Probably it might have occurred very seldom by a very bigoted prince or a bigoted Brahmin. The horrible punishment to lower class did not exist, in general, during his times, nor had they been, perhaps for centuries, held in any more estimation, terror or respect, practically than bull or anathimas issued by Pope Gregory the Seventh in England.
Many liberal British thinkers conceded that it was not so much the social apathy, which kept the lower strata away from prosperity as, their ignorance, poverty, illiteracy and necessity to earn their livelihood right from an early age. They some liberal British thinkers of that period conceded that the criticism of caste system was over-drawn. Shore, governor general of India during 19th century, regarded caste fully as a civil and religious distinction. To him, its influence was so extensive, so minute and so intricate, as almost to defy generalization. “To a certain extent, its influence may have had the injurious effects described, but infinitely less than was usually supposed and that too were wearing away”.[vii] He said that many castes or groups lagged in the matter of modern education and employment in the government, because the business and administration of a large portion of India was being carried on in an alien language for centuries (First in Urdu and from 1844 onwards in English).
Strong points of caste system – Caste system took on different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Its character kept on changing along with times. It was different in the context of village, locality, region or religion. Like other social institutions, caste system managed daily necessities and day to day relation of its members. It gave occupational guidance to its members, leading to excellence. It had an advantage of very long experience and deep thinking behind it[viii] Professor Shah says, “Caste system was a long range or permanent plan embracing every class of society. It applied to every individual, regardless of age or other conditions”.[ix] Normally social mobility from one group to another was not allowed. Permanent loss of caste was considered to be the greatest catastrophe for an individual, short of death penalty. Breaking the caste rules meant loss of caste, meaning complete ostracism or having no place in the society.
At its best, the caste system had wisely directed all the activities – social, political, intellectual or economic – into proper life functions and controlled its malfunctioning or di-sfunctioning. Caste system provided self-discipline, conscious, self-control, self-direction. It contributed to provide stability, all round growth of cultural heritage and development of the society. The salient features of caste system were: –
- Local character – Neither any caste took an All-India Character before British rule nor there had been nation-wide-hierarchy of castes earlier. Local semi-autonomous nature of Caste system made each community self-sufficient and capable to fulfill all the needs of its people locally.
- System showed a high regard for knowledge, wisdom, virtues, characters and will power.
- Whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights” forming the natural foundation of human relationship, caste system evolved around the concept of “duty, tolerance and sacrifice”. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant.
- In Western societies, wealth had always been associated with power, authority and social status. India was never a materialistic society. Caste system separated wealth from status, power from authority, pursuit and achievement in knowledge from temptations of worldly comforts.
- 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.
- Local semi-autonomous nature of Caste system made each community self-sufficient and capable to fulfill all the needs of its people locally.
- There was a close bond between individual and the society and individual and the occupation through caste. It held its members together.
- 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
- Originally Varna and then Caste system were based on the principle of “division of labor”. All the functions needed for the maintenance and growth of the society were distributed among different caste groups according to its attitude and aptitude.
- Assignment of work was done on the basis of tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of a caste-group. It assigned different activities to different groups according to its natural endowment, qualities, attitude and aptitudes. It taught people not to blame others. `Adharma” (immoral behavior), “Alasya” (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance) were held responsible for evils, exploitation, and miseries of the people.
- Don Martindale said that India possessed a reservoir of natural leaders – Brahman trained in literary skills and Kashitryas in art of leadership.
- 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.
- The Caste system transmitted the traits of a trade, intelligence abilities, experiences, values and skills from one generation to another in a natural way.
- Elders of every caste-group took care of maintaining discipline within the caste and helped the members, who were weak and helpless.
- Considerations of self-discipline, hygiene and cleanliness on the basis of climatic conditions of the region were given importance.
The caste was so strong 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. 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.
Factors that changed Caste-system – The face of caste system changed tremendously with the following developments done during the British rule: –
Introduction of Modern Education – In 1835, modern Education system was introduced by Lord Macaulay. People got access to the enlightened spirit of many liberal thinkers, like Locke, Mill Roussseau, Voltaire, Spencer and Burke; and the knowledge about English, French, American revolutions, through modern education. It offered to Indian intelligentsia, the key to the treasures of scientific and democratic thought of Modern West. It opened up the doors of knowledge and widened the mental horizons of Indian intelligentsia. In due course of time, it produced many national leaders. Modern education itself equipped them with the intellectual tools, with which they fought the oppressive British Raj.
Modern education also highlighted the weaknesses, rigidity and harshness of caste system towards weaker sections of the society. It had attracted the attention of the people towards social evils, that had developed in the system.
It gave access to all sections of Indian society to get educated irrespective of caste or creed though Muslims (because Muslims were more dependent on the use of sword) and other non- Brahmin communities lagged behind in matter of modern education. Brahmins, who had previously involved in the process of learning were, were quicker to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Modern education. It brought social awakening and awareness amongst masses about their rights.
But, simultaneously, it disassociated a large number of Indian intelligentsia from their traditional way of learning, classical roots and knowledge. With it, faded Indian values, philosophies and traditions. It divided the Indian people. It loosened the bonds of caste system. They lost their faith in caste system. A group of Indian intelligentsia started feeling the caste system to be indefensible.
Modern means of transport – The modern means of transport and communications brought to an end the local character of caste system, shortened distances and made mobility faster and easier. Small local castes, confined within a small area earlier, 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 – The Company’s rule had reduced India to a producer of raw material and market of their products. During its 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. Thus, India remained to produce low technology, low productivity, low wage and low profit items. As against this, Britain, along with other European nations, was producing high technology, high productivity, high wage and high profit commodities. It left India economically far behind the advanced nations. And within India, industrialization had eroded the authority of caste and kinship in matters of occupation. Many new occupations emerged giving choice of occupation, accessibility to which was through modern education, knowledge of English language and loyalty to British. It was no more through caste affiliations. Industrialization led to the decay of village industries as the competition was directly with the cheap machine goods. It also led to urbanization.
Apathy of Imperial rulers for indigenous arts and craft – 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. This, in order to get hold on modern occupations, led to inter-caste rivalries, social tensions and group conflicts among Indians. The erosion of traditional pattern of occupation divided Indian people into the following three groups: –
Ø People, for whom work was essential for survival
Ø People, who were educated and loved to work for self-advancement and prosperity (Middle class people).
Ø People, who lived on other’s labor benefiting from their position in society.
New legal system – Earlier discipline and order was maintained by Shastric and customary laws. The sense of duty to one’s caste was wide spread in traditional social order. Caste matters were decided by their respective caste councils. The establishment of nationwide civil, criminal and commercial legal system by British and its uniform application to all castes and communities eroded the authority of caste-system tremendously. It granted equality before law and equal access to all castes and communities. In their search for a Uniform law code, the British studied hard. They took help of some centers of learning, regarded to be the stronghold of Brahmins. For the first time a uniform, supposedly Brahminical legal system, became operational over Hindu Community, on an all India level. It took control of the political, economic and social apparatus of the country. Positive laws of State were also enacted. The effect of these measures was that a clear line was drawn, which demarcated the areas between the caste control of personal behavior of its members and the new administration of justice. The authority of caste groups in matters of civil rights was diminished, but in other spheres, it received legitimization from the courts in the form of caste autonomy. Section 8 of Bengal Regulation III of 1793 made a beginning in Administration of justice in new direction, Bombay Regulation II of 1827 made further change and in 1850, the Caste Disabilities Act (Act 21 of 1850) further eroded the authority of caste laws.
The new settlement policy – The British Settlement Policy differed from region to region depending upon the geography, history and customs. Jamindari system prevailed in Bengal, Orissa and Oudh, Ryotwari in Bombay and Madras, Villagewari in Delhi and Punjab, Malguzari in Central Provinces and Mahalwari in Northwest Province. The new land revenue system led to the rise of a new class of landlords, who wholeheartedly supported the British rule. Policy of Permanent Settlement led to the growth of absentee landlords living in luxury in towns and fleecing the tenants at will. The British policy of land revenue extracted as exorbitant amounts as possible from the peasants, which compelled the cultivators to live at the mercy of landlords, for the fear of eviction.
The poor farmers were caught into the clutches of moneylenders. The impoverishment of cultivators grew due to rack-renting, high rates of interest and uneconomic cultivation, resulting in large-scale alienation of land. Marginal farmers became landless laborers. The vast majority of people belonging to peasants, artisans sunk in poverty and misery.
The exploitative policies of British overcrowded the agricultural sector. With it grew resentment of Indian subjects towards the authority. The mutiny at Vellore in 1806, Barrakpore in 1824, Ferozepore in 1842, followed by the meeting of 7th Bengal Cavalry, the kol insurrection of 1831-32, the revolt of the kings of Kangra, Jaswar and Datarpur, the Santhal rising in 1855-56 and the revolt of 1857 throughout India are a few examples of peoples’ resentment to early British rule. The oppressive policies of British created a new class of landless laborers, which came to be known, later on, as Scheduled Castes. The British drained the wealth and resources of India in a most systematic, shrewd and unjust way.
The economic exploitation, economic drain and repressive attitude submerged the masses in ignorance, enfeebled by diseases and oppressed by wants.[x] In 1880, WT. Thortan confessed that the annual tribute, “tapped India’s very heart blood and dried up the mainspring of her industrial position.”[xi] Sir William Hunter remarked, “there remains forty million Indians, who go through life on insufficient food.”[xii]
Increasing disparities – Access to modern education, new opportunities of gain and legal redress was not available to the masses, because the education was expensive and its mode of instruction was an alien language – the English. The new opportunities based on modern education, therefore, were inaccessible to poor. The expensive legal procedure, involved in getting justice, could favour the `haves” and poor could hardly afford to appeal and seek justice. All this developed a new kind of inequality. The emergence of new classes with new education, job and legal profile coupled with changed behavior of old surviving classes added to confusion and made Indian society “A complicated organism with extremely variegated and antagonistic social forces struggling for their respective interests within it.”[xiii]
Census Operations – Under British rule the process of Census operation began with the purpose to gather information for administrative purposes/conveniences. 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.
British rulers did not hesitate to exploit information/data on social, demographic, linguistics, religious and cultural diversities of India collected through census operations. 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.
Caste was a flexible and fluid unit of Indian society. Census operations made it rigid. They codified the castes and standardized the system by placing all the jatis into four Varnas or in the categories of outcastes and aborigines.
Middleton, a Census Superintendent accepted, “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. Caste, in itself, was rigid among the higher castes, but malleable amongst the lower…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.”
Thus, Census operations destroyed the flexibility of caste system, led to an all-round hardening of social-system and to frantic effort by each group-for upward mobility. The first volume of Man in 1901 (the Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute) noted, “The entire framework of native life in India is made up of groups of castes and tribes, and status and conduct of individuals are, largely, determined by the rules of the group, to which he belonged.” Risley’s efforts, in 1901 census, of recording and putting in order numerous castes in hierarchical order like modern Manu had fossilized, imparting it a solidity, it did not have earlier.[xiv] Therefore, the Census operations instigated caste consciousness, caste animosities and made caste a tool in political, religious and cultural battles, that Hindus fought amongst themselves.
Like modern Manu, “The census operations divided all the castes and communities into following groups – Brahmins, Non-Brahmins, Muslims, Anglo-Indians, untouchables, non-Hindu Communities and backward castes”. This division remained a by-word even for the present leaders of Independent India.
Electoral Politics and Casteism – With census operations and the start of electoral politics started caste calculations, caste chemistry and pure casteism. The British authorities were aware that, in the Hindu society, caste opinion and caste loyalties always remained a cohesive regulatory force and the easiest, quickest and the most powerful mode to communicate. They were also aware of the influence of Brahmins over the whole society.
While introducing electoral politics in India, the British purposely and successfully divided the Hindu population into two uncompromising groups viz. `We” the Non-Brahmins and `They” the Brahmins and caste Hindus. They instilled deeply in the minds of millions of unlettered Hindus, venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community. 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. Since then, their influence in politics has been growing continuously.
Ideological attack on the system by Imperial rulers – Rulers launched an ideological attack on caste-system. They depicted the Indian culture and practices as “discriminatory” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and its social system “highly stratified” where “multiplicity of communities and their cultures were exploiting each other for their own advantage.” They forcefully implanted in the minds of people, the real and imaginary, evils of Hindu Social structure and its practices.
The Government of India Act of 1858 brought an end to company’s rule and placed India directly under the Crown. With it ended the era of expansion and commercial exploitation and the nation ushered into the era of economic exploitation and policy of divide and rule. Through sophisticated ways, the British imperialists created differences between different castes and communities, and developed a complex in Indian minds about their heritage and caste system. The British gathered information, exploited material relating to social, demographic, linguistics, religious and cultural diversities of India and flared up caste animosities. They exaggerated the distortions developed into the system and carefully avoided telling the whole truth or strong points of Indian culture. The European teachers, missionaries, bureaucrats and British easily put all the blame on caste system for peoples’ poverty, misery and deprivation. They made caste appear as one of the greatest scourges of the country, which doomed large classes of men, to mental and physical degradation and kept them away from education, prosperity and honour. Caste system, to them created an iniquitous society, exploitative and oppressive by nature, which fostered caste-conflicts and caste rivalries.
Many liberal British thinkers of that period conceded that the criticism of caste system was over-drawn. Viceroy Shore, governor general of India during 19th century, regarded caste fully as a civil and religious distinction. To him, its influence was so extensive, so minute and so intricate, as almost to defy generalization. “To a certain extent, its influence may have had the injurious effects described, but infinitely less than was usually supposed and that too were wearing away”.[xv] He pointed out that many castes or groups lagged in the matter of modern education and employment in the government, because the business and administration of a large portion of India was being carried on in an alien language for centuries (First in Urdu and from 1844 onwards in English).
They alo accepted that it was not so much, the social apathy, which kept the lower strata away from prosperity as ignorance, poverty, illiteracy and necessity to earn their livelihood right from an early age. For many Europeans and British, it was a difficult task to understand and appreciate the role of caste system in totality. They were mystified by the amazing pluralities and unique social structure, because of its being an indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India. Its complete localization and unfamiliarity with the rest of world made the task more difficult. The charges, that British put on caste system were not wholly correct.
In the end it can be concluded that seeds of dis-chord sown by British rulers before independence, blossomed in full after Independence especially after 1990s, when Indian politicians with vested interests tried their bes. There was a rat between them to grab political power and perpetuate anyway – by hook or crook, as long as possible.
[i] Zelliot, Dr. Ambedkar and Mahar Movement, P48.
[ii] Shah TK, Ancient Foundation of Economics, p 3, Times of India, dated 10.4.94.
[iii] Indian Express, dated 18.9.90, p 8.
[iv] Srinivas, MN, Social Change in Modren India,
[v] Shore, Ibid. Pp 567-477
[vi] Ward, cited in Shore, p 66.
[vii] Hon’ble Fredrick John Shore, Indian Affairs, pp474.479
[viii] Prabhu Pandharinath H. Ibid pp 90-97.
[ix] Shah TK, Ancient Foundation of Economies, Times of India, dated April 10,1994, p3.
[x] Tarachand, History of Freedom Movement in India, Vol.I, pp283-84.
[xi] Annie Besant, India – A Nation, pp98-99.
[xii] Fisher FB, India’s Silent Revolution, pp37-38.
[xiii] Desai AR, Social Background of Indian Nationalism, p176.
[xiv] Das Veena and Kagal Ayesha, Through the Prism of Clerkdom, Times of India, dated September 16, 1990, p2.
[xv] Hon’ble Fredrick John Shore, Indian Affairs, pp474.479
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