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.
Category: Indian SocietyTagged With: Caste System
Here is a compilation of essays on the ‘Caste System in India’ for class 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on the ‘Caste System in India’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on the Caste System
- Essay on the Introduction to Caste System in India
- Essay on the Caste System among Religions in India
- Essay on the Role of Caste in Indian Politics
- Essay on the Modern Trends in Caste System in India
- Essay on the Future of Caste System in India
Essay # 1. Introduction to the Caste System in India:
The system of caste is said to have originated in India though the exact origin of caste system cannot be traced. The records of Indo Aryan Culture contain its first mention. According to Dr. Muzumdar, the caste system took its birth after the arrival of Aryans in India. In order to maintain their separate existence the Indo-Aryans used for certain groups and orders of people the favourite word ‘Varna’ and ‘Colour’. Of the relation subsisting between four classes —Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vis and Sudra— Brahmin is definitely said to be superior to Kshatriya.
In fact the entire Hindu social organization is based on two fundamental notions—one regarding the natural endowment of man and the other regarding his nature and upbringing. These two are called Varma Ashram Vyavastha, the organization based on differences in caste and differences in stages of life.
According to Ashrama Dharma, a man has to go through four stages of life –
(i) The Brahmacharya—student stage when he acquires knowledge and prepare himself of future duties,
(ii) Grihastha Ashram—householder stage in which he marries and brings up his family and takes up an occupation in order to fulfill his economic obligations to his family as well as to society,
(iii) Vanprastha Ashrama—when he gives up his household duties, occupation and retires into a forest hermitage to devote time for the development of his personality,
(iv) Sanyasa Ashrama – when he renounces the world and devotes himself fully to the achievement of final aim of his existence — Moksha or liberation.
The other aspect of Hindu social organization consists of the concept of natural endowment that fixes the position of man in the society of Varnadharma. According to Varnadharma, there are some people who devote themselves to the performance of sacrificial rites, study and teaching. They are Brahmins who constitute the intellectual elite. Secondly there are Kshatriyas whose duty is to protect the people. These are the rulers and warriors of the olden days and statesman and politicians of modern days.
The third group is of those people who have a peculiar endowment to produce wealth and to engage themselves trade, commerce, banking etc. Right from agriculturists to the industrialists and bankers all the people who are engaged in the task of production and distribution of wealth constitute the third group, the Vaishya. Finally, all the rest of the members of the society who are workers constitute the Sudra group.
The first three groups are the elite groups—the intellectual, the political and productions groups and the fourth group comprises the working class. In this way the origin of caste system can be found in the nature and quality of social work performed by the various groups of people. Those professions which were regarded as better and respectable made the persons who performed them superior to those who were engaged in dirty professions.
According to the Evolutionary theory, the caste system did not come into existence all of a sudden or at particular date. It is the result of a long process of social evolution. A number of factors played their part in the development of the present caste system.
Some of the important factors are as under:
1. Hereditary occupations
2. The desire of the Brahmin to keep themselves pure
3. The lack of rigid unitary control of the state.
4. The unwilling of rulers to enforce a uniform standard of law and customs and their readiness to recognise the varying customs of different groups as valid.
5. Beliefs in re-incarnation and the doctrine of Karma.
6. Clash of races, colour prejudices and conquest.
7. Deliberate economic and administrative policies followed by the various conquerors particularly by the British.
8. Geographical isolation of Indiana peninsula.
9. Static nature of Hindu society.
10. Foreign invasions.
11. Rural social structure.
All the above factors conspired to encourage the formation of small groups based on petty distinctions from time to time which promoted the spirit of solidarity and community feeling in every group. Caste system is not a monopoly of India. It existed and still exists in many parts of the world. The feudal system of medieval Europe was a species of caste system. Certain ethnic group such as Jews and Negroes are still treated as castes in many civilised countries including the U. S. A. What is unique in Hindu caste system is that it alone classified some groups as untouchables and unapproachable.
Essay # 2. Caste System among Religions in India:
Although caste is Hindu phenomenon yet there is a group of sociologists like Bailay, Harper, Barreman etc. which defines caste in structural terms and believe that it has also influenced other religious groups in India.
Caste among Christians:
Christians in Kerala live within their caste framework. There is a clear cut distinction among original Christians and coverts from untouchable groups. The stigma of untouchability is quite obvious within the Christian community.
Caste among Sikhs:
Although religious dogma of the Sikhs is categorically against caste system still castes among Sikhs exist in the same manner as in the Hindu group. E.g. Jats are mostly land owners/cultivators who prefer to marry within the Jat castes only. Khatri Sikhs avoid marrying in Jats or Ramgharia (Kohar, Tarkhans by traditional occupation) castes. Mazhabi Sikhs are the low caste groups. Converts are often placed at the bottom of social hierarchy. Upper and lower castes are clearly distinguished among the Sikhs.
Caste among Muslims:
The Muslims form the second largest religious community of India. Muslim society in Bihar is divided into numerous castes like groups and has various elements of the caste system such as endogamy, hereditary occupations, caste names and social hierarchy. Ritual purity and pollution is also present among Muslims. The pattern of intermingling is confined to one’s kin group or known range within kin groups. The idea of pollution is limited to clean castes with regard to unclean. But the notion of ritual purity and pollution is quite weak among Muslims.
Essay # 3. Role of Caste in Indian Politics:
Caste plays a significant role in Indian politics. Pranjpe has beautifully explained the role of caste in Indiana politics. He observes, since majorities make a Government in democracies, many small groups must join to form a majority in a constituency. Certain caste groups comprise a sizeable proportion of voters in a constituency, so that these castes can gain a working majority by compromising with some other caste groups.
Furthermore, it is observed that in many constituencies, the sub-castes or endogamous Jat groups are too small to form an effective majority, whereas the Varna groups of caste are large enough to do this. This might explain the apparent paradox that politics is weakening sub-caste while it is strengthening case (Varna groups).
The role of caste in Indian Politics can be specially discussed as under:
1. Caste Factor in Political Socialisation and Leadership Recruitment:
Different caste groups have their loyalties behind different political parties and their ideologies. Right from his birth an Indian citizen inherits a caste and grows up as a member of particular caste group. He belongs either to one of the high castes or to scheduled castes. In the process of picking up his political orientations, attitudes and beliefs, he naturally comes under the influence of caste groups and casteism.
Caste values and caste interests influence his socialization and consequently his political thinking, awareness and participation. He banks upon caste solidarity for occupying and performing a leadership recruitment role. Caste influences the process of leadership recruitment. This is particularly true of caste conscious people of States like Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, Reddys, Kammas and Valamas provide state leaders.
2.Caste and Party Politics:
Caste factor is a constituent of Indian party system. Some of the political parties have direct caste basis while others indirectly bank upon particular caste groups. The regional political parties in particular, stand predominantly influenced by the caste factor. The DMK and AIADMK are non-Brahmin rather anti-Brahmin political parties of Tamil Nadu. In Punjab, Akali Dal has a community identity. It stands influenced by the issue of jats vs. non-jats. All political parties in India use caste as a means for securing votes in elections. BSP banks upon the support of Scheduled Castes while the BJP largely banks upon its popularity among high caste Hindu and the trading community.
3.Caste and Elections:
The caste factor is an important factor of electoral politics in India. All political parties give weightage to the caste factor in selecting their candidates, in allocating constituencies to their candidates and in canvassing support for their nominees in the elections. In constituencies predominated by Muslims, Muslim candidates are fielded and in areas predominated by Jats, Jat candidates are fielded. Even secularist parties like Congress, Janta Dal, CPI and CPM take into consideration the caste fact in selecting their candidates.
In the election campaigns, votes are demanded in the names of caste. Caste groups are tapped for committed support. N. D. Palmer has rightly observed that “Caste considerations are given great weight in the selection of candidates and in the appeals to voters during election campaigns.” In elections, caste is the most important political party.
4.Caste as Divisive and Cohesive Force in Indian Politics:
Caste acts both as divisive and cohesive force in Indian Politics. It provides a basis for the emergence of several interest groups in the Indian Political System each of which competes with every other group in the struggle for power. At times it leads to unhealthy struggle for power and acts as a divisive force.
However, it is a source of unity among the members of groups and acts as a cohesive force. In rural India, where the social universe of the rural power is limited to an area of 15 to 20 km., caste acts as a unifying force. It is the only social group they understand. However, the existence of two or three big caste groups also leads to factionalism. Caste as such is a factor in Indian politics and it acts as a cohesive as well as divisive factor.
5.Caste and Organization of Government:
Since caste is a major feature of Indian society and acts as an important factor in various processes of politics, it also plays a basic role in the decision-making process. Even the issue of re-organization of State was handled with an eye upon the prevention of undue predominance of a caste group in a particular territory. Caste factor influences the policies and decisions of the State Governments. The party in power tries to use its decision-making power to win the favour of major caste groups. Congress has always tried to nurture people belonging to Scheduled Castes as its vote banks.
Regional political parties whenever they get the chance to rule their respective states, always use political power for furthering the interests of the caste groups which support or can support their regimes. Recruitment of political offices is mostly done with due considerations for the caste of the persons. The constitution of India provides for a single unified electorate and advocates the spirit of caste free politics and administration. However, the caste factor always acts as a determinant of people’s voting behaviour, their political participation, the party structure and even of the governmental decision-making.
6.Caste Factor and Panchayati Raj:
The role of caste in the working of Panchayati Raj and other institutions of local self-government has been a recognised reality. Caste based factionalism in rural areas of India has been the most major hindering factor in the organization and effective working of Panchayati Raj.
7. Caste and Indian Constitution:
Though the spirit of factionalism stands clearly affirmed in the constitution, yet the constitution in a limited and indirect way recognises the caste system in the form of providing for the reservation of seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Union Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies. It also provides for the office of commissioner of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes with the responsibility to investigate into matters relating to the various safeguards provided by the constitution to these castes and tribes.
The provision for the appointment of minister in charge for looking after the welfare of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa also reflects indirect recognition of caste factor. Article 331 and 333 provides for the reservation of seats and jobs in government offices, schools, colleges, universities and other public sector undertakings also reflects this feature. The emergence of strong pro-reservation and anti-reservation groups in India has been the direct consequence of these provisions of the constitution.
8.Caste and Rural Politics:
In the Indian rural context caste has been a plank of mobilisation, of channel of communication, representation and leadership and a linkage between the electrode and the political process.
Caste based violence very often finds its way into politics. The traditional differences between higher and lower castes have acquired a new vigour and have turned, at times, into a violent and fierce struggle for power in the society. The growing terrorisation of the lower castes by the higher or even intermediary castes has been becoming a par of rural India’s political reality. In states like Maharashtra, Bihar, Gujarat and U. P. caste violence has raised its head even in some urban areas. However, till today most of caste based violence continues to characterise rural politics.
10.Caste and Political Leadership:
Caste has been emerging as a factor in the process of leadership recruitment. Leadership of BSP leader Kanshi Ram is a Caste based leadership. So was the leadership of Ch. Charan Singh in U. P., Karpoori Thakur in Bihar and Dev Raj Urs in Karnataka.
In this way Indian party system and electorate clearly reflect the caste divisions. The issue of Brahmins vs. Non-Brahmins in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, Kammas vs. Reddys in Andhra Pradesh and Jats vs. Mon-Jats in Punjab etc. reflect the dominant role of caste in Indian politics. Caste loyalties, other ethnic factors and not ideological differences really divide the Indian political parties. Election campaigns are run along caste lines and poll violence is usually caste based violence.
Prof. Srinivas while accounting for the role of caste holds that “The power and activity of caste had increased in proportion as political power passed increasingly to the people from the rulers.” Politics has become caste ridden and castes have got politicised. Caste groups use politics as the means to secure their interests. The political parties use caste divisions for nurturing their support basis in the society. The educated and illiterates, the rich and the poor, in fact the people living in all parts of India still remain attached to their castes despite liberalisation of restriction on diets, marriage and residences.
The politics of reservations has also tended to give strength to the forces of caste in Indian politics. Caste has been one of the bases for determining the other backward class status for the purposes of granting reservations. The continued presence of caste based political parties, caste associations and caste federations, caste tensions and conflicts, caste violence, caste based leadership, caste based elections campaigns and caste based voting behaviour, all lead to the conclusion that caste is and destined to remain a factor of politics in India.
Essay # 4. Modern Trends in the Caste System in India:
(i) Reformist Movement:
Many Indian writers who studied western literature in details were impressed by progressive ideas of English writers and they started a movement to promote brotherhood of mankind. Indian writers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Swami Dayanand, and Mahatma Gandhiji put in their efforts to make it clear that it is not only birth or caste of a person which determines one’s position in society but his own capabilities and worth is all that matters.
(ii) Legislation during British Rule:
British courts were established which made uniform laws for all the people. The Caste Disability Removal Act of 1850 recognised all castes to be equal. According to Special Marriage Act in 1872 and Hindu Special Marriage Act 1954, inter-caste marriages were considered valid. Indian constitution through its articles allows all castes to be treated equal and removes the concept of untouchability.
Social structure of a society is affected by industrial revolution to a great extent. In an industrialised society people from all spheres of life, of all castes, creed and colour come together and work. People work according to their qualification, talent and experience. Preference is given to skill and qualification of a person and not the caste he belongs to. So industrialisation has helped in removing the inequalities based on caste, creed or colour to a great extent.
Urbanisation has brought people from different places and caste together. In cities people of different castes are adopting one another’s way of life and the economic factor is playing a great role in making categories of people like Rich, Poor and Middle Class.
Essay # 5. Future of the Caste System in India:
The constitution of India and various programmes in pursuance of constitutional provisions have sought to abolish caste system and improve the social and economic conditions of weaker castes. E.g. Reservation of seats for other backward classes (OBC) in educational institutions and public sector is the latest step taken for the welfare of the Dalit classes. The influence of caste system in slowly decreasing, yet the change has to be in the attitude and mortality of the people.
One has still to depend very largely on one’s caste for help at critical periods of one’s life, like marriage and death. The elections in India are contested very much on the basis of casteism. We find casteism persisting in government services. E.g. seats are reserved for backward and schedule castes in govt. services as well as in legislatures. Special scholarships are given for education. In the name of minority caste, institutions have been given legal freedom to maintain their separate identity. So we see that Indian democracy has encouraged rather than discouraged the caste system in practice.
Attitudes of exclusiveness and distrust amongst castes exist. Judgement of the Supreme Court in Mandal case ensured a fresh lease of life to the cancer of casteism for indefinite future. It is doubtful if our political leaders thriving on casteism will ever shed off their caste character.
With the spread of education, political reforms and changes in economic position it is hoped that Indian people will rise to this problem and throw off the caste system.