The caste system is one of the most volatile topics in India. It is mainly found and discussed among Hindu/Sanatan Society Even the government tackles issues related to Caste with caution. We will dive into the depth of this issue in India. What was sanctioned by Hindu/Sanatan Scriptures? how it was perceived and defined? How Caste or Jaati (Hindi word) gets their hierarchy in Social Order? What were the repercussions of the Caste system? And, how many social reformers tried to correct the historical wrongs? Finally, what are the current scenario and future aspects?
Origin of Caste System (Varna System) in Hindu Society
Hindu Society or Sanatan Society or any other society in the world is basically divided based on the labor in our World. Hence, the early scriptures like Rig Veda and Geeta mentioned about Varna System (completely different from the Caste system). In this system, society has been divided into four Varna (categories). First, Brahmana (ब्राह्मण), Second is Kshatriya (क्षत्रिय), Third is Vaishya (वैश्य) and fourth is Shudra (शूद्र). Although there has been no mention of their status, it is the people who follow any certain order define hierarchy according to the powers they wield at any position. Brahmans were the propagator and learner of knowledge or intellectual work in the society, Kshatriyas were the protector of Society from any external or internal threat, Vaishyas were the generator and accumulator of wealth, and Shudras were meant to serve all three in order to make a self-sustaining society. Now, this categorization itself will create the hierarchy for any laymen.
Let’s understand this system in today’s world. Today Brahmans would constitute all the people with high intellect who occupies the influential position in society because of their brain i.e., Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers, Judges, Bureaucrats, Professors, Teachers, etc. Then Kshatriyas would be Police personnel, Armed forces, Security forces or Mercenaries, etc. Vaishyas would be businessmen, Tycoons, Manufacturers, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), etc. Finally, Shudras will be all Labor class, Sanitation workers, Housemaids, etc. Notice very carefully that the entire society in the entire world works in the same way. Brainstorming jobs are done by high-level IQ people and more menial or labor-intensive jobs are done by low IQ people. It definitely doesn’t mean that only a certain section of people needs to be respected. We need good people in all these classes, imagine the trucker’s crisis in Britain in 2021. The entire country was left standstill. You need good Doctors, Lawyers, Soldiers, Police, Sanitation workers, Laborers, etc. One cannot live in a society where only one or two sections of people exist. Hence, we need all these people mentioned.
In the context of ancient India, this system was also in force and all these different classes of people within Varna (Categories) were called Jaatis (Caste). Like Doctors, Lawyers, Professors, etc would be a Jaati (Caste) under Brahmana Varna (Category) in today’s scenario. Similarly, all Jaatis (Caste) were divided in society. And people were busy doing their sort of given job and living happy life until corruption of Caste-based discrimination seeped in.
Poison of Caste System Fortification and Discrimination
Imagine, if you are a son of a surgeon and according to a social norm or any compulsion you are bound to be called a doctor all through your life irrespective of the work you do. You will be allowed to perform surgery and prescribe medicine without you being gone to any medical college. Isn’t it absurd? This is basically the Caste or Jaati Fortification in Hindu Society.
In earlier times Education used to be one of the most expensive items for the young generation. People used to travel to far-off places to get an education i.e., Many Scholars from different parts of the World used to visit Bharat since Bharat was a knowledge producer country. Most people in general society avoided wasting precious resources on education. Instead, they were taught vocational skills at home by their family members. Hence, it was recommended or convenient for the children of a priest to become a priest. Same for a Soldier or Laborers or a businessman, it was relatively very easy for them to teach their children about things they have the expertise in and use their influence to get them the job according to their skillset.
Even if you look around the society today, it is a risky adventure for a man belonging to a non-business family to start a business and become successful, but it is relatively easy for a man who belongs to a business family to run that business successfully. Although it is not mandatory or fixed the possibilities are pretty much high that if you belong to a family of doctors, you will become a doctor or Lawyer Bureaucrat or Laborer, and so on.
As time evolved and communication means improved, the system of caste fortification didn’t melt down. Because people had fixed the Jaatis due to their social status received by them. It was fortified within the society that if you are born in any Jaati or Caste within Varna (category), you will belong to that same Jaati until you die irrespective of your profession.
It is the treatment meted out to the Shudra Varna that is problematic. People of varied Jaatis (Caste) within Shudra Varna faced many kinds of discrimination all throughout the history of Bharat. Some were not allowed to drink water from public wells, they were not allowed to enter temples, and many were not allowed to get an education and were treated as inferior just because of their profession and this was exacerbated by the caste fortification. No matter how much you are educated or an intellectual person, any person from any of the other three Varna would insult you and prevent you from opportunities that you hold on merit.
When you force someone to do certain work or prevent a person from any public good just because he/she belongs to a certain Varna, Jaati, or Caste, then it is bad for a self-sustaining society. This kind of social order was nowhere mentioned in the Vedas, Geeta, or any other Hindu Scriptures. Instead, what was sanctioned is not being followed. Then comes the social reform movements and the entire 19th and 20th centuries is filled with social reform movements, even from the people of the other three Varna. People like the King of Gaekwad (considered Kshatriya) funded the entire study of B.R Ambedkar (Belong to Shudra and a Plinth of Indian Constitution), Mahatma Gandhi started Harijan Sevak Sangh to uplift Shudras and participated Vaikom Satyagrah (temple entry movement in South), Veer Savarkar, etc. People from all strata of society were coming against such discrimination against certain sections of people. Things started to improve slowly after 1947 when Bharat got transferred its political power from the Britishers. Certain pro-bias provisions were added to the Indian Constitution to improve the social status of people belonging to Shudra Varna (also called SCs/STs).
Today one cannot discriminate against a person based on their caste/Jaati, because it is a punishable offense. Although the Caste/Jaati fortification is still widespread in society people. In general, people do not practice the discrimination of the earlier eras in ancient Bharat. People drink, and eat with each other, they don’t see the Jaati before treating any person, especially in cities. There may be some incidents that come to light but that too in the farthest of the remote corner of some village in Bharat. This Caste Fortification is practiced only in Marriages. This fortification is so strong that people from different Jaatis/Caste within the same Varna don’t marry others lest marrying in different Varna. Even within Shudras, different Jaatis don’t perform marriages with other Shudra Jaatis. Apart from this, there is no issue in general behavior when people interact with people of different Jaatis, Varna, etc. They make friends from all Varnas, and Jaatis, they eat with each other’s, and they go out with each other’s but marriages in Intercaste are still a big issue for Bhartiya Society.
If we talk about the future, the Caste-based marriage future is neither that strong nor that weak, because inter-Caste couples coming from different Jaatis and Varnas and speaking openly against this marriage fortification. But there are many couples who prefer Intra-Caste Marriages. Both are correct in their own ways, as long as one is not discriminating with other people in general behavior, but they want to marry in a specific caste, there is no wrong in it. Similarly, couples who love each other but are from different Varna or Caste, they should also be allowed and respected. The best part of Hindu Society is that they are ready to receive a change around any aspect they feel is not good. It is only a matter of time; this last fortification will also be broken.