Caste: Social and Gender Hierarchies
The fundamental issues of caste not only affect the privileged and the working peoples, ethnic and racial minorities, and religious piety, but also the roles of men and women within the framework of gender relations. Through male domination of the public sphere, specific female roles were constructed. The primary concept of caste supported depictions of oppressed and subordinate women, which can be examined through the early literature of India. Women were no longer independent and free; they became a male commodity necessary for perpetuating hereditary elitism.
In the early centuries of ancient India, women were powerful beings, credited with bringing down entire kingdoms and fierce rulers. However, the desire for privilege and status created a shift in the social dynamics of the nation. The concept of equality dissolved and patriarchal political laws emerged in its place. Romila Thapar suggests, “the possible genesis [for this social shift] was said to be from regulation of kinship and marriage, or occupation, religious functions or political hierarchies” (8). Caste created a political system where power and wealth were unequally distributed and social inequalities appeared through publically sanctioned discrimination against those deemed lower in structural hierarchy; this divide promoted by hereditary and authoritarianism implied there was a social contract between privileges and social obligations. Centuries before the development of the hierarchical caste system, India’s social structures were less rigidly defined. Men and women obtained equality in their social status’ and respect. While men were given broad opportunities in occupations and employment, women were provided with the freedoms of political, religious and public involvement. However, as times changed and new social structures developed, India experienced a shift away from equality towards a system that was fundamentally based upon patriarchy,...
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