The caste system is an integral part of the Indian culture. To have a good understanding of the Indian culture, basic knowledge of the caste system is important.
Look at the picture above. Bunch of Indians, aren’t they?But if you were Indian, there were good chances that your eyes could have seen more. There are people of different religions and different castes in the picture. Knowing one’s caste is an important information to an Indian.
What is a caste?
Goats and sheep both are mammals, but on the basis of biological differences, we identify them as different animals. Likewise, Caste A and caste B both are humans, but on the basis of lack-of-logical-sense, many people identify themselves as different types of humans than the others.
Let’s be serious now. Caste to a religion is equivalent to religion to humanity. Just like humans are divided into numerous religions, Hindus (and other religions) are further divided into many castes. If religions were countries, castes would be states/provinces.
In the ancient India, there were four categories of people in the society– Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. Brahmin were the teachers, priests, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, surgeons, so forth. Kshatriya were the royals, administrators, and soldiers. Vaishya were the merchants, traders, and businessmen. And Shudra were the workers.
In the ancient times, these categories were merely a way to categories people according to their occupations. The system was not hereditary and it depended solely upon the profession of the individual, not their father’s. However, with the time heredity began to infect this categorization.
In the past, child of a Brahmin was Brahmin only if she/he chose one of the professions that fell under the Brahmin category. But later, under hereditary caste system, a factory worker was also known as Brahmin because her/his father was a Brahmin.
By the time of British invasion, the categorization had completely lost its fluidity, and it was completely hereditary. Which continues to be so to date.
Caste system today
A small educated (please note that holding a bachelor’s of master’s degree doesn’t assure the status of education in India. We will bring a post on this topic in near future) portion of the Indian population is abandoning the caste system, but still majority of the country is deep into the practice of caste system. Going a step further, castes have grown sub-casts as well.
It is noteworthy that the caste system is not limited only to the Hindu society. Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and even Buddhists have their own caste systems.
Indian government introduced a reservation system in education and jobs in order to bring equality in the Indian society, as people from the backward castes complained of social discrimination caused by the forward castes (who have been occupying the top positions in government, administration as well as society, since these were reserved for the high castes for many centuries) and lack of opportunities. However, the forward castes also complain of reverse discrimination and demand the end of the reservations.
The caste system can be easily considered to be cancer in the Indian society. There is a long list of bad effects of the caste system. Let’s discuss few selected ones–
Social discrimination and caste favouritism are big unpleasant sides of the caste system. Groups in the society are often built on the basis of castes. There have been many violent clashes between the groups of people belonging to two different castes.
Marriages and relationships are badly affected by the caste system. Most of the India still feels it is necessary to marry in own caste. As a result, all relatives of an individuals also belong to the same caste, resulting a set of same-caste people, limiting the social integration. One of the biggest problem with is, the lack of suitable match because of the limitation of the caste (or even the sub-cast). Crimes like violent suppression of inter-cast romantic relationships and honour-killing are also its products.
Caste based politics is a major problem in India. Castes proves to be the most prominent factor in elections. Voters tend to ignore the character and capability of the candidates and vote on the basis of caste, which harms the soul of democracy to great extent. It also fuels the culture of corruption and bad government.
A non-Indian might find it hard to believe how seriously the caste system in taken in India, but it continues to remain an integral part of Indian culture.
However, with good luck it should fade away much before humanity enters the next century.