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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Hinduism and Caste as a system

“In modern understanding of ‘caste-system’, element of ‘caste’ has been highlighted and mis-interpreted;  and element of ‘system’ has been suppressed.”

Introduction – Don Martindale, an American sociologist, a prominent scholar and teacher wrote about Hinduism and caste system as “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.” And

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…”

Deep roots ‘caste system’ in India –“Caste was the system of social life, in which Hinduism was expressed.” (Don Martindale) In-spite of all the accelerated changes in the society due to modernization process and tough times, The roots of Hinduism and  ‘Varna/jati-Pratha’, now known as caste system, are so deep that it is virtually impossible to think of Hindustan without caste system.

Caste has its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati, and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. It is one of the dominant features still running through the entire social fabric of India. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence, specialization and hierarchical order of social units were its important traits.

Caste-system is inseparably related to Hinduism by traditional customs, values and systems. At present, in India, about 79.8% of the population identify themselves as Hindus, (roughly about 966 million people) as per 2011 Census of India, who have faith in the Vedic principles of Varna, Dharma, and Karma. (14.2% of the population follow Islam and the remaining 6% adhere to other religions, such as Christianity, Sikhism, and Buddhism etc.).

Caste for a common-man in India – For a common man in India, caste appears to be a fundamental social institution – a natural, inevitable unit of society. Family, which is a natural unit of an extended family; Extended family of Kula; Kula of a tribe (Vish); and a tribe of a Jana of Jati (Caste). In a way, all are fundamental social institutions. Caste is nothing but a large extended family bonded by same language, customs, thinking and way of living and occupation. It is second only to the family in widening a person’s social radius and in getting importance in his/her private and occupational life.

Closer-relationship with caste-fellows – A person’s relation with members of his caste is 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. Caste norms define an individual role in the society. Rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence, specialization and hierarchical order of social units were its important traits. It makes one feel good and loved, when he lives up to the norms, and anxious and guilty, when he transgresses them. It still provides an individual with social security. To foreigners, Varna/caste system represent the ancient culture in its eternity.

Caste taking different shades and meaning with the changing times at different places –  Caste- system,  on which Hindu’s  social structure is based, has survived the vicissitudes of time, and saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside. Its  adaptability, flexibility and absorptive nature has prolonged its life. absorptive nature has internalized alien influences.  It has taken different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Once changed, it never returned to its original form. 

The system has 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.

Caste system, a development of Thousands years –Its origin of Caste-system can’t be found in one single authoritative text like Bible or Koran, nor can it be attributed to one single founder like Jesus Christ or Mohammad Sahib. It has taken thousands of years to develop with the association of numerous social groups into it at different point of time.

The process was started with the arrival of Aryans hereditary kinship and tribal groups in India in waves, from different parts of the world. Their mixing up with the indigenous people (popularly known as Hindus) gave birth to caste system. Over thousands of years, the experiences and deep thinking of many learned sages and intellectuals belonging to different communities have contributed to evolve this system.

There is no denial to the fact that during the very long period of its evolution, many attacks were launched on Hindu ideologies from time to time. And also caste system has developed some evil practices. But so far, both have survived   the vicissitudes of time and saved itself from erosion from within or assault from outside. After each assault, Hinduism and its caste system re-emerged with greater force.

In the past, whenever rigid and discriminatory/evil 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.

A mechanism to assimilate new groups – Caste system has provided a mechanism, through which numerous tribes and social groups, be it locals, immigrants, professionals, racial  or others. could be internalized and assimilated under the umbrella of Hinduism. Caste-system has created a plural society long long ago. The unique feature of the whole process was that the main society as a whole remained stable, even while offering a place to new groups within its main-stream. The assimilation of was done under Hindu society cordially through caste-system at different points of time, by assigning each new group a separate caste identity.

Preserved carefully the culture of new groups – The beauty of the caste system was that it has never tried to convert, liquidate or absorb new groups artificially into its main stream. Rather gives them opportunity to come under one umbrella, to preserve their own culture, style of living and traditions, and also provides an atmosphere to flourish in their own way. While other races and their religious systems (Christianity and Islam) believe to convert people belonging to other faiths into their own faith, and impose on them their own value system, Hinduism and its caste-system has absorbed other groups as whole into itself without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language.

Both Hinduism and its caste system have not become obsolete so far. Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other systems. Both the institutions have always given the Indian society a distinguished identity and a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life, and sense of direction. The following facts proves the strength of caste-system even today:

  • Had it become obsolete, it would have given place to other religions and social structures.
  • Despite centuries of foreign rule, about 79.8% of the population identify themselves as Hindus, (roughly about 966 million people) as per 2011 Census of India, who have faith in the Vedic principles of Varna, Dharma, and Karma. 14.2% of the population follow Islam and the remaining 6% adhere to other religions like Christianity, Sikhism, and Buddhism etc.
  • Caste system has influenced almost other communities living in India and having faith in different religions.
  • Whenever in the past, new social groups desired, they were not prevented to join the mainstream. And also the existing internal social was not disturbed, only because of Hindu ideology and its cast system. All the incoming groups were given freedom to prosper according to their internal rhythm. Hindu society did not annihilate the faith, way of living, internal order, customs, culture or language of new groups.   

The caste system was working well in ancient times and still common-men do not find any complaint from any quarters against it. It is the vested interest of few sections of society, which raise their voice against the system. In recent past, they have tried to misinterpret it and portrayed it as an exploitative social system for retaining economic and social status of certain vested interests of upper castes. Indian caste system, which had been evolved in ancient period was an answer to the requirements of those times.

At present, Indian society is also in a state of great turmoil, trying to cope with the new challenges, which is a tough task. Socio-economic-political atmosphere is in a state of flux. Institution of family has lost its sheen. Traditional values are shattered. Political institutions are almost paralyzed. And economy of the nation is in a critical condition. There are many fast moving changes in systems, structure, strategy and management techniques. The main issues before the nation are -population explosion, poverty, resources, enough food, energy, breakdown of law and order situation, work-culture, ecology, climate changes, violence and terrorism etc.

Preference to present requirements over the opinions of past – In a changing world, nothing can be more disabling than its idolization of past; nothing can be more needed than the constant interpretation of past experiences and present circumstances. Present should be a constant challenge to the opinions of past. Throughout the world, from time immemorial, many systems, structures and principles have been evolved for the benefit and harmonious/peaceful living of all the members in a society. They have remained in vogue for some time, then faded and gave way to new structures, systems and concepts.

New values and systems  always challenge old way of thinking and behaving, no matter how useful they are! It is quite natural that when a new ideology or system is applied in real life situations, it is seen with suspicion. During the  period of its growth, many difficulties comes up. Sometimes undesirable elements/evil practices  develop in the system with changing atmosphere/circumstances. What is needed is try to do everything possible to maintain a fine balance between its theoretical aspect and its practicality.


May 25, 2020 - Posted by | General, Social and political values and systems

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