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The pattern of social classes in Hinduism is called the "caste system.

" Frequently known as the


social caste system in English, the Hindu concept of varna depicts a strict separation of society
based on assigning individuals to social classes. The social caste system is thought to have first
originated with the Aryan appearance in India during the 1st millennium BCE and is often
perceived as intrinsic and distinctive to the Indian subcontinent.
In Hindu society, caste is the most powerful instrument in determining a person's dignity.
Caste system is the result of the Hindu belief of 'Reincarnation and Karma'. The four castes
eventually developed into a social mosaic of 3000 sub-castes, with the Untouchables at the
bottom of the list; in real sense they are out of the list. Such rigid caste system is not found
anywhere in the world except in India. If a person is born into a caste, his status is predetermined
and immutable. Birth decides one's status and this cannot be altered by the talent developed by
the individual or by the wealth the person may accumulate. Similarly, the caste in which a person
is born predetermines what vocation the person will pursue. One has no choice. Birth decides the
occupation of the person. This caste system discriminates between human persons and stratifies
them into different groups. According to Manu Dharma, the Hindu religious code of conduct
divides human persons into four Varnas.
Humans are perceived as being trapped in samsara, a meaningless cycle of birth, life, death and
rebirth (reincarnation). Karma is the sum of ones good and bad deeds and this determines how
you will live your next life. Through pure acts, thoughts and devotion, one can be reborn at a
higher level caste. Bad deeds can cause a person to be reborn as a lower level, or even as an
animal or an insect. The unequal distribution of wealth, prestige, suffering are thus seen as
natural consequences for ones previous acts, both in this life and in previous lives. (they cant
complain about the system because they are responsible for where they ended up. While many
other ancient cultures divided their societies into social classes, the caste system of India is of
particular interest because it continues to be a powerful presence in every Hindu's life. There is
extremely limited mobility between castes; members of a caste are regulated to eat with, interact
with, and marry only members of their own caste. The designation of caste overshadows any and
all religious distinctions. Consequently, regardless of one's religion, the obligations of caste still
act as a powerful influence in Hindu life. According to Hindu doctrine, the only way to change
castes is to be reborn into a new caste after death as a result of good or bad karma.
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Four main social groups serve as a part of the Hindu caste system, though a fifth is sometimes
included in this system:

Brahmans, the priests, who are charged with ritual functions and the preservation of
sacred texts within oral traditions

shatriyas, the warriors and rulers, who are known for physical strength and power

Vaishyas, the agriculturalist-stockbreeders, who focus on the attainment of material


wealth. Merchants, artists, and other professions are included here.

Shudras, the servants, are charged with supporting the other three classes
Although servants are mentioned in earlier verses, a reference to the caste of the

shudras first appears in a relatively late Rigvedic passage. This famous passage describes the
creation of the four castes from the fallen body of Purusha, the Hindu cosmic man.

Although technically outside the caste system, another group called dalits (once referred
to as "untouchables") are regarded as lower than the entire caste system.

The first three castes are often referred to by the designation "twice born." This
designation refers to a tradition in which males from those castes are ritually born a second time
in order to purify themselves as a precedent to Vedic studies.
In addition to castes, there are a number of communities, clans, tribes, and families referred to
collectively as jati. These lineage groups, often distinguished by their surnames, are
characterized by jobs, tasks, or other traits that are passed on from generation to generation. For
example, the Kayasthas are scribes by birth. Hundredsperhaps thousandsof jatis exist in
India.
A society should be a human society; the pre-requisite of a society is that the group of people
should be related to each other through persistent relations. But in Indian society the people are
not only unrelated to each other but also hate each other. Though this relation appears to be
relative in nature the castes belonging to the lower strata are not even left with the freedom that
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certain animals could enjoy. The caste system in India denied human status to its fellow beings
and treated them worst than animals. We could see that some animals like cows, pigs were given
godly status where the so-called untouchables were denied entry into not only to the temples but
also denied to walk on the common paths. Especially the saga of the downtrodden castes and the
women belonging to these castes is highly deplorable.
The Manu dharma Shastra denied equal status for the women along with men and put her in
restrictions: Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in Youth, and her
sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.
A woman has no right to study, let alone Vedas. Women cannot utter the Veda Mantras, as they
are unclean is the untruth. A Brahman, Kshatriya, or Vaisya man can sexually exploit any Shudra
woman. Even the act of killing a woman is explicitly justified as a minor offence for the
Brahmins; equal to the killing of an animal.
With regards to the stratification of Indian society, Dr Ambedkar says Caste is not just a
division of labour, it is a division of labourers he also says It is a pity that Caste even today has
its defenders. The defenses are many. It is defended on the ground that the Caste System is but
another name for division of labour; and if division of labour is a necessary feature of every
civilized society, then it is argued that there is nothing wrong in the Caste System. Now the first
thing that is to be urged against this view is that the Caste System is not merely a division of
labour. It is also a division of laborers. Civilized society undoubtedly needs division of labour.
But in no civilized society is division of labour accompanied by this unnatural division of
laborers into watertight compartments. The Caste System is not merely a division of laborers
which is quite different from division of labourit is a hierarchy in which the divisions of
laborers are graded one above the other. In no other country is the division of labour
accompanied by this gradation of laborers.
Caste is gaining strength day after day. The traditional caste is disappearing and its modern forms
are emerging. And the modern casteism is more dangerous than the traditional casteism; the
modern casteism is more influential and invisible. Even the movements started to work against
the caste system are becoming part of the caste system. The living experience of caste differs
from not only caste to caste but also from person to person. The living experience of caste of the
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so called lower caste is different from the living experience of caste of the so called upper caste.
And how the so called upper caste describes how caste operates" is different from how the so
called lower caste would describe it.
If we check the caste back ground of 1) Child Labourers 2) Beggars 3) Prostitutes 4) Street
Children 5) Rag pickers... and other victims of tragedies like communal riots, natural disasters in
India, well find that most of worst victims are the so called untouchable castes.
Despite the fact that untouchability was abolished under Indias law in 1950, the practice of
untouchability remains very much a part of rural India. untouchables may not cross the line
dividing their part of the village from that occupied by higher castes. They may not use the same wells,
visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs.
Dallit children are frequently made to sit in the back of classrooms, and communities as a whole are
made to perform degrading rituals in the name of caste. Most Dalits continue to live in extreme poverty,
without land or opportunities for better employment or education. With the exception of a minority who
have benefited from Indias policy of quotas in education and government jobs, Dalits are relegated to
the most menial of tasks removers of human waste and dead animals, leather workers, street sweepers,
and cobblers. Dalit children make up the majority of those sold into bondage to pay off debts to uppercaste creditors.
-Adapted from BROKEN PEOPLE: Caste Violence Against Indias Untouchables a Human
Rights Watch Report:www.hrw.org/reports/1999/India/
Belief systems and philosophies have greatly affected the people and societies where they are
practiced. They give guidelines on how to live their lives and affect every aspect of their
cultures. People are decided which class they belong to at birth. For example, if a child is born
into a family of slaves, that child will be a slave for the rest of his life.
Weber construes caste as a special and extreme case of status groups, whereas a class is
constituted by individuals in a matching economic position. The cohesive force of status group is
constituted by honour and prestige. In the caste system of India this mechanism is developed to
the extreme in strict caste endogamy and the religious concept of pollution. Caste is thus a
perfected variety of closed status from class. The interplay between caste and ideology of rebirth
is a main point in Webers analysis. The ideology of rebirth prescribes strict adherence to ones
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caste duties and prospect of transcendental rewards in subsequent reincarnations. In Webers


synthetic construction of caste and Hinduism, the karma doctrine is the key principle of cosmic
reality (Weber quoted in Lunheim: 1993:64).
REFERENCES
Bettie, J. ( 1964)

Other Cultures, London : Cohen and West.

Dumont, Louis
(1970)
Homo Hierarchicus : The Caste System
and Its Implications, Chicago : Chicago University Press.
Edmund Weber, Buddhism (2001) :
An Atheistic and Anti-Caste Religion?
Modern Ideology and Historical Reality of the Ancient Indian Bauddha Dharma.
Journal of Religious Culture No. 50 (2001)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma_in_Hinduism

Ilaiah, Kancha (1996)

Why I am not a Hindu, Samya : Calcutta.

Mukherji, D.P.
(1961)
`Indian Sociology and Tradition' in R.N. Saksena
(ed.), Sociology, Social Research
and Social Problems in India,
Bombay, Asia Publishing House.