India, the seventh largest country by area with over 1.2 billion people, has one of the most diverse religious life and traditions in the entire world. It is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. (1) The Tribal communities of India are one of the oldest and longest surviving religious groups in the world today. With Hinduism being the largest religion in India, each of the traditions plays a major role in their society. A major tradition that still exists today is the caste system. (2) Throughout the society of India, the Caste system greatly influenced the daily lives of people in both the past and the present. The word, caste, has several meanings and is hard to explain by itself. According to Risley, “A caste may be defined as a collection of families or group of families bearing a common name which usually denotes or is associated with specific occupation claiming common descent from a mythical ancestor, human or divine, professing to follow the same professional calling and are regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming single and homogeneous community”. A. W. Green while defining caste says, “Caste is a system of stratification in which mobility, mobility, movement up and down the status ladder at least ideally may not occur”.(4) The Indian Caste system is historically one of the main dimensions where people in India are socially differentiated through class, religion, region, tribe, gender, and language. It is a process of placing people in occupational groups. It dictates the type of occupations a person can pursue and social interactions that he or she may have. Several characteristics distinguish a caste system. The first is the tendency toward endogamy, meaning that people marry within the same caste only. Caste mobility is also extremely rare, since one cannot transform from a laborer to a scholar except in rare circumstances, for example. Higher castes traditionally hold all the political power and the castes may be divided further through language or culture. India’s caste system has four main classes, also called varnas, based originally on personality, profession, and birth. (5) The Brahman caste is on the top, usually containing priests and scholars. They consist of those engaged in scriptural education and teaching, essential for the continuation of knowledge. According to Gian Chand Chauhan, the author of Some Aspects of Early Indian Society, “The Brahman was essentially defined by its supposed priority, by knowledge to the Vedic traditions, and by the monopoly this class holds on the operation of the sacrifice. (6) The second class, the Kshatriya, take on all forms of public service, including administration, maintenance of law and order, and defense. Unlike the Brahman’s, the Kshatriya was characterized by physical and martial strength. “These qualities also determine their relations with others between the higher Brahman class and with the rule over the slower Varnas.” (6) The class that came after was the Vaishyas, who were Engage in commercial activity as businessmen, and were often known for their productivity in the sense of both human reproduction and the production of wealth and material goods. The lowest class, the Sudra, worked as semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. Compared to other classes, “the Sundra were tools to enjoy at will and were kept attached to upper-Varnas, referred as a servant of another to be dismissed at will and to be murdered at will.” (6) The Caste system in India can be described as a complex social hierarchy distinguishing India’s social structure from any other country in the world. The earliest expressions of caste can be found in one of India’s vast bodies of religious scripture known as the Vedas, which are thought to have been complied between 1500 and 1000 BCE. It was transmitted orally for many generations before being written down. Of the many cultures that flourished in India, the literary records of the Indo-Aryan culture are not the earliest. But they contain the first mention and a continuous history of the factors that make up the caste system. “The Aryans came from southern Europe and northern Asia with fair skin that contrasted with the indigenous natives in India. When they arrived, their main contact was with the Dravidians.”(8) The only other culture whose records are dependable about the origins of the caste system are the Dravidians, but when that culture’s documents were put forwards, it had already been largely influenced by the Indo-Aryan tradition. Unfortunately, the Aryans completely disregarded their local cultures and began conquering regions all over north India. At the same time, the local people were pushed south towards jungles of mountains in north India Up until 1947, the caste was used by the British who ruled India. The British who wanted to rule India efficiently made lists of Indian communities. “They used two terms to describe Indian communities: Castes and Tribes. The term caste was used for Jats and also for Varnas. Tribes were those communities who lived deep in jungles, forests and mountains far away from the main population and also communities who were hard to be defined as castes for example communities who made a living from stealing or robbery. These lists, which the British made, were used later on by the Indian governments to create lists of communities who were entitled for positive discrimination.” (7) Although some prejudice and ranking still exist in India today, wealth and power is not less associated with caste. It plays a less significant role in the daily lives of people who live in urban areas compared to rural areas, but it still varies by social class and what occupation you are. Throughout the whole urban middle classed people, caste is not openly discussed and is known to be insignificant except during marriages. “Although discrimination based on caste has been outlawed in India, the government made up a different name for a “caste system”, “positive discrimination”. But in reality it’s just another caste system, separating the higher class from the lower class. Even though the positive discrimination is considerably less severe than the original caste system, it still limits a person’s true potential.” (5) In India today, many people have newer occupations that aren’t related to their caste at all, such as government jobs, services, and teaching. Power and wealth is also less associated with caste compared to the past. “A woman's status is still significantly tied to the status of the male, but education and awareness of equalization for women has widely spread throughout India”(7) The caste system in India has played a significant role in shaping the occupations and roles as well as values of their society. It has greatly affected people by separating them by class, religion, region, tribe, gender, and language. In both history and today’s India, people are still limited by the caste system. Even though numerous movements challenging the caste system has encourage people not to discriminate against other caste members, the idea of caste will never be removed from Hinduism. The chains of India's self-imposed oppression of caste will remain as long as Hinduism remains.
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