The Intricacies Of The Indian Caste System

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It is evident that while many societies are progressing from historically significant systems of oppression, many nations are still plagued by extreme discrimination. India is a prime example of this, where they still have a largely established caste system, and even though it was made illegal in 1950, it still highly influences Indian society. Although we live in a highly globalized world that is moving toward more liberal agendas and legislation, the caste system serves a racist and conservative society that strives to halt modernization and promote suppression.

The caste system in India can be regarded as one of the oldest and most complex social structures. It was initially created 3000 years ago and is based on the Manusmriti, the oldest and most authoritative book on Hindu law. Even as far back as 1000BC, the caste system was an essential part of functioning society, serving as the basis of law and order.

Essentially, the system divides Hindus into four hierarchical groups according to their work and responsibilities. The categories are based on the ancient Hindu God, Brahma; the God of Creation and every division represents a body part. The superior caste, the Brahmins, represent the head of God and were usually made up of teachers and other intellectual individuals.

Alternatively, the most inferior caste, the Shudras, made up the God’s feet and consisted of individuals who were specialized in menial jobs. The God’s arms and thighs were assigned to the two middle castes, the Kshatriyas and the Vaishyas, and they were made up of warriors, rulers and traders, respectively. Nowadays the Kshatriyas have diversified and include bureaucrats, public administration officers, lawyers and judges and the defence sector.

Achhut Kanya (Untouchable Maiden) – Bollywood Film | Credit: Unknown author (Poster de Achhut Kannya (1936)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Furthermore, there was an additional caste of individuals who were regarded so poorly that they were not even given the honour of a classification, and lie outside of the spectrum of the caste system. They are curtly referred to as Achhuts or the ‘Untouchables’. While it may seem that there were five main categorizations, the main castes were then further divided into approximately 3000 castes with about 25,000 sub-castes, all determined according to an individual’s occupation.

Before being officially determined illegal, for centuries the caste system determined and controlled almost every single function in both religious and social life, with every single member being placed in the complex hierarchy and serving their function within society. This is evidently displayed in rural communities where it was mandatory for individuals to be segregated and live in their own colonized cast. This essentially meant that many common activities were forbidden. This included but was not limited to, the sharing of water wells, the acceptance of food or drinks from a member of another caste and the marriage between two individuals of different castes.

The discrimination and segregation that was fostered under this caste system had many negative effects on society, particularly to people who belonged in the Shudras or the Untouchables. The rigidity and the nonacceptance that was created meant that people from lower castes at times found it impossible for social mobility into higher castes. This not only created a sense of superiority and distrust between members of different castes but it also had a negative effect on economic progress, since the suppression of innovation and the lack of motivation were holding individuals back from accessing and fulfilling their maximum potential.

In summary, even though the caste system is considered to be abolished, to this day it is still regarded highly in Indian society. Despite many legal measures, opposition from pressure groups and rallies and marches, it still has very negative effects on the country’s population.

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