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Page history last edited by Vivek Shankar 9 years, 3 months ago


The Caste System: Withstanding, or “Cast” Out?


Harsh G. Jaemin H. Vivek S.  A3

13 May 2011







The caste system has been a distinctive component of Indian culture that was prevalent in India for many centuries. Although the government prohibited the concept of the caste system in 1950 and its use to differentiate between distinct groups of people and deem certain castes, namely the Brahmins and Kshatriyas, as superior to lower castes, such as the Sudras and Untouchables, it still exists ethnically throughout India. The caste system was a set of rigid categorizations that determined one's occupation, status in society, and hope for salvation. The traditional view regarding the caste system divided the people of India according to these classifications, while governing the lives of the members of each caste, forcing upon them what would become their culture and way of life. The traditional outlook on the caste system was a strict and binding regimen that allowed for little to no exceptions to the regulations each caste was restricted to. One could not advance or descend from one caste to another during one's lifetime, which bestowed immediate success upon members of higher castes, while leaving members of lower castes unable to earn themselves a better living. However, these traditional attitudes and mindsets are slowly fading away as modern and traditional concepts regarding the caste system clash in present-day India. The modern perception regarding the caste system is much more lenient, disregarding some of the most basic principles of the caste system.  An on-going tug of war has ensued in present-day India between people with traditional views and people with modern views regarding the caste system. We chose the caste system to depict the "tug of war" between modernity and tradition in South Asia because it touches upon the age-old issue of equality. Are all men alike equal? Are all men ranked in a sort of "hierarchical method" based on a combination of birth, merit, or skill level? Are all men born equal and can they either elevate or diminish their status by their actions in life? Equality among people is a controversial and debatable topic. Insight regarding the caste system will allow us to determine our own perceptions regarding equality and how we should implement it into society.




Traditional Perception: The Four Castes





http://www.krishna.org/images/Gita/plate42.jpg                                                                                                                                                               http://atrocitynews.files.wordpress.com/2007/07/caste2.jpg

The above images depict the lives of each of the four castes. At the top of the caste system resided the Brahmins, the thinking class, who were of an intellectual nature and became priests and teachers. The Kshatriyas, the leader class, became warriors devoted to fight for and protect the country. The Vaisyas, the business class, included merchants and businessmen. The Sudras, the labor class, included laborers, farmers, and those who perform services for others. At the bottom were the Untouchables, who were not given a position to be associated in the caste system. The caste system has played an important role in marriage, rituals concerning birth and wealth as well.




The caste system categorized the Indian people into the four main castes: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras. This classification of people based on their inherent natures has contributed to the formation of a rift between members of each caste according to their occupation, status in society, and hope for salvation. People of the traditional perception regarding the caste system believe that the caste system must remain as it has existed throughout the centuries in India. Its binding rules and regulations should not be disrupted and must continue to have the same effect on the four castes as it has had for so long. Each caste is expected to perform occupations that are accepted within their own caste and may not embrace occupations not accepted by their specific caste. Certain privileges were to remain exclusive to members of higher castes.


For example, the ceremony of  being "twice-born" remained exclusive to men of the three higher varnas (castes). Being "twice-born" referred to the ceremony of upanayana in which men received the sacred thread and began studies of the Vedic texts. Sudras were not given this opportunity. The caste divisions were binding: individuals born in a specific caste lived and died in the same caste. Members of one caste were not permitted to marry outside of their caste. Although it may seem that the caste system is quite restricting, the traditional perception regarding the caste system argues that it is simply a classification; a categorization of peoples based on their inherent tendencies and natures.


The caste system would provide an identity for individuals: individuals could always find others ranked lower than themselves and thereby boost their view of themselves and self-esteem. The caste system was a form of welfare system, which would provide for its members in a sort of "familial" relationship. Caste also provided stability to society. The traditional perception regarding the caste system primarily believed that the caste system must remain as it has: unchanged. The caste system, enduring for so long through the centuries, was weakened only due to the transmission of modern thoughts and concepts recently due to globalization. Therefore, the caste system must continue to maintain all of its basic principles, remaining essentially the same as it has been throughout Indian history.


People of lower castes have come to resent the people of higher castes and the luxuries that come with that sort of extravagant lifestyle. Modernity is in conflict with tradition: the tug-of-war persists between the people of the modern view, that the caste system should be "cast out", and people of the traditional view, that the caste system must remain to be a significant governing force over the lives of the people of India.


Modern Perception: Cast out Caste






The above image depicts the modern view of the caste system. Today, the government has banned the concept of the caste system, although it still exists ethnically throughout India. Nevertheless, many respects of the caste system are slowly fading away. The modern view regarding the caste system is that it is a system which exploits lower castes while favoring the upper castes. Land is owned primarily by members of higher castes, thereby economically exploiting members of lower castes. Higher castes emphasize on their superiority over lower castes due to the righteous, moral actions they performed in their previous birth which, in turn, led them to their current state. However, these attitudes and mindsets are changing: people of lower castes are unwilling to remain inferior to higher castes as modern notions of equality penetrate India from the outside world. The caste system still plays a significant role in present-day India, but its role has changed due to the impact of modern thought and behavior over traditional beliefs. India's constitution guarantees equality to all its citizens and does not allow discrimination on the basis of caste. The caste system has changed quite drastically due to the influence of modern thoughts. It is not uncommon for people to intermarry across castes. The distinctions of the four separate castes are blurred. Not all Brahmins are scholars nowadays. Brahmins go into the army, fight wars, become businessmen, workers, etc. People of lower castes may embrace jobs that were previously exclusive to higher castes. Sudras may become teachers, scholars, and fight wars. A policy of affirmative action encourages members of lower castes to pursue higher job opportunities by providing them with incentives such as scholarships to attend prestigious colleges. The caste system's stranglehold on one's societal status, occupation, and hope for salvation is declining due to the modern perception of the caste system: that caste should be "cast" out.


"Mock Dialogue" Tradition vs Modernity: Tug of War


Daughter: Dearest Father, with all due respect, there lies the man I love.


Grandfather Patel: Daughter, I beg you to reconsider. Choose another, more worthy of your status. A Brahmin girl is deserving of a Brahmin boy and no other.


Daughter: So is Darpan, at heart.


Grandfather Patel: He is a mere laborer working the fields. Why do you consent to him, that vile, ungrateful Sudra?


Daughter: I accept that he is a Sudra, but why does that matter? I love him deeply, and that is all that matters.


Grandfather Patel: Then tradition does not matter? Ungrateful woman, have I raised you for nothing; taught you nothing at all? If you marry this Sudra, you are polluting the very purity of our ancestry; of our highest caste.


Daughter: The caste system no longer exists; the government has banned it since 1950. I can marry whoever I choose.


Grandfather Patel: The government may have "banned" the caste system, but it will always be a part of Indian culture, and this is no different in my family. The government has no power over my family. I will not allow the purity of my family to be contaminated by Sudras.


Daughter: Why grandfather, must you persist in your belief of the caste system? He is no different from us. We are all the same: one humanity.


Grandfather: You are not the grandchild that I raised. I implore you, follow my advice. I have lived more than you, and understand the world better.


Daughter: The world has changed. I am sorry Grandfather. You can not change my mind. I will marry him.


Works Cited


Elder, Joseph. "Caste System." Encyclopedia of India. Ed. Stanley Wolpert. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons,      2006. 223-229.      


     Global Issues In Context. Web. 12 May 2011."India Changes in the Caste System - Flags,


Maps, Economy, History, Climate, Natural Resources, Current Issues, International Agreements, Population, Social Statistics, Political


     System." Photius Coutsoukis; Photius; Photios; Fotis Koutsoukis - Sustained by Working Capital in the World. Web. 13 May 2011.    


"Sweet and Sour Socialism." Weblog post. Sweet & Sour Socialism.  



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