Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Western perception of caste system

 

Being a very old and indigenous system, conceptualized, developed and practiced exclusively in India, it is difficult to understand or appreciate the role of caste system in Indian society for the western world and modern generation educated in a system developed and deeply influenced by western thinking. Because of its complete localization and unfamiliarity with Western world, it is difficult for them to see it in its totality.

David Robertson describes caste system as “caste, along with class and status, is a system of social stratification, whereby social respect and wealth are distributed unequally… Beneath caste system are so-called untouchables, who perform most of menial tasks… Unlike class and status, however, it is impossible for an individual to alter their caste position, which is fixed by birth… Once born in a particular social position, with clearly defined rights and duties, a person is expected to accept it with no ambition for betterment… Caste system cannot ultimately sustain itself once even a moderate degree of education and exposure to alternative beliefs become widespread”.

Such a description of caste does not discribe the real nature and true picture of caste system. For an Indian, caste appears as a natural, dear and inevitable unit of society. Family, extended family, Kula and Caste are fundamental social institutions for an individual. Family is a part of extended family, extended family of a ‘Kula’. Many ‘Kulas’ having common family background, similar thinking, customs, language, style of living and occupation form a caste.

True that it is a system of social stratification. But stratification on the basis of caste depends on the difference of various social groups from each other in natural endowments, intelligence, aptitudes, attitudes, skills, personal needs and other innate characteristics.

It has nothing to do with the distribution of wealth and social respect. Caste system actually is a way of living, where social respect one earns through ones deeds. The persons/groups with spritual bent of mind and knowledge are given the highest respect, to whatever caste they belong.   

Little is known to Western world and modern generation influenced by thinking of western world about the life-style of common men/people in India, their past or present,  their social peculiarities and popular beliefs. Brahmins have usually been described by Western orientalists as a priestly class, but this betrays a semantic inadequacy in understanding and explaining Brahminical world view and Indian society. Greeks and Muslims showed a better understanding when they described Brahmins as Philosophers. Efforts and genius of Brahmins intellectuals and sages have made India rich in literary, philosophical and religious fields. Brahmins are supposed to live a simple life, have pure conduct, shun worldly possessions/temporal power and devote themselves to study/pursue knowledge and teach scriptures. They are responsible for spiritual growth of the whole society. Earlier they were expected to subsist on alms from rest of the society, including so-called lower castes of “Shudras”. According scriptures and texts, including the Manusmriti, a temple priest need not have been a Brahmin, but a Yajna priest usually was brahmin only.

Misunderstandings about caste-system would not sustain itself once there is even a moderate understanding and exposure about its origin, beliefs, systems and values become wide spread.

 

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | 3 Comments

Caste-system and its adaptibility

 

Caste system took different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Its character during Indus Valley Civilization was altogether different from what exists today. It is still in a transient phase. It is different in context of village, locality, region or religion.

Starting initially from tribal communities being nomadic or semi nomadic and egalitarian it transformed into Pastoral tribal society and then into a settled agricultural society, confining its activities and life within a small area or territory. Agricultural society leisurely evolved its structures and systems over about 2000 years and kept on coping with the slow changes, time brought in.

Its nature changed under foreign rule in the country for centuries. Its shades have been different during the periods of industrialisation and modernization and globalisation. Once changed, the system never returned to its original form. Still it presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the whole world. It has survived vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside only because of its adaptability.

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Classification of society by ancient Greek Philosophers and Varna system

The great ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle dreamt of an “Ideal society”. Plato divided his ideal society into four specific groups according to the attitude and aptitude of its people, assigned jobs accordingly and did their ranking in following order –

  • Philosopher Kings” – People having intellectual acumen were supposed to do all intellectual work and to set norms for whole of society.

  • Army men” – People having warrior skills were to be kept in this group and held responsible to protect nation and its people from outside invasions and maintain peace and harmony within country-state.

  • Business Community” – People doing all kinds of transactions were to be kept in this group, and

  • Slaves” – People who were unable to do the above mentioned jobs or conquered people were supposed to do menial works.

In their ideal state, all people were supposed to belong to one group or the other, not on basis of birth, but on basis of their capabilities, attitude and aptitude.

What Greek philosiphers dreamt at that time, ancient India practised that in real life. Varna system was quite similar to Plato’s ideals.

Doctrine of ‘Varna’

Many intellectuals and social reformers regard Varna system, in its purest form, as one of the most scientific social systems ever evolved anywhere in the world. The principle of Varna was based on the assumption, that all persons were not identical and differed from one another on the grounds of natural endowments and aptitudes. Therefore, they should be assigned duties according to their natural instincts and qualities. Just like ancient greek philosopher’s dream society, in real life ancient Indian society was divided into four groups according to their natural instincts and qualities –

Brahman – Meaning all pervading and consciousness – The people having flair for learning and possessing intellectual and spiritual qualities, who could keep themselves away from ignorance, illusions and lust, were put in this category of Brahmans. They were debarred from indulging in the pleasures of material world. Their duty was learning, pursuit of knowledge and setting norms for common man, so that whole society could benefit from their knowledge.

Kshatriya – People having warrior skills and men of action were put in this group. Their duty was to protect the people from internal disorders and external aggressions.

Vaishyas People having business acumen were included in this category. They were engaged in production, business, trade and commerce.

Shudras – People advised to do menial jobs and work under the guidance of any of the above three Varnas. They were either the people unable to do the above three tasks or the conquered ones. Mostly people belonging to this category were supposed to be incapable of maintaining self-discipline and contributing to the society directly without any guidance.

People, who fell outside caste system were anti-social elements, adivasis and foreigners, because they did not subscribe to rules and values of the caste system. Groups of lower-caste individuals could seek to elevate the status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes.

August 12, 2008 Posted by | Social and political values and systems | | 11 Comments

   

%d bloggers like this: