Caste System

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Caste System in India
Dr Desh Raj Sirswal, Assistant Professor (Philosophy), P.G.Govt. College for Girls, Sector-11, Chandigarh http://drsirswal.webs.com

Introduction


The Indian caste system is a system of social stratification and social restriction in India in which communities are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups called Jatis.

Jatis /Varnas


The Jatis were grouped formally by the Brahminical texts under the four well known categories (the varnas): viz Brahmins (scholars, teachers, fire priests), Kshatriyas (kings, warriors,law enforcers, administrators), Vaishyas (agriculturists, cattle raisers, traders, bankers), Shudras (artisans, craftsmen, service providers). Certain people like foreigners, nomads, forest tribes and the chandalas (who dealt with disposal of the dead) were excluded altogether and treated as untouchables. Although generally identified with Hinduism, the caste system was also observed among followers of other religions in the Indian subcontinent, including some groups of Muslims and Christians, most likely through cultural assimilation over centuries.

History




There is no universally accepted theory about the origins of the Indian caste system. The Indian classes and Iranian classes ("pistras") show similarity, wherein the priests are Brahmins, the warriors are Kshatriya, the merchants are Vaishya, and the artisans are Shudras. From the Bhakti school, the view is that castes were originally created by Krishna. "According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created."

Social Reforms


There have been challenges to the caste system from the time of Buddha, till then several thinkers discussed and opposed this Jatis/Varna sytem. We will discuss here only three thinkers Jyotiba Phule, Mahatama Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh.

Jyotiba Phule
Born: 11 April, 1827 Died: 28 November,1890

Contributions


Jyotiba Phule was one of the prominent social reformers of the nineteenth century India. He led the movement against the prevailing caste-restrictions in India. He revolted against the domination of the Brahmins and for the rights of peasants and other low-caste fellow. Jyotiba Phule was believed to be the first Hindu to start an orphanage for the unfortunate children. Attack on the sanctity of Vedas Jyotirao Phule's critique of the caste system began with his attack on the Vedas, the most fundamental texts of Hinduism. He considered Vedas as 'idle fantasies' as 'palpably absurd legends'. He considered Vedas a 'form of false consciousness'

Satya Shodhak Samaj


After tracing the history of the Brahmin domination in India, Jyotirao blamed the Brahmins for framing the weird and inhuman laws. He concluded that the laws were made to suppress the "shudras" and rule over them. In 1873, Jyotiba Phule formed the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth). The purpose of the organization was to liberate the people of lower-castes from the suppression of the Brahmins. The membership was open to all and the available evidence proves that some Jews were admitted as members. In 1876 there were 316 members of the 'Satya Shodhak Samaj'. In 1868, in order to give the lower-caste people more powers Jyotirao decided to construct a common bathing tank outside his house. He also wished to dine with all, regardless of their caste.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi


Born:2 October 1869 Died:30 January 1948

Contributions


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a pre-eminent political and ideological leader of India during the Indian independence movement. As a practitioner of ahimsa, Gandhi swore to speak the truth and advocated that others do the same. Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most fascinating personalities of the 20th century. The way in which he stood up against discrimination in South Africa and in India using non-violence combined with the theory he...
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