Understanding The Caste System In India

By Michael Quesada July 30, 2018

Understanding The Caste System In India

The Indian Caste System: Then and Now

Have you ever been discriminated at work because of your education?  Have you ever been disqualified from work because of your social status?

It doesn’t feel good to be judged for our past mistakes, as most of us believe that all humans should be given the chance to change in their lifetime.  And that essentially, our mistakes would make us better individuals.  However, this is not always the case in many parts of the world.  In India, there’s a system that punishes you even for the lapses you’ve done in your previous life.

One of the oldest religions in the world, which is deeply rooted to the Indian society, deprive its adherents of chances to make their lives better because of how they acted in their previous life.

It is called the Caste System.

The Caste System in India

The Caste System Of The Past

The Caste System is the Hindu way of dividing society into different social classes.  And their basis?  The family in which you are born.  Your “Karma” (doings/actions) from your previous life (which you probably have no idea about) will determine who you are going to be in your next life, and in which caste you are going to be born into.

In order to be reborn in the upper class in the Caste System in your next life, you need to have good Karma.  The Hindus believe that if you have bad Karma, you are highly likely to be born a Chalandala (the untouchables).

According to bbc.com, the Caste system was created around 1000 BC for the purpose of putting society in order.  It is also known to be a system developed to divide labor according to birthright solely based on the Hindu religious and moral beliefs.

At first, the caste of a specific person was determined according to their capacity or affinity in their developing years. However, along the way, this process became irrelevant and the caste was based by birth as many believe these values and beliefs are hereditary.

The castes are divided into 4 different divisions and their functions correspond to their origin in the “body” of the god Brahma.  Let’s explore how Hindus identify themselves in these 4 Varnas.

Understanding the Caste System in India

 Brahmins

For Hindus, being a religious leader is not done by free will or choice.  You must be born into it.

The Brahmins are believed to have come from the head of Brahma (the Ultimate God in Hindu), and they are born to be leaders and teachers of both the intellect and the spirit. In other words, they are born as religious leaders whose rule is to study, teach, and officiate religious activities.

Nonetheless, being a Brahmin doesn’t mean you have no other choice in the profession you want to choose.  Brahmins have several sub-castes and only a few are actually officiating weddings or doing any other religious activities as a full time role.Some Brahmins are lawyers, doctors, writers, politicians, writers, and even poets.

The Brahmins are allowed to follow a different profession outside their caste, but no one from the lower castes can take over the role of the Brahmin and become a priest. Only the Brahmins can become priests.

The priestly caste of the Brahmin is considered to be at the top of the system.

Brahmin Priest Caste System India

 Kshatriyas

In ancient societies, a civilization isn’t complete without warriors, and for the Hindus, this role is taken over by the Kshatriyas.  They are the ruling military who fights for their land during wars and turmoils, and they are the governing leaders in times of peace.

They are more likely the modern-day policemen whose primary purpose is to protect the people and maintain the peace in the society.  If the Brahmins came from the head of Brahma, the Kshatriyas originated from the arms.

They were created solely for this purpose as a way to ensure that a specific part of the  human race is prepared to protect the people from evil, as they believed evil naturally comes together with the good.

Indian Caste System Warrior

 Vaishyas

The Vaishyas originated from the stomach, and they are the ones that collects, transports, and feeds every part of the body or the caste.  The Vaishyas are the businessmen, moneylenders, tradesmen, farmers, cattle caretakers, and the like.

In fact, a person who was born a Vaishya cannot refuse to take care of a cattle.  It is unholy and disrespectful to their religion as they are born (created) for that purpose. However, this doesn’t mean they are restricted only to farm work.  They are also instructed to learn how to become good managers and employers for them to continue running their business prosperously. This is so that they can increase their wealth righteously and blamelessly, especially to their employees.

It is believed that Vaishyas are key players in the caste system.  Without them, the whole  of Hindu society would not survive.

 Hindu Caste System India

Shudras

The Shudras, as you may have guessed already, originated from the feet of Brahma. They are the people whose jobs are considered to be unclean including leatherwork, factory work, etc.  At one end, the Shudras can be living life similar to that of the Vaishyas, but the other end could mean they are living life similar to that of the Chalandalas.

These 4 Varnas (colors) aren’t possibly the only classes in the Caste system, because there is arguably a good number of people who are part of the Chalandalas, more commonly known as the “Untouchables.”

These are people that are not officially recognized by a caste.  They have long been oppressed, but this has changed in recent times.  India has even elected an untouchable, Kocheril Raman Narayanan, to the Presidency, the highest office in the land.  

Shudras Indian Caste System

The Caste System Today

Many Hindus today no longer conform to the rigidness of the caste system and they also do not condone discrimination against the people in the lower castes.

The government has also done some legal steps to remove the hold of the caste system in India, and in recent years, the influence of the caste system has continued to decline.

However, some people do not agree with this and nowadays, they base a person’s caste class base on their last names, as the usual last names are the places where a certain caste, tribe, and family come from.

On the other hand, the discrimination against the untouchables has been abolished, and as mentioned there are already existing laws that punishes unjust discrimination when seeking for a job based on one’s caste.

The Caste system may be slowly dying but a number of the younger generation are forced to marry someone within their caste even to this day.  According to the Hindu religious system, no one is allowed to marry someone outside their caste, and this rule is  strictly implemented in many rural areas in India.  There are still places where people will undoubtedly kill anyone who do not conform to Hindu religious laws, especially marrying someone outside their caste.

Some conservative Hindu families who live even in the most advanced cities in India, still consider caste in marriage arrangements and would mention caste before they mention the educational attainment of the person they want their daughter/son to marry.

Conclusion

The caste system is an ancient practice.  Many would agree that it is outdated, even the government has made it illegal to discriminate against someone due to their caste.  It is difficult to fully eliminate though since it is a tradition that is deeply rooted in society. 

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Michael Quesada

Founder of this website; currently living vicariously through himself.


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