The ambiguous sugar coating of caste system


  • Even after sixty years of independence, the hierarchical view of society in India holds their opinions in the defence of caste and reassertion of categories like pure and impure.

Historical background of Caste system:

Origin of the caste system:

  • Earlier, the caste of a person in India used to define his or her occupation and till death the person had to stick to that occupation.
  • As per Rig Veda (early Hindu text) there were four categories known as ‘varnas’.
  • Varnaliterally means colour, and was a framework for grouping people into classes, first used in Vedic Indian society.
  • It is referred to frequently in the ancient Indian texts. The four classes were:
  • The Brahmins: priestly people
  • The Kshatriyas: also called Rajanyas, who were rulers, administrators and warriors
  • The Vaishyas: artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers
  • and Shudras: the labors
  • The varnacategorisation implicitly had a fifth element, being those people deemed to be entirely outside its scope, such as tribal people and the untouchables.
  • Most of the historians still believe that today’s caste system is based on these varnas.
  • But when and how so many castes originated in India is not clear. Many theories have been put forward regarding the origin of caste system but, so far, no concrete answer has been collected in this regard. Some of the theories are as follows:
  • Traditional theory: According to this theory, Brahma, the creator the universe had created the caste system.
  • This theory has been criticized for its being a supernatural theory and for its base being just divine.
  • Occupational theory: According to occupational theory, castes in India are developed as per the occupation of a person.
  • Concept of superior and inferior caste also came with this as some persons were doing superior jobs and some were into lower kinds of jobs.
  • Present day discovery: Archeologists says that the caste system is a hierarchy and it existed in India as far back as the Harappan civilization.
  • They further added that within Harappa, walls separated one section of the people from another, which clearly shows how the caste system existed way back. Even during the Mauryan Empire, there is mention of seven clans of people.

Caste system during the British Raj:

  • When the British Raj began to take power in India in 1757, they exploited the caste system as a means of social control.
  • Strategically, the British allied themselves with the Brahmin caste, restoring some of its privileges that had been repealed by the Muslim rulers. But they made some necessary positive changes too. Such as:
  • Many Indian customs concerning the lower castes seemed discriminatory to the British, and were outlawed.
  • During the 1930s and 40s, the British government made laws to protect the Scheduled Castes and low-caste people.

Caste system after independence:

The Indian Government has enacted laws to remove untouchability and has also brought in many reforms to improve the quality of life for the weaker sections of society. Few among them are:

  • Constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights. Such as Right to Equality.
  • Abolition of ‘ untouchability’ in 1950.
  • Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
  • Provision of reservation in places like educational institutions, for employment opportunities etc.
  • Establishing social welfare departments and national commissions for the welfare of scheduled castes and tribes.
  • These measures adopted by the government have brought some relief to the weaker sections of society.
  • The urban areas have shown good amount of impact and some improvement. However, people in rural areas and villages still face extreme discrimination.

Ill effects of caste system:

  • Caste system did not allow any flexibility in society rules.
  • The caste system rules that were established were extremely rigid and there was no leeway provided for offenders.
  • Straying away from the rules and regulations was not an option and any rebels were severely punished.
  • Caste system went against the democratic rights of people. Keeping the country`s democracy aside, caste system expected people to abide by the caste segregation laws.
  • The practice of untouchablility was born solely due to the introduction of caste system.
  • The socio-economic conditions were unequal due to the practice of caste system. The wealth accumulated within the higher castes whereas the lower castes were doomed in eternal poverty.
  • Caste system did not allow enough professions among different castes. As a result, a person born in a low-caste did not have any open professional opportunity.
  • Caste system also encouraged child marriage, so that there are lesser chances of inter-caste union.

Current scenario:

  • Sixty years later, in spite of the Constitution, democracy and reservations, the hierarchical view of society finds expression in the defence of caste and reassertion of categories like pure and impure. For Instance:
  • The National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT) and the Hindu Council UK criticised the British government’s call for a public consultation on caste.
  • UK’s citizens have time till September 18, 2017 to reflect if caste should be banned by law or not.
  • Yogi Adityanath ordered purification of the CM’s office in Lucknow before entering it and Musahar Dalit families of Kushinagar received soap and shampoo to clean themselves before attending one of his meetings.
  • Recently UP Chief Minister declared that castes play the same role in Hindu society that furrows play in farms, and help in keeping it organised and orderly.
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s views on caste were very similar in the 1920s. In 1920, he wrote in Young India, “Caste has saved Hinduism from disintegration. But like every other institution it has suffered from excrescences. I consider the four divisions alone to be fundamental, natural and essential. The innumerable sub-castes are sometimes a convenience, often a hindrance. The sooner there is fusion the better… Interdrinking, interdining, intermarrying, I hold, are not essential for the promotion of the spirit of democracy”
  • The question which comes on to one’s mind is that, what is the need to defend caste system?
  • The people who defend the caste system do it for one or more of the following reasons :
  • They belong to the section of society that has benefited from exploiting other castes.
  • They find it difficult to accept the fact that their religion has helped to propagate the monstrosity called the caste system.

Solutions for complete irradiation of caste system:

  • Education: Educating people about their democratic and moral rights will make them see through the evils of the caste system.
  • Women`s education is also important to prevent them from getting exploited.
  • Industrialization especially in rural areas:This will increase unbiased job opportunities for people even in the rural areas.
  • To break the caste system, it is important to increase the employment rate.
  • Promoting equality: It is important to preach and promote equality among people in a society.
  • Any irrational practice should be shunned by people in unison once they are aware of the exploitation that they are subjected to.
  • Promote inter-caste marriages among people:Inter caste marriage should be promoted among people.
  • This way, the caste system walls will automatically be brought down.
  • Urbanization of villages:Bringing about urbanization in villages will influence the minds of villagers and help them break away from social evils like caste system.
  • Backward villages should be developed to help village people experience the urban sense of freedom.
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