Indian Caste System
Introduction: The Indian society is characterized by the caste system, agrarian class structure, urbanization, multiplicity of religions, a variety of regional cultures, joint family system (with increasing trend towards nuclear families in urban setting), spiritual outlook and superstition, and resistance to change in tradition.
India is a country of Unity in Diversity. However, modernization is evident and social transformation has brought in its wake, problems and conflicts – features of the present day Indian society.
Origin: The origin of caste system in India is attributed to the functional division of labor. The population was divided into classes on the basis of functions or occupations of particular families and groups. However, in course of time, these divisions between various sections of the society became very rigid.
Former times: It seems that, in the former times, caste system gave scope for specialization and distributed the work in way that promoted professional skill and expertise. It helped the various art and industries to flourish. Even a least talented person had the opportunity earn his living.
Modern times: In modern society, there is no place for a rigid caste system that hinders adaptability or that restricts a member of the civilized society to choose a particular profession. No one should be forced to adopt or remain in a particular profession for any reason.
Social stratification and four fold division
Social stratification in Indian society and culture is complex because there are factors of class as well as caste involved.
The caste system, basically a fourfold division of society into :
- Vaishya and
It was well entrenched by the end of the Rig Vedic period. The Vedic Caste System that was divided into four divisions is still prevalent in Indian Society.
The four Varnas (implying colour) of India developed out of very early Aryan class divisions. The stratification grew more rigid when a situation arose with a dominant “fair” minority striving to maintain its purity and its supremacy over a darker minority. Tribal class divisions hardened and the dark-skinned aboriginal found a place only in the basement of Aryan social structure. Even in the earliest hymns we read of ksatra, the nobility and the vis, the ordinary tribesmen. But the four classes — Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra were crystallizing throughout the Rig Vedic period.
In theory the fourfold division was functional.
- The Brahmanas was to study and teach, sacrifice, give and teach, sacrifice, give and receive gifts,
- The Kshatriya to protect the people, sacrifice and study;
- The Vaishya to breed cattle till earth, pursue trade and lend money, though he too may study and sacrifice;
- The Sudra was to serve the other three classes. Gradually, the system became so deeply entrenched in the social structure that it continues to this day, though the rigidity is gradually being diluted.
The main features of the caste system are:
1. Endogamy and Heredity: A person born in a caste remains in it for life; dies in it, and his children also remain in it. This provides caste system with rigidity in structure. A caste has divisions, based on endogamy within a sub-group and is called sub-castes.
2. Social and Religious Hierarchy: In the system of social stratification different ‘castes’ are assigned superiority or inferiority over others. Brahmins are considered to be at the top of this subordination order. Then came Kshatriyas, then Vaishya and finally in the lowest position the Sudras.
3. Hereditary occupations: Every caste claims monopoly over some occupation and tries to restrict entry of others in their field. But now the case is changing with technological advancement. Many new occupations are there in which people from all castes are engaged. But in historical perspective influence of occupation on the development of caste cannot be denied. Many groups were named after the occupation they held, e.g. teli (oilman), chamars (leather workers), lohars (blacksmiths), etc.
4. Taboos: Another element of caste is the complex of taboos by which the superior castes try to preserve their ceremonial purity and all in general try to avoid occurrence of evils, believed to exist in every person.
5. Untouchables: Beyond the four classes, came the “untouchables”, “out-castes”, or what later came to be designated “depressed classes” and “scheduled castes”. By the times of Gupta Empire, chandalas had become so strictly outside the social that they were forced to strike a wooden clapper on entering the town. The lot of the untouchables has been a cruel and shameful blot on our cultural heritage.
1. Social inequality: The caste system is responsible for the social inequality or social gap. The high caste people expect the low-caste people to view them with honor. The high caste people do not give equal treatment to low-caste people.
2. Dignity of manual labor: The dignity of manual labor is yet to be fully recognized in the minds of certain classes of people. The higher caste people are still averse to perform tasks that involve manual labor.
3. Prevent labor mobility: Caste system prevents labor mobility. It restricts the flow of labor from one profession to another according to their economic needs. The wages remain unequal in different professions.
4. Restricted supply of labor: Since, the people remain stick to their hereditary profession, the supplies of labor do not increase with the increase in demand.
5. Hinders large-scale production: The caste system is based on concept of growth of self-reliant independent workers. The growth of large-scale production becomes difficult.
6. Negative effect on economic activities: The economic activities of the people are negatively affected because of the caste prejudices.
7. Low competition: The economic force of competition does not work properly because of the restrictions of caste-based system.
The solutions to cure the malady of caste system are:
- Political parties should stop playing caste-based politics, and not encourage casteism.
- Magazines, papers and press should promote communal harmony and sense oneness among the people of India.
- Government, and NGOs should promote education. Educated people are less likely to get trapped into the trap of casteism.
- Mass media campaign to promote caste-harmony would encourage people to live and work together.
The Constitution of India abolished untouchability. The recent years have witnessed some relaxation in caste-restrictions. However, one cannot say the evils of caste-system has been totally eradicated. We hope that a time will come when absolute equality in the matter of earning a livelihood would be enjoyed by all the citizens of our country.