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Is Caste System part of Hindu Religion?


The term caste is derived from the Portuguese casta, meaning “race, lineage, breed” and there is no exact translation in Indian or any Sanskrit derived languages to this word but varna and jati are the two most proximate terms. The caste system is a system, as followed by today in India and other Hindu cultures, that assigns groups of people by birth to follow certain regulations and divides them to a hierarchy where certain groups of people are privileged than others.

The caste system is deep rooted in South Asian society having Hindu or similar religions mostly in India. The practice of this system has not only defamed the religion worldwide but also has put ones freedom and choice of living to a dogmatic negative situation and has effected economy to large extent. Many practices and laws have come into effect but still unable to resolute the problem as it is deep rooted in minds and cultural obedience of the people. The most important part is the belief of its relation with the Hindu religion and tradition, due to illiteracy and unawareness.

Caste system totally defies human rights practice of today due to its unequal treatment of people. Mainly the untouchables, lowest privileged group in the hierarchy, are vulnerable in obtaining even the basic human rights. Even to its negativity, why it is practiced has to be understood acutely because it still takes enormous effort and applied awareness to eradicate the system.

As the term is not a Hindu term, it is actually not a part of Hindu religion as most people think, There are many arguments in different school of thoughts regarding this matter. Historical facts and changes in political and social structures are prominent to list for the reason behind the misuse and practice of caste system. The system of differentiation among people dates back to 2000 BCE after the Aryan invasion of the Indian subcontinent.

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Differentiation of people is practiced not only in Hindu society but in many other societies due to economical advantage where people are divided by the work they are skilled to do. But this factor has been misused by the elites to control the large sum of people in Hindu society. Proximate to the caste system, the differentiation of people has been referred in the Rig Veda, one of the four prominent existing backbones of Hindu religion. It defines categorizing different people to four groups i.e., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.

1. Brahmin: the seers, the reflective ones, the priests.

  • The intellectual and spiritual leaders.
  • In our society, they would correspond to the philosophers, religious leaders, and teachers.

2. Kshatriyas–(pronounced something like “kshot ree yahs”) the born administrators (formerly nobles, rajahs, and warriors).

  • The protectors of society.
  • In our society, the politicians, police, and the military.

3. Vaisyas: (pronounced something like “vy sy us”) the producers, the craftsmen, artisans, farmers.

  • The skillful producers of material things.
  • In our society, the merchants.

4. Shudras–(pronounced something like “shoo drrahs”) the unskilled laborers or laboring class.

  • The followers or the maintenance people.
  • The so-called menial workers or hard laborers.

This defines the Hindu conception of social order that people are different, and different people will fit well into different aspects of society. But this was classified by the qualities, skills and personality of the individual and not necessarily by birth. Social order or social class according to varna forms the framework of moral duties according to personal characteristics of individuals.

Advantages of this classification, as most philosophers argue, is that not all people are born equally qualified to their traits of intelligence and personality. Individual differ from each other and utilizing their skills to the utmost according to their traits is useful for the society. With this many person would be more comfortable with their own groups of working and unless not been separated, many would be born losers. They support egalitarianism, where privileged seeks higher facility proportional to the responsibilities.

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But this system had been transformed by many ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India to their own selfishness and beneficial. The caste system as it exists today is thought to be the result of developments during the collapse of the Mughal era and the British colonial regime in India. The collapse of the Mughal era saw the rise of powerful men who associated themselves with kings, priests, and ascetics, affirming the regal and martial form of the caste ideal, and it also reshaped many apparently casteless social groups into differentiated caste communities. The fifth groups of people “the untouchables” were formed those were confined to menial and despised jobs and shunned by the rest of society. The British Raj furthered this development, making rigid caste organization a central mechanism of administration. Between 1860 and 1920, the British segregated Indians by caste, granting administrative jobs and senior appointments only to the upper castes. A similar political assertion was practiced in other countries of Hindu majority by different authoritative elites.

There is no evidence in the Rigveda for an elaborate, much-subdivided and overarching caste system”, and “the varna system seems to be embryonic in the Rigveda and, both then and later, a social ideal rather than a social reality. In contrast to the lack of details about varna system in the Rigveda, the Manusmriti includes an extensive and highly schematic commentary on the varna system, but it too provides “models rather than descriptions”. Manusmriti and other scriptures helped elevate Brahmins in the social hierarchy and these were the factor in the making of the varna system, but the ancient texts did not in some way “create the phenomenon of caste” in the Indian subcontinent.

Therefore, concluding that the caste system is a part of Hindu Religion is totally vague. Hindu religion has divided people according to the personality but the caste system divides people by birth. The caste system is practiced even in modern society illegally and has been one of most disruptive solicitation to human development in the region.

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