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Casteism, is it really an issue?

Written by: Pavithra Rao

Come August 15 and India will enter its 60th year of independence giving us yet another reason to fly our nation flag even higher. In the last 59 years, India has witnessed many a changes and solved many a problems that were obstructing development. But there exists an issue that still haunts us in more than one ways. It is the caste system in India.

Caste, creed, religion, community have always played an important role in the lives of Indians. The caste system in India has always existed and might as well continue to exist in one form or the other. And so it becomes very important for us to clearly understand this concept of castes. Hopefully this understanding holds the key to our problems that are guided by caste divide.

Caste system - the origin

Because the issue here is caste divide in Hindu society, let us first know who Hindus actually are. Earlier, the people living in the Indus river valley were recognised as Hindus. These people had their own social order, morals and ritual codes.

Then came in the nomadic Aryan population from Central Asia who got absorbed into the Hindu society. The inclusion of Aryan population led to a new way of life and facilitated re-structuring of the Hindu society. The civilisation now also realised the need for governance, defence and conquest, and order.

Various roles were identified, defined and the society, amongst itself, distributed these responsibilities. The roles covered all important aspects like governance, defence, agriculture and business, knowledge and spirituality, community services and many others.

The section of society that took up governance and defence came to be known as Kshatriyas; people who took up agriculture and business were named Vaisyas; Brahmins were the people whose responsibilities were to teach, guide, preach spirituality; and the section of society that took up responsibility for community services was called Shudra. These four sections of the society, based on their function, were named thus and were identified as different castes or 'varnas'.

It is very important to note that these castes were developed out of necessity. The evolution of a new society made it impossible for an individual to preach, till the soil and become a warrior simultaneously. And this was the only reason for the distribution of responsibilities or in other words for the emergence of caste system.

Power and the society

All functions are equally important and equally holy - this was the understanding in the ancient society. In fact, this understanding formed the basis of caste system. But as the wheel of time turned and as new generations replaced the old, society's foundation shook.

Power, knowledge and wealth became the order and exploitation of one section by others began.

Today's caste system

As already mentioned, caste system in India exists and might continue to exist. However, the basics may have changed.

Today's caste system is not based on one's occupation. In this globalised world, not all Brahmins preach spirituality and not all Vaisyas trade. The government, defence and service sectors have people coming in from all castes or 'varnas'. The rules of the game have changed. But what remains unchanged is 'exploitation'.

Those in power, authority had earlier exploited the weak and even today the powerful exploit and suppress the others. The only difference is that earlier a 'varna', which was considered superior to others, exploited the other 'varnas' but today all 'varnas' are equally exploited.

It is a pity that a handful of power-seekers play caste-based games for personal gains and the whole nation watches helplessly. Caste system does not only exist in Hinduism but can also be seen in Islam and Christianity. Why then caste division only in Hinduism is an issue, a curse? Could be because playing up caste system in other religions does not influence the vote bank!!

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