Latasinha's Weblog

Social and political Values and Systems in India.

Caste as a system

Conceptualized, originated and practiced exclusively in India – India presents one of the oldest, continuous and uninterrupted living civilizations in the whole world known as Hinduism. (Other well advanced civilizations of ancient world were of Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia). One of the prominent features of Indian civilization is its ‘Caste-system’. Caste system is a unique way of stratifying the society. It has been conceptualized, originated and practiced exclusively in India. It has given a distinguished identity to Indian society.

Meaning of the term caste – The English word “caste” derives from the Spanish and Portuguese casta, which means, “race, lineage, or breed” (Mookherjee, 2012: 56). When the Spanish colonized the New World, they used the word to mean a “clan or lineage.” However, the Portuguese were the ones who employed casta in the primary modern sense when they applied it to the many in-marrying hereditary Hindu social groups they encountered upon their arrival in India in 1498.

When the word “caste” is translated into Hindi, it enfolds within itself two quite different Sanskrit concepts –

  1. Jaati and
  2. Varna

It was during 200 years of British domination, colonialism that made caste what it is today throughout the subcontinent. ‘In modern understanding of caste-system, element of ‘system’ is suppressed and ‘caste’ has become dominant.’

What caste is to a common men in India – As C. Rajgopalachari has said, a common man in India believes, “If there is honesty in India today, any hospitality, any charity- any aversion to evil, any love to be good, it is due to whatever remains of the old faith and the old culture”.

“Caste was the system of social life, in which Hinduism was expressed. …… Hinduism was the ideological and emotional buttress of caste…. Caste and Hinduism succeeded in doing in India, what no state, no conqueror and no economy was able to do – the establishment of a single unified system of society throughout the whole of India (accommodating numerous semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places), a system of society, which was able to comprise a greater range of local differences in a single system than any society has previously accomplished.”

Through caste system, India has simultaneously accommodated “it to an almost endlessly varied system of semi-autonomous community and at the same time, it brings considerable unity, harmony and condition of peace.” It “succeeded in wielding an enormously varied plurality of semi-autonomous communities arising at many times and in many places and adopting themselves to many different conditions into a single system of society…” (Don Martindale, India since 1947, p 39)

Covers the entire social fabric of India – Caste-system is one of the prominent features running through the entire social fabric of India. Castes have its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati (extended family), and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. It is quite natural for all human beings to have closer ties with ones own fellow-beings and the persons following same kind of occupation and having the common traits/mindset. So emerged the caste system. Internalized caste norms define an individual role in the society. Common men feel good and loved, when they live up to the norms set up by their elders, and anxious and guilty, when he transgress them. It has greatly influenced the thinking of people and their culture allover India.

One of the oldest living institution – Caste system has maintained its continuity without interruption. It has survived the vicissitudes of time, saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside only because of the adaptability. Its absorptive nature has internalized alien influences. It has taken 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. Its shade is different in the context of village, locality, region or religion. Once changed, the system never returned to its original form. Its absorptive nature has internalized alien influences. That is why it presents one of the oldest social institution and a continuous and uninterrupted living culture still existing in the entire world.

June 10, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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