Caste system: The Beginning

There is a popular one liner which finds relevance to the Indian society:

” In India, you do not cast your vote, you vote your caste” .

Such is the prevalence of the caste system. It has seeped in through the roots of the society and has entrenched itself such that it has become an organic part of it.

Now, before critically evaluating it, let us understand what this “caste system” is all about.

Background:

  • It finds its roots in the ancient India.
  • During that period, it was called varnashrama.
  • Varnashrama: a graded division of labour, which was as follows:
    • Brahmin : Priestly class or the intellectuals.
    • Kshatriyas: Kings and Administrators.
    • Vaishyas: traders and merchants.
    • Shudras: they were meant to serve the above three varnas.
  • The underlying purpose of this system was an organised distribution of labour in the society.
  • As also mentioned in various texts like Bhagwad Gita, under this system, people of the different varnas were meant to perform their prescribed duty(dharma). 
  • According to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India, the varnas were formed by the Aryans(who were primarily tillers) in order to distribute the work in the society.

Transition from varnashrama to caste system:

However, with time and the alterations in attitude and aptitude, this system turned into what is presently called as the caste system.

  • The priestly class or the Brahmins who were the most dominating of all sections due to the status they received in the society, misused their position.
  • This ,in turn, led to discrimination of the lower classes.
  • Also, the system became more or less hierarchical. It means that the scions of the intellectuals, who may or may not match the required intellect level, will be called Brahmin as they are born in that family.
  • This annulled the meritocratic element in the system.
  • Thus, a Brahmin prejudice began to prevail  and this created the system of upper and lower in the society.
  • This was the beginning of the present caste system.
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