How did caste system originate in India?

The Indian caste system is very complex today. There are many social issues including social behavior, attached to this man-made society division and hierarchy. More worrying is the fact that, it now includes social discrimination and stigmatization. It is taken for granted by many people of our society. They form a perception based on the limited set of information they have-about their ancestors and family. The case structure is accepted as a social norm today, and is a strong political agenda today.

DNA of India’s caste system

According to few Hindu theology experts (one who studies divine nature), the Indian caste system was created by the Divine master- the Hindu god Brahma.  Brahma had created priests and teachers as highest people in the society, as learned and gurus of the Indian society, from his mouth.  Brahma’s arms gave birth to the warriors. Brahma’s thighs created merchants and traders, and His feet gave birth to peasants.

A secular theory is that of Aryans (who considered themselves as superior humans), during the time of their invasion. It is believed that in order to control the Indian population, they decided to divide the Indian society in groups. However, it was later disapproved as there is no proof of Aryan invasion.

Going by the ancient theory, caste system gave recognition to people divided in groups according to their occupation. The broad outlook was defined as Brahmin-the priests; Kshatriya-the warriors and nobility; Vaisya– farmers, traders and artisans; and Shudra-farmers and servants.

The Indian caste system was a reckoning force in the society, as it recognised people on the basis of their skills, intelligence, and duties towards the society. Had it continued this way, perhaps it would have been more pleasant in its nature.

It was not absolute in nature. There are many popular rulers like from the Gupta dynasty, who belonged to the Vaishya caste. They were not kshatriyas. During the Muslim rule also, the Indian caste system virtually ceased to exist. They did not encourage the practice of Hindu priests and Hindu warriors. Also, Vaisya and Shudra, were really together under their rule. In fact, during the Islamic domination, it is believed that the upper-caste was working as farmers for their livelihood. On contrast, the rural areas were working towards strengthening their Hindu identity, by following the Indian case system roots.

What went wrong?

It was profession which defined the caste of people. People were free to choose their profession, based on their skill, and therefore, their case. However, as the case is, it soon occupied the form of family occupation. If your father is in specific information, he would ideally want his children to be in the same caste or profession. With time, this personal favoritism became more prominent, as people started doling out favors for jobs, status, to their children. It is simple; people with the deserving skills were no longer a choice, and you caste became a granted status with time. A king will always make his blood the heir to the throne. Based on this concept, our society, which gave respect to people based on their skills, knowledge, and attitude, now started distinguishing based on jobs. They now had a belief that your family caste is your original caste. A society divide was therefore created, with every family member considering their profession superior. The lowest in the rung were to suffer for lifelong.

It all propagated under the British rule

Under the British rule, the Britishers exploited the caste system to exercise their control on the society. In order to meet their economic interests, British rulers aligned themselves with Brahmins. Very soon, they started systemizing the Indian society based on the Indian caste system rule book. Disputes related to matters of property inheritance, marriage and family succession, were now judged by the British rulers. It now took the image of unequal law and biased justice, based upon their status and position in the society. It soon became a society order, a premise on which the whole society started functioning.

Modern interpretation

It now seems that case has become a strong political agenda than a society or religious one. Indian Constitution has banned case-based discrimination post-independence. However, the caste-based reservation system still persists in India, and social discrimination against the Dalits is still practiced. Even though national figures like Dr Ambedkar and MK Gandhi, struggled to improve the social status of Dalits, it is still an important social issue in India.

(with inputs from Asian History and ibtimes)

Pooja Bhat

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