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Social and political Values and Systems in India.

DNA of Hinduism and caste system

Traditional living had been an anchor, keeping our boat in safe harbour, Now that the anchor had gone and the boat is at the mercy of wild waves on a stormy ocean.

“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.”  And

“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.” …. And 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)

DNA of Hinduism and caste system

Part 1  Introduction

Hinduism – Hinduism presents one of the oldest,  continuous and uninterrupted living culture and civilization in the world. Sometimes, during 19th century, English writers have added ‘ism’ into the word ‘Hindu’.

Philosophers, thinkers intellectuals and reformers regard Hinduism, culture and philosophy, in its purest form, as one of themost scientific ideology and way of living ever developed anywhere in the world. Hindu values, systems and principles have always remained an inspiring icon of peace, harmony, compassion and other human values for the whole universe. Caste system associated with Hinduism has worked as one of the instruments to maintain the continuity of Indian culture and civilization without interruption.

Gold-mine of Knowledge – The gold mine of Hindu knowledge in different spheres of real life still commands the respect and attention of an average Indian. It has inspired not only Indians, but foreigners as well.  Intellectuals from various countries have translated it in their own languages and reinterpreted it for a rational mind. reinterpreted it for a rational mind. Values and principles of Hinduism have always remained an inspiring icon of peace, harmony, compassion and other human values for the whole universe. It has guided people not only to live a quality of life here in this world, but also tells how to make life better after death.  Its rituals are techniques for leading a harmonious life.They speak of everything- on staying healthy, social evils, improving concentration and tenets of behaviour, which are relevant even today.

When in the past, the rest of the world was passing through the Dark Age, India was full of light. The first few centuries are recognized as the golden period of Indian history. During this period, arts, commerce, crafts, philosophy and knowledge flourished magnificently. Its people reached a high level of intelligence having specialization in different areas. It was rich in literary, philosophical and religious fields.

Issues – There are so many conflicting views about Hinduism and its caste system, that common men get confused. What is Hinduism, a religion of Hindus, a culture or a way of life? Has Hinduism and its caste system become obsolete in the light of modern times? If yes, then why along with caste system, Hinduism has not been replaced by other religion/religions? Why not only Hindus, but other communities living in India and having faith in other religions are influenced by the principles of Hinduism and values and systems of caste system?

Origin of the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindustan’ or Hinduism? –  India and its people are known by different names. India is also known as Bharat, Hind, Hindustan. India and its people as Hindus, Hindustani, Bhartiya or Indians. The name Hindu refers to Indo-Aryans people. Each of these terms has historical significance.

  • Bharat – Ancient India, was referred to as Bharat-varsh and its people  as Bhartiya. Derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Bharata’ that means ‘the cherished’, this name dates back to the ancient ‘Hindu Puranas’ (Hindu scriptures). According to it, the legendary Emperor Bharata was the first conqueror of the entire Indian subcontinent and the founder of the famous Bharata dynasty. After him, the Indian land is known as ‘Bharatavarsa,’
  • Hind, Hindu and Hindustan – The credit of the emergence of the terms Hind, Hindu or Hindustan goes to Sind river. These terms have been in use in Greek since Herodotus (4th century BCE). The invaders from Persia and Greece came to Indian subcontinent around 5th century BCE. They took inspiration from the name of river Sindhu, which runs mostly through present day Pakistan, Jammu & Kashmir in India and Western Tibet. And people living there, mostly Indo-Aryans, were called  Hindus (‘Sindhu’). The term ‘Hindu’ is the Persian equivalent of  ‘Sindhu’. And their religion and culture were termed as Hinduism.
  • Hindusthan – When invaders came to India from land route, they called the land beyond Sind river as Hindusthan. ‘Stan’ in Persian means ‘land’ or ‘country,’ much like ‘sthana’ in Sanskrit means ‘place’. In the early 11th century a satellite state of the Ghaznavids in the Punjab with its capital at Lahore was called “Hindustan”. After the Delhi Sultanate was established, north India, especially the Gangetic plains and the Punjab, came to be called “Hindustan”.
  • India – By 13th century, India became a popular alternative name for Hindustan. Since then, Latin term “India” has been widely in use for the Indian sub-continent. During the British Raj, instead of Bharat or Hindustan, where Indo-Aryan culture is strongly based there. The term ‘Hindus’ evolved to ‘Indos’ and made its first ever appearance in Old English in 9th century and re-emerged in Modern English in the 17th century. After Independence, it is known as the “Republic of India”.

Hinduism as a way of living, a culture/civilization – Along with a religion, Hinduism is also a philosophy, a culture and an Art of living to lead a Quality of Life.

According to Hindu MythologyBelievers in Hindu Mythology think that Hinduism, its culture and civilization has been existing since times-immemorial. With the passage of time, a large number of social groups migrated into India, earlier from the land route, later from sea route from other parts of the world. They settled down here and ultimately merged into the mainstream of Hinduism.

Historical Evidences – Historical evidencesshow that Hinduism as a Vedic culture originated during the period of Indus Valley Civilization (around 3300–1300 BCE on the Indo-Gangetic Plains, (in northern parts of India) and matured by 2600–1900 BCE). It spread/flourished throughout India during 1500 BC and 500 BC. The blending up of migrating social groups with that of the indigenous people living in this region gave rise to Vedic Culture of Hinduism.

Hinduism as Vedic culture – The Vedic culture is a magnificent example of scientific division and orderly arrangement of rules. Its literature contains in itself vast human knowledge, about almost all the aspects of life, be it phonetics, arts, literature, medicine, polity, metrics, law, philosophy, astrology or astronomy.

Hinduism as a religionIs Hinduism merely a Religion? Somehow it is difficult for the Western world to understand the true meaning, ethos and nuances of Hindu “DHARMA”. They describe Hinduism as a religion/religious tradition. To them, it is a set of religious beliefs like Christianity or Islam. They have  literally translated the Sanskrit word ‘Dharma’ into English as ‘religion’.

Hinduism not merely a religion – Hinduism is not a merely a religion like Christianity or Islam. ‘Hinduism’ is  ‘a way of life’ and ’fusion of various beliefs’. It is mainly based on the principle ‘Dharma’/Sanatan Dharma. (Before the colonization of India, Hinduism was popularly known as Sanatana Dharma). At present, in the world, Hinduism is followed by 15%, after Christianity followed by 33% and Islam by 24.1%  of the world population. It is supposed to be one of the oldest and largest religion

Origin of ‘Hindu‘Dharma’, much older – Hindu ‘Dharma’ of Indus Valley Civilization is much older than the meaning of the term ‘religion’ in its present sense. The meaning of ‘religion’ in its present form was non-existent, when Upanishads (Vedic texts) were composed, containing the earliest emergence of some of the central religious concepts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The roots of Hindu Dharma can be traced back to prehistoric times, over 5,000 years ago. In the past, gradually Hinduism spread all over South-eastern Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Hindus worship a single god with His different forms.

Origin of the term “Religion” – According to the philologist Max Müller (the 19th century), the term ‘Religion’isoriginated from the Latin word ‘Religio’ meaning“to bind together.” It wasused originally to mean reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety.

Renaissance Movement separated worldly things from Spirituality – After Renaissance movement, the term ‘Religion’ was used as a set of religious beliefs. It was first used in the 1500s to distinguish worldly things from spirituality  and  morality and set the domain of the church. From that time onwards, religion meant belief in or worship of God/Gods and a system of religious beliefs and practices.

Narrow meaning of ‘Hinduism’, as merely a religion, has been started in India only after the colonization, under the influence of Europeans, especially the British. Sometimes, during 19th century, English writers had added ‘ism’ to Hindu and termed their religion and culture as Hinduism.

Despite centuries of foreign rule, about 79.8% of the population of India identify themselves as Hindus, (roughly about 966 million people) as per 2011 Census of India, who have faith in the Vedic principles of Varna, Dharma, and Karma. 14.2% of the population follow Islam and the remaining 6% adhere to other religions like Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism or Buddhism etc.

Hinduism accepted other faiths as they are – Hinduism even as a religion has never tried annihilate other faiths, or the way of living, internal order, customs, culture or language of the people having faith in other religions of the world. Since ages, a large number of social groups migrated to this area from other parts of the world and willingly merged into the mainstream of Hindustan. Whenever migrated social groups desired to join the mainstream of Hinduism, they were neither prevented to join it, nor were they allowed to disturb its existing internal social order. Rather all the incoming groups were welcomed and given enough freedom to prosper according to their internal rhythm.

Hinduism as Philosophy – Hindu Philosophy is the base of Hinduism.  It has taken thousands of years to take a shape. It cannot be found in one single authoritative text, nor can it be attributed to one single author. All its principles cannot be found in one single authoritative text, nor can it be attributed to one single author.

Part II Hinduism as a Philosophy

How Principles of Hindu Philosophy passed on up-to present generation –  Hinduism has been followed by the majority community (Indo-Aryans) living in India since ages. The priestly schools had devised a most remarkable and effective system of transferring knowledge to succeeding generations in the form of hymns, restricting it only to those, possessing brilliant feats of memory and capability to keep extreme sanctity. Later on, it was put together in ‘Vedas’, ‘Smritis’ ‘Sutras’, and ‘Upanishads’. These Epics “contain an ocean of knowledge in a jar.”[i]

Hindu philosophy, simple and in conformity with nature – The speciality of Indian philosophy is its simplicity, solidity, and conformity with the forces of Mother Nature. Vedic literature, Scriptures and philosophy of Hinduism are described in’Vedas’, ‘Smritis’ ‘Sutras’, ‘Upanishads’, Ramayan and Bhagvat Gita etc. These are not merely the scriptures/religious/spiritual books, but also a perfect guide to lead a quality of life. The ”Rig Veda” , dated to between 1500–1200 BCE is said to be the oldest  complete religious holy book that has survived into the modern age. Ramayana and Mahabharat are the two great epics of Hinduism.

Laws of Manu/Manu Smriti or  Mānava-Dharmaśāstra also leaves a deep impression in the minds Hindus. Mythologists believe that Manusmriti is the record of the words of Brahma and the code of conduct for inter-caste relationships in Hindu society. The time of its recording is uncertain, but some believe it to be about 200 BC.

Manu Smriti was a hybrid moral-religious-law code and one of the first written law codes of Asia. It still sustains paramountcy in  conservative Hindu society in spite of its age and many controversies linked with it. 

Principles of Hindu PhilosophyFollowing are some of the basic principles of Hindu Philosophy:-

  • Atma (Self) and Parmatma (Creator of Universe)The Vedas conceptualize “Brahman” as the Cosmic Principle. ‘Brahman’ is a key concept found in the Vedas, and it is extensively discussed in the early Upanishads. According to Principle of non-duality, Atma and Parmatma are the two integral parts of the same God, and therefore inter-linked. the also known as ’Bramhan’/’Parmatma’ (God). The ultimate purpose of human life, according to Indian thought, is to unite with the ultimate Reality, the Divine/Brahman.
  • Meaning of Brahman “world soul”/”cosmic soul”) or Parmatma (Highest Divine Reality)In Upanishads, Brahman or Parmatma is described as a ‘Ultimate Supreme Divine Reality”, “world soul” or “cosmic soul.” He has been variously described as the creator and destroyer of the entire Universe. He is all-pervasive, infinite, permanent, eternal truth and bliss which does not change, yet is the cause of all changes. HE is present in all the objects, including human body. He is essence of this universe and way for ‘Atman’ to achieve Sat-cit-ānanda (truth-consciousness-bliss).
    • According to Upnishad, every human has two components – the body and the soul. Death can destroy a human Body, but Soul is indestructible. Body, which is  (made up of eight elements earth, water, air, sky, fire, mind, intellect and ego). Death merely changes the form of the body. Human body does not retain its original form or shape and changes its shape even in one life with moving times.
    • Atman Atman resides within a body of any living thing, be it a human, an animal or a tree. means ‘Eternal Self’ or ‘Real self’. It is often referred to as ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ beyond human body or illusions/false ego of human mind. It indicates the true self or essence, which underlies human’s existence. Atman (soul) is the spiritual identity of human body. Body gets destroyed, but not the “Atman”. Like Parmatma, Atman is also eternal, being the integral part of the Supreme.
    • Principle of Reincarnation Hinduism believes in the Immortality of the soul, and in the ‘Principle of Reincarnation’. It means that the soul is a deathlessness entity. After death it is reborn again and again depending on the deeds of previous birth till it attains salvation. After several births and deaths of body, one can reach a state of immortality. But once it attains Salvation, it is not born again.

Ultimate purpose of human life, Moksha/Salvation – The ultimate purpose of human life is Immortality/Salvation/Moksha, get rid of the pangs of rebirth and death. In order to set itself free from the cycle of multiple rebirths and deaths, one should do follow the path of ‘Dharma’. Here dharma means ‘Sadachaar’ (good behaviour) by keeping purity and sincerity in  ‘Aachar’, ‘vichaar’, and ‘karma’ (thinking, behaviour and action). Good deeds of human can help to reach up to the stage of salvation. One needs to practice continuously detachment by restraining one’s senses from drifting towards the objects of worldly pleasures, (materialism and consumerism). A balanced mindset is required to practice detachment and keeping oneself away from illusions or irresistible lure for worldly pleasures.

  • Avatars to save humanity from evil – Hinduism believes in Avatars. According to Hindu mythology, the Supreme power visits the earth from time to time in some form of Avatars to save humanity from evil. So far these Avatars have visited the earth – Mats avatar (fish), then to Kurma (tortoise)); Varaha (wild boar); Narsimha (half animal half mam); Vamana (dwarf); Parushrama with axe (tool); Rama, the Maryadapurusha; Krishna the playful and serious avatar; and ninth, Budha the enlightened one. The world is awaiting for the 10th avatar in the form of Kalki, a genetically supreme bionic man. (‘Know your religion through its philosophy’ by Prakash Shesh, the Speaking tree, TOI, January 14, 2016, p. 20)

Righteousness always wins over Evil – The morale of the stories about Avtaars is that Righteousness always wins over Evil. It inspires and encourages masses to follow the path of virtue and keep themselves away from evils. Different rituals, traditions, and customs give to the people, a purpose to live for and follow the path of righteousness.

  • Teachings of Ramayana and Mahabharata – Mahabharata and Ramayana are two great Hindu epics, which commands the respect and attention of an average Indian. These Epics speak on everything, be it in the sphere of spirituality or material well-being – on keeping good relationship with other humans, staying healthy, overcome social evils, improve concentration and mannerism, which are relevant even today. The basic principles of these Epics  guides people to lead a worthwhile quality of life here in this world. And after death enable the soul to make its onward journey by improving the prospects re-births.  

Teachings of Bhagvat Gita – It is amazing that Bhagwat Gita, a book as old as 5000 years is still relevant even in the  age of Artificial Intelligence(AI) of 21st century. Teachings of Gita give an exercise to human minds in the same manner as yogic exercises to bodies. It has solutions to all doubts, fears, dilemmas, problems etc. and guide humans to live a happy, peaceful and prosperous life. Following five basic principles of Gita can change human life positively –

  1. Focus on your action and not on the results – Focus on your action and not its results. “Karm Karo, Fal ki Chinta mat Karo”. (Verse 47, Chapter 2, Bhagwat Gita) Because results are not solely dependent on your efforts. Result depends on other factors as well like other people, circumstances or atmosphere etc. If results are not as per your expectations, pain is unavoidable.
  2. Do not resort to inaction – When the work is hard and burdensome,  never lose interest and attach oneself to inaction (निष्क्रियता).
  3. Be Fearless – The biggest fear in our lives is “Fear of Death”. Fear creates deterrence in whatever you wanted to do it in life. Only body is destroyed, Soul is glorious, fearless, free from old age and immortal.
  4. Eliminate fear of death from your mind. (Verse 20, Chapter 2, Bhagwat Gita)
  5. Gateways to hell/unhappiness – There are three gateways to unhappiness – Lust, Greed and Anger, abandon these three completely as it disturb the balance of mind and soul, and leads to self-destruction. 

Following are lessons of Gita give an exercise to human minds in the same manner as yogic exercises to bodies:

  • Detach from illusions and attach to Divine. Give priority to divinity. See divinity all around.
  • Have enough knowledge/intellect/devotion to see the truth as it is.
  • Attachment is the cause of all distress.
  • Detachment is the way to progress and prosperity.
  • The attainment of True Knowledge is the ultimate aim of all such deeds.
  • Fight for right cause in life is the ultimate solution to all problems.
  • Live a simple life-style that matches your vision.
  • Always remain steady.
  • Renounce the ego and attain salvation leading to unending peace and happiness.
  • Every act should be done in moderation.
  • True Knowledge is far Superior to the knowledge of the Sacred Scripts.
  • Stress is on Detachment and Equanimity. Happiness and unhappiness should be considered alike. For achieving detachment or renunciation, Knowledge and intellect play an important role.
  • Concept of Right And Wrong, according to Indian philosophy – Right and wrong are relative terms. The idea of sin and virtue, good and evil are creations of the mind. They reflect the needs of society and therefore bear not much value. Truth lies somewhere in between various differing opinions. Yesterday’s Right/truth/Justice may be today’s wrong/falsehood/injustice, and today’s right tomorrow’s wrong. Truth is like a chameleon in reverse. It always assumes colors other than those of its environment. People chase truth/justice without embracing it. To understand it one needs a balanced approach. A rational opinion about it can be formed only by keeping these four variables in mind:
  • Desha (region) – The culture of a place, in which a person is born,
  • Kala (time) -The period of historical time, in which a person
  • is born,
  • Shrama (Effort)-The efforts required of him at different stages of Life,
  • Guna (Quality)-Aptitude and innate psycho-biological traits.
  • Positive and negative Mindset of human beings (Gunas) – Hindu philosophy believes that the whole world of activities is a result of complex intermixing of three basic qualities of human nature Satva, Rajas and Tamas. When born, a person, is like a clean slate – pure, formless, undifferentiated Consciousness. What s(he) writes on it, depends on the relative strengths of three Gunas –Tamas, Rajat and Sattva. The categorization in these three groups is usually depend on degree of attachment-detachment, austerity, Purity/cleanliness of body, speech and mind, charity and positive or negative thinking.

‘Satva’ Guna (Positive mindset) – ‘Satva’ is associated with peace purity, knowledge with clarity in  thinking positive attitude and consistency in actions. (1) Fearlessness, (2) Cleanliness of mind and body, (3) Devotion towards God, (4) Acquisition of true knowledge, (5) Suppression of the senses, (6) Study of scriptures, (7) Recitation of God’s name, (8) Taking pain in following one’s own code of conduct, (9) Simplicity of mind, inner self and senses, (10)Non-violence in all its forms, (11) Speaking Truth in a pleasant manner, (12) Absence of anger, (13) Non attachment, (14) Peace of mind, (15) Not speaking ill of others, (16) Kindness towards all, (17) Forgiveness, (18) Patience, (19) Lack of ego and (20) Feeling ashamed while doing something against Laws or Traditions. “Sat” or “austerity is required for pursuing knowledge,

‘Rajas Guna’ (Having power to control people and events)) –‘Rajas’ is associated with passion/lure for comfort, often makes an individual, self-centered.  Rajas represents itself by power, passion, action, energy and motion. Rajas Guna drives people towards passion, power, ambition, and love for comfortable living. It often makes an individual self-centred. It does not care much about any particular value. It can contextually be either good or bad. 

‘Tamas’ (Negative mindset) – Individuals with Tamas or negative thinking are the victims of ignorance, sloth carelessness. It usually suppresses good qualities and leads towards `Adharma (immoral behaviour, harsh words), Alasya (laziness) and Agyan (ignorance, Lack of knowledge). Tamas/negative mindset manifests (1) Ego, Ahankar (2) cruelty/Inhuman behaviour, (3) Injustice (Anyay), (4) Lust (5) Over- pride (mad) (6) Greed (Lobha) (7) Anger (Krodha), (8) . Jealousy, (9) Attachment (Moh), (10). Selfishness (Swartha).

Persons with negative mindset are usually responsible for different kinds of social evils, exploitation and miseries of the people. Most of the time, they make their own life quite stressful, as there is a gap between expectations and reality. In order to keep oneself away from negative mindset, one should first ‘Think’ before taking any step, then ‘evaluate’, and try to be Creative and confident, while setting goals.

Inter-play of the three qualities determine personality of a person – Inter-play of the three qualities determine the tendencies, potentialities, limitations, traits and character of different individuals and give them direction for action. The material world through senses attracts human mind towards a mirage/illusion or attachment. Many a times, such attachment leads to impurities. Freedom of mind from attachment/illusion is consciousness. In order to become civilized, one has to keep in control and observance of cleanliness – of body, speech and mind. The purpose of human life should be to overcome Tamas, refine Rajat and inculcate Sattva.

  • Hinduism provides legitimacy to Principle of Varna -Hinduism has provided legitimacy to the Varna followed by Jati-Pratha, which has prepared a political and social framework for Hindu society. Principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma are the Foundation pillar of Hinduism. Together these principles have given  a sustainable social structure and a distinct identity to Hindu society.
  • Principle of VarnaPrinciple Of Varna has provided continuity and stability despite numerous foreign invasions, migrations and assimilation of various groups.

Division of Labour/work according to Attitude and aptitude – According to Hindu philosophy, individuals differ from each other in natural endowments, intelligence, aptitudes, attitudes, skills, personal needs and other innate characteristics.  Their physical strength, mental capacity and moral aspirations, like and dislikes, inclination and expectations of everybody in the society are not the same. Therefore, Principle of Varna assigns different activities to different sections of society according to its natural endowment/inclinations, qualities attitudes, aptitudes, Gunas (psychological characteristics), personal needs and other innate characteristics.

The doctrine of Varna distributes and organizes systematically the performance of various functions; provides  a quality of life to its people; defines roles, duties and vocations for different sections of society on the basis of their attitude and aptitude roles; organizes inter-relationship of various sections of society. This way, Principle of Varna has organized and distributed  performance of various functions systematically needed for the survival of society.

Manu’s classification of Hindu society is was based on the principle of ‘Division of Labour’. He has grouped the people into four Varnas according to their attitude and aptitude –

  • Brahmins (Learners) – Persons who  have had qualities of “Sat”/“austerity (needed for pursuing knowledge) are put in Brahmin’ category. They are assigned the job of guiding the society in right direction. Ancient Greek philosophers have called such persons ’Philosopher King’.
  • Kshatriyas (Warriors) – Action-oriented, courageous/brave persons having quality of ‘Rajas’ have been given the charge are  put in Kshatriyas group. Their job was to exercise power and to protect the whole society from internal or external aggressions. Ancient Greeks called them ‘Warriors’.
  • Vaishyas (Business men) Business men inclined towards trade are put in Vaishyas group.
  • Shudras (Workers) – Persons needing guidance of above three groups for doing any  job have been put in Shudras category.

Numerous castes and sub-castes emerged within each Varna – As population increased and more and more indigenous and foreign social groups were merged into the Hindu-fold, Vedic Varna system gave way to  Jaati-pratha. Assimilation of various social groups, indigenous and foreign, (be it racial, immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or other groups) into Hindu-fold, gave birth to Jaati -pratha.  Each new group coming into its fold was assigned  a new separate caste identity. The way of living and culture of each identity has been carefully nurtured and preserved.

Basic difference between Varna and Jaati – Initially, according to Smritis one fitted into a particular Varna not by birth. It was based on  qualities and deeds. But membership of jaati was by birth. With the passage of time, circumstances and convenience tended to make even Varnas hereditary. 

‘Varnas’ were never more or less than four and always remained the same. Numerous castes and sub-castes emerged within each Varna. Castes had its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. Each caste found its place under a Varna on the basis of their nature of work, its being ritually clean or unclean and amount of self-discipline, they exercised.

“Castes” have its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its “Varna” aspect. Almost all castes have found their place under a Varna on the basis of their nature of work, its being ritually clean or unclean and amount of self-discipline, they exercise.

Modern India – As against this system, modern India has stratified Indian society into five unbridgeable watertight compartments – Upper castes or caste Hindus, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Backward Castes and Minorities. Employment/occupation/profession now depend on number of formal degrees/ diplomas/certificates. Jobs are divided into white-collared jobs, blue-collared jobs and menial/derogatory jobs. It is the contribution of Western world, a post-industrial-revolution development.

  • Principle ofDharma” Scholars have repeatedly commented that the word ‘Dharma’ is not translatable in English. Words like law righteousness, ethics, morality all together are not enough to give justice to the meaning of Dharma. The principle of Dharma embraced within itself religion, law, duty, righteousness, morality and conformity with truth”. Along with its being a religious idea, Dharma was also a principle and a vision of an organic society, in which all participating members were independent, yet their roles complimentary. 

Dharma guides individuals to remain true and to fulfil their duties earnestly, enables different groups to act cooperatively. It  regulates the behaviour and inter-personal relationship of its component members within the society. It provides universal, practical and eternal guidelines to be followed in personal life, family life, community life, social life, professional life and national life.

Common Dharma for all – Principle of Dharma has given universal, practical and eternal guidelines to be followed in personal life, family life, community life, social life, professional life and national life. All the people in the society are governed by Dharma at all times, be it a ruler or ruled, parent or child, teacher or student or man or woman. There is a common Dharma, which is applicable to all. These are the norms and values of good conduct, which lead individuals to the path of righteousness.

Specific and separate Dharma for different sections of society – Principle of Dharma also specifies role, duties, privileges and restrictions of each role separately. It prescribes a separate Dharma appropriate to each Varna, each class and each stage of human life. Separate Dharma for different communities is based on inherent qualities, aptitude and potentialities of its members. The Dharma of Brahmin was not that of a Shudra, or the Dharma of a student not that of an old man.

Follow Swadharma – ‘Dharma’ prepares an atmosphere to inspire people to do their own duties, ‘Swadharma’ honestly. Following one’s own Dharma gives everybody else opportunities to live and prosper socially, professionally, economically, and spiritually according to their own rhythm.

Will power to follow the path of ‘Swadharma’ – Moulding life according to Swadharma is not an easy task. It requires will power and a strong character. Therefore, persons with weak faculties finds it difficult to observe Dharma. Dharma along with Karma was the means, through which a person approached the desired goal of life, the ultimate aim being salvation from the cycle of birth and death.

Hindu culture assured people that proper performance of Swadharma with honesty and sincerity assures both, worldly honour and spiritual happiness. Proper assignment and performance leads the whole society to live quality of life. While performing Swadharma without hesitation, a person gets earns a rightful place in the society and a feeling of being an integral part of the society, not an outsider to it. Proper performance of Swadharma with honesty and sincerity assures both, worldly honour and spiritual happiness.

Principle of Karma with Detachment – Whereas, Western cultures have grown around the idea of `rights‘, forming the natural foundation of human relationship, Hinduism evolves around the concept of “duty, tolerance and sacrifice”. Emphasis on duty usually makes a person or a group humble and tolerant. It makes the inequalities, prevalent in the society, tolerable to an average Indian. It ensures social harmony and prevented rivalries and jealousies. Its helps people to adjust themselves, without much difficulty, to most drastic changes. India has achieved its freedom in a peaceful manner under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Hindus are basically filled with a sense of duty.

Karma, the Central Theme of Gita – Karma is the central theme of Bhagwat Gita. The Philosophy of Gita is simple. It guides people ‘Rely on one’s own Laws and Traditions. Do one’s own duties/deeds without hesitation and with complete devotion towards God, and achieve what is generally achieved by such deeds. 

Together these principles of Varna, Dharma and Karma have prepared an atmosphere of co-existence for different sections of its society – be it ruler or ruled, rich or poor; and  have held together different castes and communities having diverse languages and practices for generations – thus making unity in diversity a reality.

  • Work is WorshipHindu Philosophy teaches that Work is Worship. Society assigns everybody a specific task to do as per one’s own karmas and destiny. A person earns a rightful place in the society by doing his assigned duties honestly. While performing one’s duty/action, one gets a feeling  that he is an integral part of the society, and not an outsider to it.

One should do without hesitation the duties/deeds assigned to him/her  by the society and with complete devotion towards God, and achieve what is generally achieved by such deeds. 

  • No work superior or inferior – All kinds of work are worth pursuing and respectable, if done in its sincerely. No work is superior/high or humble/inferior/derogatory/ or waste. Any work done in its true spirit could never be derogatory or a waste. The work of a priest, warrior, manual worker or yogi, all are equally important for the society and are, therefore, right, respectable and worth pursuing. The idea of white-collared jobs, blue-collared jobs and menial/derogatory jobs is the contribution of Western world, emerged especially after industrial Revolution.
  • Every act should be done in moderation – Gita teaches that control over mind is necessary for purification of Soul. And for purification of Soul, one should fulfil the duties assigned to him in proper manner and in moderation.
  • Detachment – Work should be done with detachment.Dedicate the results of all your deeds to God. Detachment is the key to get control over restless mind. An individual should feel that he is the doer of the deeds. With detatchment, one can reach beyond the scope of the three qualities, saintly, worldly, and lethargic.
  • Work, not for external award – Work is done not so much for its external reward, but for the intrinsic satisfaction towards realization of ‘Swadharma’. Society assigns each one a specific duty as per one’s own karmas and destiny. Everyone should do His/herthe duties/deeds assigned to him without hesitation and with complete devotion towards God, and achieve what is generally achieved by such deeds.
  • Sanatan Dharma (Principle of Eternal Values) of Hinduism  – The term ‘Sanatan means eternal/beyond time and ‘Dharma’ means duty.It is said that things perfected by nature are better and more sustainable than anything else. The whole scheme of Sanatan Dharma is in conformity with time and forces of nature. All its instructions are in tune with the nature. It nurtures  basic instincts of human beings over nature. takes care of the basic physical, mental and spiritual needs of the human beings at different stages of life.

Sanatan Dharma is universal, eternal, applicable to all human beings  irrespective of race, caste or creed. Its norms of conduct takes care of their basic physical, mental and spiritual needs at different stages of life, which are as relevant even today, as it was earlier in ancient times. It attaches importance to social values. Its norms of conduct at different stages of life. are as relevant even today as it was earlier.  

Based on the experiences and deep study – Many learned sages and intellectuals, belonging to different communities at different point of time did  a deep study of natural instincts, inherent attributes, natural behavioural pattern and felt needs (physical, mental and spiritual) of humans at different stages of life. On basis of their experiences and deep thinking,  they formulated a compact life package, known as ‘Sanatan Dharma’.

  • According to Sanatan Dharma, for living life fruitfully and aging gracefully, every  individual passes through four stages of life. At each stage of life, he performs different roles like role of a student or a house-holder. It tells clearly what are the rights and duties of a person at what time and what is right age to study or enter into the real life.

Four stages of human-life – According to it, there is one pre-stage followed by four stages in human life. Different stages of human life are known as Ashrams, which are as following :-

  • Pre stage of Balyavastha or Childhood – First 5 or 6 years of infants’ and toddlers’ life is the pre-stage of learning. It is the best period of human life. This is the time for a child to learn and understand the first lesson of real life, about human relationships and mannerism. During this  period, the ground for  learning is prepared at home under the full-time attention, loving care and guidance of his parents. Constant interaction between parents and children prepares an atmosphere to develop child’s mental and physical faculties and character. It is the responsibility of parents to shape the attitude of their children. Obedience is expected from child.
  • Brahmacharya Ashram, First stage of human life – After Balyavasha (childhood) and beforeentering into real life is the right time for learning. The duty of young and grown up child is to learn and acquire knowledge.  It is a period of strict discipline. Students should lead a simple life. They should not bother much for worldly pleasures/comforts., They should work hard and devote their full time to acquire knowledge. It is teacher’s job to impart knowledge, shape attitudes, cultivate skills and build work habits, so that when they enter into real life environment after completing their course, they are better adjusted. Teachers should help students to develop their mental and moral faculties and guide them to get control over their senses, mind and intellect. At this stage society rears, protects and gives its best as heritage to coming generation.
  • “Grahasthashram/life of a householder” – Of all the Ashrams (stages) Grihasthashram has been given a high place of honour. Giving maximum importance to it shows that Indian philosophers and Epic writers attached great importance to social values.

During second phase of life, a person enters into the real life and joins work-force. It is the most energetic period of human life. As a householder, one raises family and enjoys the  married life. He gets a real ground to utilize one’s intellectual and physical capabilities. He works for financial and material success, get involved in economic activities.

  • Rights – This is the time to enjoy life fully and fulfil all his desires and dreams, with emphasis on – Dharma (piety, morality, duties), Artha (wealth, health, means of life), Kama (love, relationships, emotions) and Moksha (liberation, freedom, self-realization).
  • Duties – Householders are directly or indirectly in contact with the whole society. It is their duty to make direct contribution to the society, in consistent with the capacity, dictates of their knowledge and conscience. They are responsible to take care of their dependents, to look after the management, and the needs of  other three Ashramas, or financially help the people of other three Ashrams 

Dependents include elders, children, members of extended family, educational institutions and strangers in need of help. 

  • Third Stage of life, Vanaprastha Ashram – Grihathashram is conceptually followed by Vanaprastha Ashram. At this stage, running after luxurious life style or material success is not the aim. After fulfilling familial liabilities, time comes to start to lead a retired life, to start process of withdrawal, to delegate authority to next generation, start process of detachment from familial bonds and renunciation of worldly pleasures should start.. It is the time for ‘Simple living and high thinking’, to start process of withdrawal, delegation of authority to next generation, detachment from familial bonds and renunciation of worldly pleasures. 

Elders can provide extended care, to help in taking decisions, maintaining discipline within their respective groups. Time can be utilized by doing social service like helping and taking care of poor, helpless members of society like widows, destitute or weak. Spare time can be spent in contemplation or attending spiritual discourses..

  • Fourth Stage of life, Sanyas (renunciation) – At this stage, a person is completely free from any social obligation. It is a time for complete detachment, resignation and renunciation. to prepare oneself to leave this world and go to an unknown world. Realization of spirituality and wisdom is the aim.

Earlier, when human life was not so complicated and men were closer to nature, people could follow the principles of Sanatan Dharma without much difficulty. With the erosion of moral values and life becoming more and more complex, it became difficult for people to practice it.

  • Knowledge, a never ending process (‘Neti’, ‘Neti’) Vedas tell that creation and quest for knowledge is a constant process, without any beginning or an end. It is a never ending process (‘Neti’, ‘Neti’). Indian  Sages (Rishis and Munies) believed that even Vedas are not the end for quest for knowledge or prescribes any final absolutes.

According to Gita, Senses are superior to the body, Mind is superior to the Senses and Knowledge or intellect is superior to the Mind. Knowledge is better than Abhyas (practice), Meditation is better than Knowledge. Renunciation of the fruits of action is still better than Meditation as peace immediately follows such renunciation.

Knowledge, the key to know the truth – Knowledge is supposed to be necessary for giving Action (Karma) its due meaning, direction and value. It is necessary to know about one’s surroundings or understand what is right or wrong. Ignorance was considered to be leading to futile efforts destroying direction. Hinduism tries to inculcate discipline and sense of direction amongst ignorant masses through rituals, prayers, practices, and customs. But as said earlier it should not be followed blindly without understanding the purpose behind it.

There are choices before human beings – take action with developed mind/intellect or action with weak mind, bridled with desire, based on emotion, impulse, hatred, greed and selfishness. Intellect needs to be developed to make mind rational. Gita prescribes for ‘action’/’deed’ to be combined with intellect (knowledge with positive energies) governed by intellect makes a person calm and content. Knowledge with negative energies quite often leads to agitation/aggression and discontent.

Ignorance leads to futile efforts destroying direction. There are choices before everyone – either to take any action with knowledge and positive attitude or do a deed with ignorant/negative mindset.

  • Self-discipline, self-reliance and self-restraint – Hinduism gives importance to the considerations of self-discipline, self-reliance and self-restraint. It  suggests all social groups or Varnas to lead a self-restraint and self-disciplined life-style in all respects, be it in the matter of daily routine, occupation or inter group relationship. In the past, knowledge, spirituality, morality, hygiene, cleanliness of body and mind (concept of purity and impurity) and usefulness of their work to the society as a whole were the considerations , which determined the social, economic and political status of a group within society vis-a vis other social groups. Purer a varna or caste was, higher it was considered. Greater were the self-restrictions imposed on its behaviour through rituals by the society.

Discipline was inculcated and a sense of direction was given to the general public through infinite variety of rituals, prayers, practices, customs and meditation.

  • Tolerance and acceptance/interdependence Hindu philosophy values interdependence, acceptance and tolerance. Since ages, Hinduism sends messages like ‘Live and let live’, ‘Vasudhaiv-Kutumbakam’ (The whole world is one family) and ‘accept others as they are’, Truth, Ahimsa, peace and non-aggression are imbibed in Indian ethos. It can be seen everywhere in common men’s way of life  in India. People  endure without much protest injustice and unfairness until they are pushed right to the wall. It has prevented its people to exercise coercion, force, violence or aggressions. It is the reason, why it is one of the oldest living culture in the whole world.
  • Tolerance level of Hinduism  – Tolerance is most evident in the field of religion.  Hindu’s faith in an all pervading omnipresent god and multiplicity of god/goddesses as representing some portion of the infinite aspect of the Supreme Being inspires to accommodate people of all faiths.  Hinduism concedes validity to all the religions and does not lay down strictures against any faith or reject any religion or its god as false.  That is why, all the twelve major religions of the world are present and flourishing in India without much hindrance. 

Accepts others as they are – Hinduism values interdependence and accepts other communities as its integral parts.

  1. It accepts that there are different paths leading to God and be humane;
  2. It gives complete liberty to worship any god or goddess of their choice, as well as use their own methods of worship;
  3. It does not impose its own codes of conduct on other faiths;
  4. It is liberal enough to see atheism as a legitimate pursuit.

In the past, Hindus had accepted oppression and exploitation without much protest, while such situations, elsewhere in the world, would have led to bloody revolutions. Intolerance of people elsewhere in the world had compelled the people either to work under the threat of a whip or led to bloody revolutions as had happened in ancient Greece, Rome or other European countries. However, tolerance in India had kept on adapting itself to changing times and had prevented people from taking up the path of violence. It is continuously internalizing the changes and has kept on adapting itself to changing times. India has entered the modern era without any cultural break.

Area where tolerance is harmful – Even today, the people are tolerating the criminalization of politics, corruption, scams and scandals and inefficient governance without much protest. Governance of the nation is one such area, where tolerance is harmful, because it does not only hinder the development, but also pushes the nation backwards. Hindus have not raised their voice against inefficiency in administration, corruption, scandals, scams, oppression or exploitation by powerful lobbies so far. They have tolerated even criminalization of politics without much protest.  Elsewhere in the world, such situations would have led to strong protests/bloody revolutions.

  • Hinduism a wonderful example of assimilation and Inclusiveness – More than anywhere else in the world, India holds a multitude of thoughts, processes them and practices them. There has been co-existence of varied belief, pattern and thought due to inter-mixing and cultural mingling.

Adopted the path of assimilation – Beauty of Hinduism lies in the way, it has assimilated numerous social groups coming from different parts of the world at different points of time in waves immigrants, locals, tribal, professionals or others – into its mainstream unlike Islam or Christianity.

No conversion – It does not believe in conversion or imposing its beliefs, practices and customs on others. Hindu religion has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its own established culture off the roots.

Caste-system used as a mechanism for inclusion of other groups – Caste system assigned each incoming new group a separate caste identity. Society remained stable, while offering a place to a new community. The system neither disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented any new group to develop itself. Without any conversion, caste system made new groups its integral part. It never tried to annihilate their faith, originality, internal order, customs, culture or language. Instead, it gave all incoming groups freedom to prosper/make changes into their systems according to their internal rhythm.

III Caste system 

Don Martindale has described caste as “the system of social life, in which Hinduism was expressed. …  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.” Caste is unique Indian institution upheld by a complex cultural ideology.

Caste-system is inseparably related to Hinduism by traditional customs, values and systems. It is having both religious and social sanction behind it. In the present understanding of caste system, element of caste is dominant and a system has been considerably suppressed. Castes has its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati, and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect.

Meaning of the term caste – The term “caste” was unknown in ancient India. The terms ‘Varna and jaati’ were used in ancient and medieval India to identify different social groups and sub-groups. The term ‘Caste’ has been in use ever since British came to rule India.

The term caste has originated from Portuguese ‘casta’, meaning race, breed, ancestry. Portuguese first used the terms ‘casta’ meaning “breed, race, caste and ‘casta-raça’ meaning ‘unmixed race’. Portuguese observers described that Hindu society in western and southwestern India has divided itself through caste system into different socially ranked occupational groups. In an effort to maintain vertical social distance, these social groups practiced mutual exclusion in matters relating to eating and, presumably, marrying.

Application to Hindu social groups ‘Varna’ and ‘Jaati’ was picked up by English in India 1610s from Portuguese casta. The Latin word for it is castus, meaning “chaste” or purity of breed. Subsequently, British have merged both the terms ‘Varna’ and ‘caste’ into one word ‘cast’ or ‘caste’. Subsequently ‘caste’ has become the established word for the combination of ‘Varna’ and’’jaati’. 

Later on, major European languages (notably Dutch and French) also, ‘caste’ in the same specific sense.  has become established term The term Caste was recorded officially in 1840 for the first time by European colonizers, to mean persons belonging to the same hereditary social group. Instead of using ‘Varna or Jati’ separately, they Since then, the whole scenario about caste was messed up. The meaning and understanding about caste system has been changed drastically. 

Mystified western world – Western world is mystified by amazing pluralities and unique social structure of India based on caste. It is difficult for the western world to understand the role of caste – past or present – in Indian society. Complete localization and unfamiliarity makes it difficult to understand and appreciate fully, caste as a system in its totality and to know the nuances, the nature, role (both in the past as well as in present) and value of caste as a system.

Caste-system is inseparably related to Hinduism by traditional customs, values and systems. The roots of Varna system and Jaati-Pratha are so deep,  that it is virtually impossible to think of India without it. It has been one of the dominant features still running through the entire social fabric of India. Caste has its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati, and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect.

Meaning of the terms Varṇa (वर्णः) and Jaati – ‘Caste’ has its ethnic roots as denoted by Jati, and a ritualistic and symbolic significance in its Varna aspect. The term “Varna” is a Sanskrit word, which means type, order, colour or class. ‘Jati’ is also a Sanskrit word  meaning ‘Jana’. Membership of ‘Varna’ is based on the attitude aptitude and deeds of a person, whereas by birth, everyone belongs to a Jaati. ‘Jaāti’ refers to thousands of endogamous social groups, sub-groups and sub-sub- groups coming under each Varna, living across the subcontinent. A jati may be divided into exogamous groups based on the same gotras. (Dumont, Louis, 1980, Homo hierarchicus: the caste system and its implications, University of Chicago Press, pp. 66–67)

Origin of Varna and Jaati Pratha (Caste system) in India – The origin of ‘Varna or Jaati’ can-not be found in one single authoritative text like Christian’s “Bible” or Islam’s “Kuran”, nor can it be attributed to one single founder, like Jesus Christ for Christianity or Mohammad Sahib for Islam. It is the development of thousands of years. to develop with the association of numerous social groups into it at different point of time. It started with the arrival of Aryans hereditary kinship and tribal groups in India in waves, from different parts of the world.

Different shades and meaning of caste system with changing times – Caste system has survived the vicissitudes of time, and saved itself by erosion from within and assault from outside. Credit of its prolonged life goes to its adaptability, flexibility and absorptive nature, which has internalized even the alien influences. It has taken different shades and meaning with the changing times and places. Once changed, it never returned to its original form. Such flexibility is not seen in the West. When Christianity broke away from Judaism, it departed totally from the common cultural traditions. 

Wonderful process of assimilation – Wonderful process of assimilation and fusion of different social groups has been a continuous process of the Hindu civilization. It contributed to the cultural richness of Bharat.  All the sects present in India, whether foreign or indigenous, have been influenced greatly by Hindu thinking, caste system, its practices and systems.

Different stages of making and evolution of Varna/casteFollowing are the different stages of the evolution of Varna/caste – 

  • Caste during Ancient period -As Basham has pointed out, Caste system may well be called a natural response of many small and primitive groups of people, who were forced to come to terms, with a more advanced economic and social system. Caste system provided a mechanism, by which numerous discrete tribes, all sorts of groups and associations arising for political, sectarian or other reasons could be internalized and preserved within the whole.
  • Pre-Vedic period – The making of caste system can be traced from the times of pastoral tribal society. Roughly ten millennia ago, people lived  in small migratory groups, living the life-style of wandering “nomadic herdsmen”. These small groups mostly lived in hilly areas, not far from rivers. Tribal communities were nomadic or semi nomadic and egalitarian. They depended on nature for its subsistence.
  • Settled agricultural society – Then came the period of making of the agricultural societies. People started  cultivating land and settled down Gradually pastoral tribal society transformed into a settled agricultural society, confining its activities and life within a small area or territory. Clans and tribes settled permanently in different parts of the country. As reflected in ‘Rigveda’, during early stages of Vedic Age people ceased to be a wandering people, started a settled life.
  • Entry of Aryans – Aryans entered into India in waves from land-side at different points of time. Aryans, after entering into India first conquered its original inhabitants of Northern part of India, colonized and established kingdoms, then Deccan and then south. During the period, it was possible to have high ranks, but not high social classes.
  • Development of structures and systems – Socio-political structures and systems were evolved leisurely over about 2000 years (roughly between 2000 BC to about 600 BC) and kept on coping with the changes slowly, time had brought in.
  • In the beginning people hardly possessed more than what was needed for their subsistence/survival.
  • The practice of cultivation, rise of crafts and iron tools transformed the egalitarian society into fully agricultural and stratified society sometime during 6th century BC.
  • Initially a simple class division was seen in the social structure, i.e. nobility and the ordinary tribesmen. Slowly, possession of land, slaves and hired laborers started. People started producing and possessing more than they needed. The kings collected their surplus yields.
  • The power of kings gradually increased. For regular collection, administrative and religious methods were devised.
  • Varnas and Jaatis (Caste) during Vedic Period – Vedic society is considered as the most advanced civilization in every respect be its social structure or its culture. This was the time when the social structure was taking shape under “Varna System”. Historical time of the origin and slow but steady evolution of Varna system is estimated around 3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE. It was the period of beginning of Indus Valley Civilization. Varna system originated and flourished in northern parts of India (on the Indo-Gangetic Plains of the Indian subcontinent) and later on spread throughout India during 1500 BC and 500 BC. Society was relatively egalitarian one. There was no distinct hierarchy of socio-economic classes or castes.

Emergence of “Jaatis” now known as Caste within each Vana – Later on, numerous racial, tribal, occupational and other groups entered in waves into India via land routes from different parts of the world. The assimilation of these migrating social groups into the  main-stream of Hinduism was done through jaati pratha. Each incoming new group was assigned a separate Jaati (caste) name. This way, numerous Jaatis emerged within each Varna. Jaati pratha had not only accommodated and bound migrating social groups into a single cultural system, but gave them full freedom to continue their own culture and way of living and flourish.

To discipline the society, Hinduism now clearly defined rights and duties. Along with all the freedom to flourish within its own soil, Hindu society imposed some restrictions as well. Slowly and steadily developed rules of endogamy, ritual purity, interdependence and hierarchical order of its social units. This way, Hinduism has neither repulsed any trend vehemently, nor allowed others to sweep its established culture off the roots.

  • Castes during Medieval PeriodMany changes took place, during medieval period in the caste system. Turks, Afghans and Mughals continuously invaded India. Invasion of Ghazni (998-1030 AD), and others, the establishment of Slave Dynasty (1206-1290), Khilji Dynasty (1290-1320), Tuglak Dynasty (1320-1412 AD) Sayyed Dynasty (1414-51) Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526) and Mughal Empire (1526 to 1757) continuously pressurized Hindu Social system. Earlier they drained out the wealth of the nation to foreign lands.  But afterwards, they conquered and made India their homeland.

Downfall of Hindu Raj along with decline of traditional Hindu values, imposition of Zaziya on Hindus and intolerance of alien rulers towards their Hindu subjects made it difficult for Hindus to preserve their identity and indigenous culture. Hindu society turned inwards to save their identity. Excesses by rulers resulted in conscious efforts by Hindus to save their identity, values and honour by making caste rules and rituals stricter and more rigidly applied than before[i]. It gave birth to many social evils like Sati Pratha; Dowry, Purdah system or superstitions. Feudalistic attitude, extravagance and luxurious life style of rulers and those at the helm of authority had increased the disparity between the rulers and the ruled.

Despite of all these socio-economic and political changes, the institution of caste was independent of the government’s intervention till medieval period.   It made the Hindu society stable but not static. Traditional decentralized self-regulated systems were the mode for keeping checks and balances in the social life of the country. The influence of caste system was immense on public minds because:-

  • The cultural endowments formed the basis of social status of different Varnas –
  • The ranking of different Varna was not based on wealth or material gains, but on intellectual and spiritual attainments and on self-discipline.
  • As late as the eighteenth century, no all-India hierarchical order of different Varna has taken an all-India character. Generally the position of Brahmins was considered at the top and that of Shudras at the bottom. The Brahmin strongholds were the centres of learning. But in between the two, there was an ambiguity about the status of all the castes, which was acceptable to all concerned in any local area. 
  • This, itself, has given a large element of fluidity to caste system.

Upward mobility was possible for different groups by improving their attitude and mannerism.

  • Close association of caste There was a close association of caste with occupation. As leading sociologists pointed out, in addition to their hereditary occupation, agriculture and army were open and had accommodated all social groups of society – indigenous or alien. The basic qualification for doing any work was mainly having the qualifications needed for that specific job.
    • There was no dearth of employment for aspiring workers.  A substantial labour market existed in agricultural sector. Immense influence  of powerful peasant was a reality of the rural life of Medieval India. Indian peasantry in UP, Bihar and MP were armed.  In fact, non-Kshatriya peasant provided leadership of most armed bands. They were numerically predominant and economically and politically strong at the village level. 
    • Military service was also accessible to anybody, from any strata of society including the lowest in the ritual terms.  There was no discrimination in recruitment and treatment of soldiers of any kind on the basis of caste.  Rajput status was given to soldiers. [Jain Girilal – The Hindu Phenomenon p9, 1994.]
  • Members of any caste group did not exercise monopoly over a profession. It is an established fact of Indian History that Brahmin or even Shudras sometimes became the kings. Khatriyas and Shudra were accepted and revered as philosophers or spiritual teachers.  In order to increase their strength, there were times, when inter caste marriages took place in the past. ]
  • Alternative ideologies and styles of life were available in India. The floating population, consisting groups like Gujjars, Bhattis, Rajput rangers, who remained outside caste system, were so strong, that they terrorized settled agriculturists for centuries. Forests, which competed with arable land in size and importance, till the 18th century, gave shelter and food to large sections of society and served as havens for those in search of escape from society.
  • People of different social-groups enjoyed a large measure of freedom in respect of their internal customs, rituals and life styles. All activities were confined within a small local area, having very little links with the outside world due slower means of transport.  Only merchants visited different distant places.
  • The plurality of society provided automatic checks and balances and controlled the arbitrariness or unbalanced growth of power of any group. Upward mobility was possible for different groups. Sometimes inter-caste marriages were also permitted. [ii]
  • The local societies before British rule used to be self-sufficient mutually `supporting and caring for each other. They were bound together by economic and social ties and had a strong bond of mutual dependence. Local character of society made close interaction and cooperation between different castes, a reality. Traditions and rituals required the participation of all social groups (castes). Even untouchables were assigned important social duties. Harijan women helped all castes at the time of child birth, sweepers beat drums in front of Hindu’s houses or in front of a procession at the time of an important ceremony, village barber spread news, arranged marriages and served food during celebrations.  Occasionally non-Brahmins or Harijans served as priests of temples of goddesses like Sita or Kali, where all castes made offerings.
  • There was not much disparity between different forward or lower castes.  There was hardly any question of all India tyranny of any caste group.  Not a single group was identifiable as very strong-dominating all the others, or as an enemy to defeat.  Laws remained unmodified and flexible with the capacity to adapt to local customs and situations.  People in power and position cared for the lower castes in order to acquire and retain local followers. The system made upper castes generous in matters of food, drinks and loans, when required. The tropical climate of the country compelled the people to the distribution of surplus, as it was difficult to store anything for long. [Sriniwas MN,  Times of India, Dated September 9, 1990, p 6.]
  • Teachings of Bhakti and Sufi saints like Sur, Tulsidas, Chaitnya Mahaprabhu, Nanak, Kabir etc. gave some breathing space to the rigidity of caste system, which suffocated the society during medieval India.

Pr. Rajni Kothari also accepts that till medieval times: –

  • There was a hierarchical social order, through which infinite ambiguities had been accepted, tolerated and regulated.
  • A multi-cultural framework of governance existed, which had restrained hegemonical and majority’s dominating tendencies.
  • A highly flexible ethics code was there, through which constant and continuing distortions, clash of personalities, major paradoxes in elite behaviours and instances of humiliation, acrimony and hypocritical behaviours in the conduct of public affairs were managed.[Times of India, dated July 28, 1997,  p13.]
  • Caste system during Modern Period – Caste system has always been a centre of attention for Westerners, politicians, intellectuals, activists or reformers from other faiths. It has been both defended and opposed vehemently in the political circles of modern India.

During Seventeenth century, many Dutch, Portuguese, French, British and Spanish companies came to India in search of market. Weakening of Islamic power, internal fights among various group leaders and communal unrest gave East India Company success not only in ousting other European companies from India, but also in establishing its rule in India and monopolizing its trade. Once firmly established, the authority was transferred from the Company to the Crown, through the Act of 1858.

After establishing their rule in India, British rulers adopted the policy of “divide and rule”. To keep their power intact, they played off one part against other, Prince  against Princes, Hindus against Muslims, province against provinces and caste against caste. They launched an ideological attack on Hindu practices and caste-system. To them, caste system was “discriminatory,” “iniquitous,” “exploitative,” “oppressive” “barbarous,” “uncivilized” and “highly stratified”. It was responsible for all evil social practices, feudalistic attitude, backward thinking, belief in dogmas and superstitions sustained by a unique set of rituals, and whimsical concept of purity and pollution.

Through Modern education system, British succeeded in disassociating many individuals from their traditional way of living, classical roots and knowledge. With it faded Indian values, philosophies, systems and traditions. It made many Indians to lose their faith in social values and systems. Many leaders like Mahatma Phule, Ambedkar or Gopal Ganesh instilled in the minds of millions of unlettered Hindus, venom against caste-system and the Brahmin community. They also held Caste system responsible for treating lower strata of society as lesser human beings; engaging them in forced labour, unsavoury jobs imposing many restrictions on them; preventing them from joining the mainstream of the society; and the subjugation of lower castes with the help of religion. They regarded untouchability as an inevitable concomitant of caste system.

There was another group of national leaders and reformers, who got alarmed at the erosion of Indian Culture, divisible policies of the rulers, economic loot, political subjugation, racial discrimination, assertion of lordly superiority over the subject on the ground of race, assumption of  haughty exclusiveness, persistent insulting and supercilious behaviour towards all Indians, exclusion of Indians from all places of authority and responsibility and denial of their capacity for self-governance united Indians against British rule. It gave birth to National movement.

Reformers also organized meetings to make ignorant masses aware of the social evils/real issues like superstitions or irrationality in observing rituals blindly. They advised people to stop treating low caste Hindus inhumanly. They advised to give underprivileged sections of society their rightful place in society. The intellectual ferment was strongest in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

In 1928, Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded Brahma Samaj in Bengal. He inspired the people of Bengal, UP, Punjab, Madras and other provinces, to form similar organizations and interpret religion rationally. Prarthana Samaj in Maharashtra (1867), Arya Samaj in Northern India, Rama Krishna Mission, Theosophical Society of India (1879), Dev Samaj in Lahore and Servants of India Society took up the job to awaken the masses. They talked about the greatness of Hindu Vedic culture and about Vedas as the source of all knowledge and truth. Swami Vivekanand founded the Rama Krishna Mission tried to reveal to the world Indian Philosophy and culture. Some reform institutes like Vivekanand’s or Rama Krishna Mission or Theosophical Society of India tried to familiarize the Western World, too, to the charm and graciousness of Indian Culture. Swami Vivekanand gave a call to “Return to Vedas”. He said, “Each nation like each individual has a theme in this life, which is its centre, the principle note, around which every other note comes to form the harmony. If any nation attempts to throw off its national vitality the direction which has become its own through the transmission of centuries the nation dies.”

They advised people not to be swayed away by Western culture. First they should know their own heritage and try to revive what is good in it.

  • Caste system after the Independence – Seventy four years after the Independence, Indians have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. Since 15th August 1947, Independent India is committed to democratic, secular and egalitarian principles as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Preamble of the Indian Constitution promises to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination on grounds of caste, race, religion, gender or place of birth; Article 16 gives equality of opportunity in matter of public employment, Article 338 creates National commission for Scheduled Castes to safeguard their interests etc.

In the eyes of common-man, Caste a social Institution – General public in Indiastill considers as one of the fundamental social institution – a natural, inevitable unit of society. Family, which is a natural unit of an extended family; Extended family of Kula; Kula of a tribe (Vish); and a tribe of a Jana of Jati (Caste). In a way, all are fundamental social institutions. To them, Caste is a large extended family bonded by same language, customs, thinking and way of living and occupation. It is second only to the family in widening a person’s social radius and in getting importance in his/her private and occupational life.

A person’s relation with members of his caste is closer than with those, belonging to other castes. Caste values, beliefs, prejudices, injunctions as well as distortions of reality are the indivisible part of a person’s psyche and conscience. It makes one feel good and loved, when he lives up to the norms, and anxious and guilty, when he transgresses them. It still provides an individual with social security. To foreigners, Varna/caste system represent the ancient culture in its eternity.

Amendments and legislations to protect people from the rigidities of Caste System – Since Independence, the government has passed a number of amendments in the Constitution and legislations to remove the unreasonable practices developed into the system. Like untouchability is declared a crime. Bonded labour is abolished by law. Civil Rights Act, 1955, aims to eliminate injustice against weaker sections. Amendment to Prevention of Atrocities Act (SCT) 1989 provides for stern punishments for offenses committed against SCT by Upper Castes. Special Courts, under SCT Act, have been established for punishing officials, who are found guilty.

Caste now more liberal in social sphere – With the spread of literacy and growing awareness among masses, Castes system has become less restrictive in social arena. Castes no longer enjoy legal or religious sanctions. Expulsion from castes now means little. Earlier it meant complete social ostracism. Old style of authority and power exercised by caste-elders has already diminished except for a few castes in, rural areas especially in Haryana and Rajasthan. Restrictions or interactions between different castes arising due to considerations for purity and pollution are fading away from public life even from rural areas.

Traditional barriers on marriage, hereditary occupations and commonality are losing its importance. Slowly but steadily, many discriminatory practices and deformities developed in Caste system, while living under alien rule are diminishing. Caste system is now more liberal and less restrictive in social life of the people. Still, caste system is considered problematic. Why? What is now wrong with the caste system? Does fault lies somewhere else? Yes, problem lies in entry of caste into politics.

Entry of Caste System in Politics – Caste system started entering into politics during British rule, who followed the policy of ‘Divide’ the people and ‘Rule’ as long as possible. The seeds sown by colonial rulers flourished in full in Independent India.

Winding up

Hinduism and its Caste system has travelled a very long distance experiencing many ups and downs since then. It has been both defended and opposed over the course of Indian history and up-to the present day. Especially Caste-system has drawn the attention of politicians, intellectuals, activists or reformers from other faiths. It has been interpreted praised, distorted or criticized the system  in the manner, whatever suited to their purpose or according to vested interests of that particular era.  Many changes have taken place in the system as time passed on. Especially during Muslim rule many deformities and rigidities had developed into the system. And during British rule, it has been criticized vehemently. After Independence also there are many political parties and pressure groups all over India, who criticize it strongly. So much and so that there is a section of Indian society, which desires to completely wipe caste system out from Indian scene and create a casteless society.

There is a big difference between caste as a system and casteism, and dreaming of replacing caste based society into a casteless society is almost impossible in near future –

Caste as system – Caste is an organised social institution having many salient features mentioned above. This term is specifically used to refer the social structure of Hindu India. Broadly speaking, the fourfold division of society has been sanctioned in ancient scriptures and said to structure all social relations.

Caste-ism – Generally law follows social changes. But after the Independence, the political leadership in their hurry and enthusiasm, tried to foster social changes through law and paternalistic policies and Plans based on caste rather than on economic criteria, in order to solve the problem of age-old imbalances and cumulative disparities of power, wealth and culture. It led to politicization of Caste-system. There is a section of Indian society, which desires to completely wipe caste system out from Indian scene and create a casteless society.

Is creation of casteless society possible – It is a distant dream because –

  • So far, the supporters of “caste-less society” have not been able to suggest a better alternative of caste system or thought of  support systems and norms needed to substitute caste-system into classless society. They do not even know, how to transform the caste-based Indian society into a classless society.
  • Reluctance of common man – Common men, too, are not willing to experiment new systems. They are reluctant to replace or abandon caste-system – an institution of proven value on trial and error basis. They are not sure about the effectiveness of proposed new systems to be created by the proponents of caste-less society. Therefore, elimination of caste in social life still remains a distant dream.
  • Majority of Hindus wish for rational reforms in the already existing system Most of the Indians understand that electoral politics has given a life to casteism. That is why they wish to make improvements in the tried and tested old system by removing deformities developed into it with time. A change is good for the growth of a society. But changes must be based on constant interpretation of past experiences and opinions, present requirements and existing ground realities of the place and future prospects.

Politicization of Caste System – Though the entry of Caste and Community in politics began during British rule, under their policy to ‘Divide’ the people and ‘Rule’ as long as possible. But the seeds sown by colonial rulers flourished in full in Independent India. How?

  • Ossification of caste-system – ‘Caste’ has become a bye-word for Indian politicians. Narrow loyalties of caste and religion are encouraged in political arena. Also with the spread of education and awareness, rising aspirations of people and demands of different social groups has created added problem.
  •  Caste as easiest and powerful weapon in the hands of politicians – For almost all  Political leaders, caste is the easiest and most powerful tool to sway public opinion emotionally and to create a large vote bank for themselves. It may be called ossification of caste-system fallen into the hands of power brokers and vote guzzlers.
  • Emergence of Political identities – For political and governance purposes, the government has divided Indian population in most insensitive manner into  following unbridgeable groups – Upper castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled tribes, Other Backward Class and Minorities. Sectional interests are being promoted on caste or communal basis shamelessly.
  • Sub-castes and Sub-sub-castes joined hands to increase their numerical strength – Such an official division of castes has grouped together and increased the numerical strength of lower strata of Hindu society. There emerged many powerful and assertive pressure groups amongst so called Scheduled castes and Backward Class to pursue their sectional interests.
  • Beneficiary castes stick to their caste identity – So-called lower-castes are  more tenacious about their caste-identity than the higher. So that they can continue their preferential status in matter of education, jobs and other facilities offered by the government from time to time.
  • Caste Hindus side-lined – The voice of upright and honest citizens, irrespective of their caste or community, is being continuously throttled mercilessly. In present day vote-bank politics based on game of numbers, it is very easy now for the pursuers of political power to side-line them.
  • Casteism giving rise to Sub-cultures – The combination of casteism and communalism has generated sub-cultures like caste-ism, favouritism, and lure for easy money, nepotism, parochialism, communalism, regionalism etc. Bigoted sentiments and irresponsible comments are spreading in-discipline and agitation in the society.
  • Increased inter-caste and intra-caste rivalry – Inter-caste and intra-caste, inter-community and intra-community and inter-tribal and intra-tribal rivalries have increased in order to get more space caste-wise in the corridors of power.

Paternalistic policies of Government – Entry of caste in politics started with the electoral politics and with successive governments initiating some of its economic policies and practices, based on caste rather than on economic criteria. The argument, that these policies are just to uplift of submerged sections of society has led to casteism. The paternalistic policies for bringing the submerged sections of the society into mainstream and creating a casteless society has not yielded the desired results, because-

  • These policies are devised by self-proclaimed leaders and mostly administered by bureaucrats, who follow the dictates of leaders of the political party in power.
  • Plans are not rooted in local priorities or skills.
  • Selection of the beneficiaries’ castes   is biased, It often depends on patronage networks of those, who have money or political power.
  • So far, it has mostly benefitted the rural elite or creamy layer of the beneficiary castes.

Unfortunately, instead creating a better future, paternalistic policies of government have generated many complications. General public do understand that it is not because of caste system, but because of circumstances that has pushed millions away from the mainstream. Suffering of lower strata of society is mainly because of centuries old enslavement, suppression or ostracism. But  Deteriorated condition of most of such individuals, not of the whole caste has stopped growth of their personality and made them dependent on powerful lobby of society for their livelihood.

Humanitarian obligation to empower the submerged sections of society – No doubt, it is a humanitarian obligation of any civilized society to uplift and empower its submerged sections. Generally law follows social changes. But after the Independence,  Political leadership of India, in their hurry and enthusiasm to end age-old imbalances and cumulative disparities of power, wealth and culture, have tried to foster social changes through law.  Their aim was to create a casteless secular society. But, in the process knowingly or unknowingly, they have encouraged Caste-ism and communalism.

Recently, many reformers and religious/spiritual institutions are focusing their attention on community development. Many self-help groups (NGOs) have emerged all-over India. They bypass the government mechanisms and go straight communities. Wherever and whenever harnessed properly, efforts of such self-help groups have yielded rich dividends. For example the Parsi and Christian communities, institutions run by Veerashaivya Mutts of Karnataka, Ramakrishan Mission, Radhaswami Satsang, Satya Sai Baba, Sadhu Vasvani and many others are practising community based approach for the development of humanity. They provide far better municipal, civic, educational, and medical services than the government.

Conclusion

  • Both Hinduism and its caste system have not become weak or obsolete in social arena even today. Many  ideological attacks have been launched on Hinduism and its caste system from time to time.  But so far, both have not only survived   the vicissitudes of time and saved itself from erosion from within or assault from outside, but have become stronger every time.  Still, both these institutions give present Indian society a distinguished identity and a solid social structure with a system of thought, a way of life, and sense of direction.,
  • The roots of Hinduism and  its ‘Varna/jati-Pratha’, now known as caste system, are so deep that it is virtually impossible to think of India without Hinduism and its caste system. Caste-system is inseparably related to Hinduism by traditional customs, values and systems. Hinduism and caste system is going strong in India.
  • Caste system associated with Hinduism has acted as a major force, through which Hindus retained their cultural identity, while living under an alien political order, whether it was Mughal, Portuguese or British.  It was the major force for the failure of Islam, Christianity and other religions to make headway in India even after mass conversion.
  • It is not the malice of castes-Hindus, but the circumstances, that have pushed individuals from lower strata of society away from the mainstream. Suffering from centuries old enslavement, suppression and ostracism deteriorated severely the condition of lower strata of society, stopped growth of their personality and made them dependent on others for their livelihood.
  • In-spite of all the accelerated changes in the society due to modernization, technological advancement, Westernization and Globalization of Indian society and the tough times it faced so far, Hinduism and its caste system have  survived and saved itself.  Whenever, it was on decline, it not only re-emerged, but re-emerged with greater force.
  • It is a humanitarian obligation of any civilized society to uplift and empower the submerged sections of society. Generally law follows social changes. But in India, after the Independence, in order to the political leadership in their hurry and enthusiasm, tried to bring social changes through law. 

At present, the whole atmosphere is in a state of turmoil. Economy of the nation is in a critical condition. Technology has advanced to such an extent, that phones are wireless; cooking is fire-less; cars are key-less; food is fat-less; tyres are tubeless; and tools are cordless. But along with it, main organs of the Government  Political institutions are clueless and almost paralyzed because of corruption; leaders are shameless; masses are helpless; youth are jobless; relations are meaningless; feelings are heartless; education is valueless; attitude is careless, and children are manner-less. Modernity has ignited the desire for position, name and possession. . People are gradually losing faith in traditional values and systems. Even institution like family has lost its sheen. It is quite a tough job for India to cope with the new challenges. Traditional living has been like an anchor, keeping the boat in safe harbour. Now that the anchor has gone and the boat is at the mercy of wild waves on a stormy ocean.

People like C. Rajagopalachari think that 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.

At present, when people are getting away from their roots, Hinduism can make their feet firmly grounded on earth and  instil right values in them. Its values and traditions give to the people, a purpose to live for and ideals to be achieved. Only after raising oneself from ignorance, a person could be able to understand the greatness of the Indian value system. Like a jeweller, one could spot out gems from among worthless pebbles.  A knowledgeable person could pick up knowledge and leave the undesired obsolete elements developed in it with passage of time. 

Modern India is desperate to pick up the lost threads of its true culture, and beliefs. It has to create an atmosphere, where different identities can once again live together in harmony and people can say proudly “we belong to a nation known as India, Hindustan, and Bharat”.


[i]            Basham, Wonder That Was India, p51-52.

          **********

March 24, 2021 - Posted by | General, Social and political values and systems

1 Comment »

  1. Social structure of Indian society – caste system should be seen jointly with samanti pratha and emergence of cheap farm labourers, plight of small farmers under tremendous pressure of debt.

    Comment by Akshat Agrawal | March 24, 2021 | Reply


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