CASTE SYSTEM AND SOCIAL STRATIFICATION IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION:-
The Castes are hereditary endogamous group with fixed traditional occupations, observing
commensal prohibition and social restrictions on interaction. It is believed that there are about
3,000 castes in the country. These castes are grouped as upper castes (like Brahmins, Rajputs, Baniyas, Kayasthas, etc.), intermediate castes (like Ahir, Sunar, Kurmi, etc.) and lower caste
(like Dhobi, Nai, etc.). The castes are linked with the four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisya, and Sudra) for determining the status in ritual hierarchy.

The Indian caste system describes the system of social stratification and social restrictions in the Indian subcontinent in which social classes are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed jatis or castes. Within a jati, there exist exogamous groups known as gotras, the lineage or clan of an individual. In a handful of sub-castes such as Shakadvipi, endogamy within a gotra is permitted and alternative mechanisms of restricting endogamy are used (e.g. banning endogamy within a surname).

CASTE SYSTEM IN INDIA:
History of caste system in India or Vedic period: The development of the caste system in India never seems to be having any universally accepted history as such. Though there is a general speculative faith that the earliest settlers to this land, the Indo-Aryans might have actually established the caste system, gradually placing them in the higher ladder of the society. There is a whole lot of controversy regarding the theory of the Indo-Aryan migration. The Hindu scriptures can also be taken into consideration in this regard, which has some passages that can be interpreted to sanction the caste system. This also indicates that the caste system is not an essential part of the Hindu religion. The Vedas or the most ancient Shruti texts emphasis very less on the caste system, same is maintained in a hymn from the Rig Veda. Later scriptures like Bhagavad Gita and Manu Smriti propounds four Varnas, to be God`s creation. There is a general idea believed by scholars that may be in the initial phases the caste system was a bit flexible. Migration from one caste to the other was possible by switching jobs. Various passages from Manu Smriti and other scriptures emphasize that the caste system in India was originally non-hereditary. Therefore, through these facts one gets an impression how the caste system developed in the later stages into a firm intricate structure from a bendable one in the earlier Vedic age.

A) Colonial India: The castes did not constitute a rigid description of occupation or the social status but the Britisher’s attempted to equate the Indian Caste System to their own colonial caste system since the British society was divided by class. Britisher’s further codified the caste system in India and made it more rigid. A section of sociologists agree that the caste system initially had several advantages too. It served as an important tool of social order where mutual consent rather than competition ruled. The caste system played an important role in shaping economic activities in Indian society. The fluidity of caste system was affected by the arrival of British
policy of divide and rule. Rigid categorization of population also contributed towards the hardening of caste identities.

B) Post -independence: In semi rural areas and small towns the caste system is still very rigid. Caste is also a very important factor in the politics of India. After independence, the government has officially documented castes and sub-castes, primarily to determine reservation in education and jobs through census. The Indian reservation system relies entirely on quotas for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes. This system has been fairly successful in bringing the backward castes into the mainstream. However, the caste based reservations in India has also led to widespread protests due to reverse discrimination against the upper caste. Also the caste based politics in India has created various undue tensions amongst the social forces. With a passage of six-decades after independence the caste based discrimination in our country has been addressed to some extent but there is still enough scope to bridge the inter-caste gaps in the society. The economic and social equality, globalization, extensive education, youth empowerment and social organizations have contributed a great deal in mellowing
down the deeply rooted caste based discrimination in our country. In these situations, it is the responsibility and greater role of the politicians to reform the society instead of concentrating on caste-based politics, appeasement and discrimination, which is unhealthy for the Indian Society.

Functions of caste system:-

The caste system is credited to ensure the continuity of the traditional social organization of India. It has accommodated multiple communities including invading tribes in the Indian society. The knowledge and skills of the occupations have passed down from one generation to the next. Through subsystems like Jajmani system, the caste system promoted interdependent interaction between various castes and communities with in a village. The rituals and traditions promoted cooperation and unity between members of the different castes.

Relevance of caste system in India:

Although India is a political democracy, the hierarchical caste system is deeply rooted into the society, whether it is North or South, Hindu’s or Muslim’s and cities or villages. This system of discrimination, between the high and lowcastes exists, almost in every community. The caste system was evolved when India’s ancient civilizations, absorbed the nomadic Aryan population who crossed central Asia to enter northern India. The four castes developed out of necessity of its own social order and moral and ritual quotes. The word caste comes from Portuguese word ‘Casta’ (breed or race). The Sanskrit word that applied to the groupings was ‘Varna’, which is often interpreted as color. However as per ‘Mahabharata’, if different colors indicate different castes the all castes are mixed castes. The Hindus also believed that the ‘Varna’ of a man is determined by his profession and deeds rather than his birth. Traditionally, the political power rested with
kshatriyas and Brahmins were custodian of dharma. The Vaishyas were the traders and running the economy whereas, Shudras were service providers.

Caste system: An impediment to growth-
If there is one thing that is a characteristic of an Indian, irrespective of his region, his language and even his religion, then it is his or her caste. India has a long history of a society divided in different castes and Jaats, that goes beyond 2500 years. There are mentions of a society based on varnas ( class) that are decided by the occupation or interests of a person, in the Vedas, that are the oldest written books of Hindu religion. Over a period of time, these classes better known as castes, became a hereditary phenomenon, making castes permanent. The caste system are not restricted to Hindus only, as there are different castes among Muslims and also at some places in India, among Christians. But the most rigid, prevalent and universal caste system exist among Hindus that constitute 80 percent of the population.
To understand caste system, it is important to understand its history and evolution in Indian
context. Initially, the society was divided among 4 major castes or classes, that were Brahmans, Kshatriyas ,Vaisyas and Shudras. The caste of a person was decided by his or her occupation. People who were knowledgeable, had intellectual bent of mind and were either a scholar, a teacher or a learned man were the Brahmans. Kshatriyas were the people in the occupation of warfare, kings and other warriors. Vaisyas were the businessman, shopkeepers, and traders etc. And the last castes were the group of people who performed daily day-to-day life duties, like cleaner, gardener, laborer etc.

But with time this system has deteriorated to a large extent. Today there are more than 2500 different castes and sub-castes in India. It is decided by the birth of the person and not by one’s interests, that to which caste will one belongs. And also the castes are hierarchical in order. The Brahmans are the upper class and the Shudras , the lower class. From more than 1000 years, Shudras, are seen with disrespect, with no dignity of labor, and are even humiliated for the caste they belong to. Some of the lower castes are also termed as Untouchables, making them an outcast among the general public.

Today, caste system is one of the biggest impediments in the path of India’s success as a
country. This system makes the power and resources of country divided. Also, the existence
of hierarchical caste system causes disharmony and gives rise to hatred among common people. Political leaders have actually deteriorated the condition by playing their dirty games of making the caste an issue of elections. It is an open secret that in many places across the country, the votes are cast , keeping in mind the caste of the candidate, rather than his or her work in the direction of development. The intermingling of caste and politics has played a havoc with the progress of the nation.

Another major consequence of the disease called caste system is Reservations. The backward castes, which are SC(Scheduled castes), ST(Scheduled Tribes) and the OBC( other backward castes), are provided reservations in all government schools, colleges and in public sector jobs of 22.5 percent for SC, ST and 27 percent for OBC, apart from many other benefits like education concessions and financial assistance etc. This in my opinion, is disastrous and in reality, just a way to woo the votes of these castes. As these reservations, lead to a set of students and employees who are selected not on the basis of their merit, but on the basis of their caste. This is nothing less than a caste system with the reversed hierarchical order and not actually a solution to it. Also this reduces the overall quality of employees and future engineers, doctors etc. and render many meritorious students jobless. I believe reservation, if provided, should be on economical basis. As the current reservations are more of a political stunt then an actual step in the direction of doing away with Caste system.

The problem lies in the mindset of the country on the whole and hence require more humanitarian steps rather than political gimmicks of caste-games and reservations. It requires a genuine youth-oriented government aided drive across the nation by the help of electronic and print media apart from a personal awareness campaign to make people understand the principle of equality. There can be no drastic change such as the abolition of caste system, but at least its retrogressions can be removed slowly. There must be dignity of labor to streamline these classes into the general public. These and many other such initiations can one bright day bring together the different classes of people and give them a general name, a name that should and must be the only caste they belong to, that is INDIAN!!

The Caste System and Social Stratification :

The caste system as a concept stemmed out of Hinduism where in each member of society was divided into four categories namely Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Each caste held a position or status according to the role it played for the overall benefit of society. The Brahmins were the teachers. They were the keepers of knowledge and wisdom. They were peace loving and righteous. They held the highest status in society. The Kshatriyas were the protectors of society. It was their duty to protect people and fight with courage for their country. They were noble and heroic and were second in terms of status in society. Next came the Vaishyas who engaged in trade, agriculture and rearing of cattle. The lowest in the caste in the society was that of the Shudras whose work was that of service and entertainment to society.

Now in the original caste system (before it got distorted) it did not matter which caste one was born in. A Shudra could become a Brahmin if he/she obtained knowledge and wisdom and vice versa. So it was the skills, knowledge and the benefits that an individual gave to society that decided his caste.
After Independence the Indian constitution outlawed caste based discrimination but sadly new castes evolved which was based on birth and one can see many examples of it in our own lives. In most cases the child of a businessman becomes a businessman, the child of a doctor becomes a doctor and the child of an actor becomes an actor and so on and so forth. So it is quite clear that whether or not we like it the caste system existed earlier and it exists today as well just in a different form. What is however interesting to notice is that the table has turned upside down.
The Shudras who were the entertainers and are the actors, sportsman and the likes of today
are celebrities and enjoy the highest status in society and earn the maximum amount of money. Businessman, traders are second in the status table and also earn large amounts of money. The soldiers and the protectors of our country still have respect but their financial condition is dismal. The last in the status table are the teachers who earn peanuts. Can you notice the imbalance that has got created? The value of knowledge has diminished and the value of entertainment has increased. Knowledge provides long term benefits to society while entertainment provides only momentary satisfaction. In a way we are not investing in our future.

Today every child wants to be an actor or a sportsman or a businessman. Very few want to become teachers or want to join the armed forces. So the two most important sections of society are receiving fewer and lower quality of people. If one looks at other countries then you will find that although the status of actors and businessman have increased the status and value of teachers and people in the armed forces has not gone down. Teaching and research professions not only pay well but are also sought after. So in hindsight the caste system was good. I am sure everyone would agree that a teacher gives far more valuable service to society than an actor. Maybe as a society we should go back to our roots and imbibe those practices cause if one removes the untouchability and caste by birth concept I think the caste system was a brilliant way or maintaining the right balance in society.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at adv.aishwaryasandeep@gmail.com

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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