What is Caste System of India

A lot of my Chinese friends ask me about Caste system in India. Quite often I see them discussing on my Chat forum “Friends of Navneet” too, but no one outside India can fully understand the complications of Indian Caste system. Though the whole world is a Class based society. The differentiation between human beings exists for one reason or the other all over the world, has been existing ever since man started living in society of others, which he had too because he is a gregarious animal, but a lot of bashing and criticism is heaped on Indian caste system, especially by the western media though for centuries the Caucasian race indulged in persecution of human beings on the basis of race and colour of skin.

很多中国朋友叫我谈印度的种姓制度。我也经常在聊天群“Friends of Navneet”里看到他们在讨论,但是印度以外没有人能完全理解印度的种姓制度。



Indian caste system is not so easy to understand. It is perhaps as old as Indian culture is. Hindus form the largest community of the Indian polity. Majority of Muslims and Christians in India are those who converted to these respective religions. India had been facing continuous invasions from the Western border ever since times immemorial. Alaxander came to India in 326 B.C. in his quest for conquering the whole world. Later India was invaded by Mongol, Mughals, Turks and many of them chose to stay back in India. Islamists came with the motive to spread Islam and this they did by converting by subjugation, rape, spreading terror, kidnapping. Later, the British, French, Dutch came with their own ulterior motives hidden under the garb of missionaries who wanted to bring enlightenment in the form of the preaching of the son of God to the pagans they thought those who didn’t believe in Jesus were. They looted and plundered India, did every diabolic thing a man can do against another man and considered themselves to be more civilized.

Hinduism teaches non-violence, benevolence, mercy, co-existence. It teaches that every creature is a creation of God there exists soul in every living being and it is a sin to kill other creatures. Majorities of Hindus are strictly vegetarian and deeply religious people. Hinduism teaches non-violence but others don’t. Well, we should leave the discussion on Hinduism for some other day. Let’s today focus on one of its features- Casteism.

What is Caste? The dictionary defines it as follows

1. Any of the hereditary, endogamous social classes or subclasses of traditional Hindu society, stratified according to Hindu ritual purity, especially the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra castes.

2. A social class separated from others by distinctions of hereditary rank, profession, or wealth.


a. A social system or the principle of grading society based on castes.

b. The social position or status conferred by a system based on castes: lose caste by doing work beneath one's station.

This is a serious flaw in Hinduism. It differentiates between people on the basis of caste. What is Caste and how did it come to being, some of you may like to ask? So, let me first try to explain this.

Long ago, when the Indian society came in to existence, people chose certain professions for livelihood. On top were the people who studied religious scriptures and taught them. The knowledge was imparted by rote and all rituals and practices, by regularly performing them. Teaching, learning, thus became the noblest of the professions.


Next came the warriors, who fought for protection of the clans. Honing combat skills was their vocation. They were the kings, the valiant chieftains, archers, swordsmen, soldiers, generals and other courageous people who considered it a pride and their duty to lay down their lives for the society. They were the guardians of the society like Samurai warriors of Japan but unlike Japan where Samurai had the top position in the society, in India the top honour was given to the teachers.


Lord Krishna giving a discourse of The Geeta to Arjuna who was a warrior Prince

The third in the hierarchy were the tradesmen and farming community who tilled land and traders who did business for living.

On the lowest rung of this ladder were the people who did small jobs for living. Among the lowest of these jobs were removing human soil, sweeping, cleaning, burying the dead, working with leather or hide of dead animals etc.

Even though the caste was hereditary but one has live up to it to be true it. Assiduity and diligence, sincerity and dedication was demanded of him for the duties, the service he was expected to provide to the society.

Following text was taken from internet:-

["Caste was originally an arrangement for the distribution of functions of society, just as much as class in Europe, but the principle on which the distribution was based in India was peculiar to the country

"A Brahmin was a Brahmin not by mere birth, but because he discharged the duty of preserving the spiritual and intellectual elevation of the race, and he had to cultivate the spiritual temperament and acquire the spiritual training which alone could qualify him for the task.

The Kshatriya was a Kshatriya not merely because he was the son of warriors and princes, but because he discharged the duty of protecting the country and preserving the high courage and manhood of the nation, and he had to cultivate the princely temperament and acquire the strong and lofty Samurai training which alone fitted him for his duties.

So it was with the Vaishya whose function was to amass wealth for the race and the Shudra who discharged the humbler duties of service without which the other castes could not perform their share of labour for the common good.]

But over the years, the sincerity of service was lost and it merely became a medal, a tag one got at birth. In olden times it was customary for the children to pick the profession of their father but that too didn’t remain exclusive.

Indian society became endogamous and the castes in the higher social strata started maintaining distance from those at the lower rung but since the society cannot exist without the contribution of every element of society, these people though called “untouchables” worked for removing the filth of the homes of the upper caste people but lived on the fringes of the colony. There were strict code of conduct for them. In places it was imposed with severity of ruthless regime. They were not allowed to draw water from the wells from where the people of upper castes drew water.

They couldn’t cross the streets of the high caste, they couldn’t send their children to the school and so on. I will have to do a lot of study for bringing to you the abuse that was heaped upon them. I haven’t really seen it as I was brought up in a fairly tolerant society that showed compassion for them, but these people had been so marginalized for the centuries that they seemed to have reconciled to their fate to which perhaps they attributed their birth in a low caste. I say ‘birth’ here because in India one gets the caste by birth and it is believed that it’s the Karma (deeds) of the previous births that decides in which caste one is born.

Many teachers deplored it, spoke and wrote against it but the society had a strong grip on it like slavery had on the American Society. There were laws to protect the whites for the injustice against the blacks but the blacks had no rights. Even then there were people who treated their slaves well and even gave them freedom. However, there were no laws to protect the people of lower caste. By lower caste, I actually mean the lowest of castes “The Scheduled Castes” because basically they were marginalized, persecuted, who were shunned by other three, although between them, the upper three castes also maintained and still maintain distance as far as matrimonial alliances are concerned but one is not seen ‘untouchable’ by the other.

Religious philososphy behind the Castes:

Reincarnation is one of the basic beliefs in Hinduism. It is believed that after each life, a soul is reborn into a new material form. A particular soul's new form depends upon the Karma, the good and bad deeds done in the previous birth, that is to say the virtuousness of its previous behaviour. It is believed that a truly virtuous person from the Shudra caste could be rewarded with rebirth as a Brahmin in his or her next life depending on his/her Karma and one was born as Brahmin because of his good Karma.

Hinduism believes that one has to go through a cycle of 8400000 births as different creatures before being born as a human being and a human being one can do good deeds to attain ‘Moksha’ ( Salvation) to escape the cycle of rebirth and achieve oneness with God, which is the objective of every soul. Souls can move not only among different levels of human society, but also into other animals. Within a life cycle, people had little social mobility. They had to strive for virtue during their present lives in order to attain a higher station the next time around.

The British took note of their plight and since the 1850s these communities were loosely referred to as ‘Depressed Classes’. There were other set of people, the people who were the original inhabitants of a place like aborigines in Australia, Maoris in New Zealand and Pigmies in Africa. They have been living secluded from the mainstream society since centuries, as clans, following their own customs, speaking their own dialects and having their own traditions and rituals. They were known as Adivasis (which is a Hindi word for Original Inhabitants). They were acknowledged as Scheduled Tribes by the British and subsequently by the Indian government. The were called Scheduled Tribes ( ST)

The early 20th century saw a flurry of activity in the British Regime, assessing the feasibility of responsible self-government for India. A highly contested issue in the proposed reforms was the reservation of seats for representation of the Depressed Classes in provincial and central legislatures.

In 1935, British passed the Government of India Act 1935, designed to give Indian provinces greater self-rule and set up a national federal structure. The reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes was incorporated into the act, which came into force in 1937. The Act introduced the term "Scheduled Castes", defining the group as "such castes, races or tribes or parts of groups within castes, races or tribes, which appear to His Majesty in Council to correspond to the classes of persons formerly known as the 'Depressed Classes', as His Majesty in Council may prefer". This discretionary definition was clarified in The Government of India (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1936, which contained a list (or Schedule) of castes throughout the British-administered provinces.

After independence the Constituent Assembly continued the prevailing definition of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, giving (via articles 341 and 342) the president of India and governors of the states a mandate to compile a full listing of castes and tribes (with the power to edit it later, as required). The complete list of castes and tribes was made via two orders: The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 and The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, respectively.

According to Wikipedia- The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes comprise about 16.6 percent and 8.6 percent, respectively, of India's population (according to the 2011 census). The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 lists 1,108 castes across 29 states in its First Schedule and the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950 lists 744 tribes across 22 states in its First Schedule.

Religious population of SCs/STs

According to the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Act, 1990, Scheduled Castes can only belong to Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist religions. There is no religion bar in case of Scheduled Tribes. The Sachar Committee report of 2006 revealed that scheduled castes and tribes of India are not limited to the religion of Hinduism. The 61st round Survey of the NSSO found that 90% of the Buddhists, one-third of the Sikhs, and one-third of the Christians in India belonged to the notified scheduled castes or tribes of the Constitution.

People converted to other religion to escape the slur but it followed them like a shadow wherever they went. Whether they converted to Islam, embraced Buddhism or adopted Christianity they were persecuted by those who had converted to these religions of their own volition but belonged to higher castes when they were Hindus. They still maintained their distance from the converts from the lower caste who had done so to escape persecution. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was an eminent jurist, economist, political leader and writer. He compiled Indian constitution. He was a ‘Dalit’ (Low Caste). He had suffered abused as a child and wanted that his country, now freed of the foreign regime should do something to eradicate the menace of Casteism. Mr. M.K. Gandhi, the founder father of the nation was deeply touched by the woeful plight of the Dalit community and called it a crime against humanity. To set an example for his followers, he would even go and live in the colonies of the so called ‘Untochables’ He gave them the name of Harijans which means the people of the God.

So, the incipient government provided reservation for the SC and ST communities to give them a fair start for coming in the main stream. It became a criminal offence to call them by names by which their communities were called for centuries. It became a cognizable offence to differentiate against them. The reservations (called quota) was provided in the colleges and in the jobs for the people of SC & ST categories. They could thus get admission to Engineering and Medical colleges even if they had far lesser grades than those coming from the general category. They could even get degrees even if they had poor grades and since the government couldn’t force the private employers to employ them, the government reserved a percentage of jobs in all government departments for them.

Besides this there was reservation of constituencies for them for contesting elections. So undeserving and incompetent people not only got admissions to the prestigious colleges but they also got degrees, became Doctors, Engineer, Judges and Bureaucrats, they also became members of parliament and ministers in the government.

The reservation was intended to benefit the whole community but the benefits reached only to the few and they exploited it to the hilt. The constitution provided reservation for ten years but the incumbent governments have been bringing the amendments and it seems to everyone that the reservations will not only remain for ever but more and more communities will be brought in its fold. It is because the government saw it as a big bait for a large chunk of voting community. The people who had benefited didn’t want to forgo the benefit, so even when the parents had got plum jobs in the government, their children continued and till this day, continue to get the benefits on account of their caste, which can’t change because inter caste marriages in India are never going to happen.

The people are so particular that they don’t even make allowances for intermarriages between the sub-castes within the castes and match horoscopes and consider many other complicated astral agreements that even God would be confused. To expect such people to accept a child from a lower caste as a Son in law or a daughter in law is as improbable as the moon falling from the sky is. Unless the government drops, the ‘caste’ column from all registrations, all forms and certificates the castes of the people will be officially known and even if the government passes a law against disclosure of one’s caste, the ground reality will not change in a country where the children who dare to go defy are murdered in cold blood for bringing shame to the family honour.

No government has guts to do it, no government will be interested in doing. The Status quo will be maintained and so, incompetent and undeserving people will keep on becoming the higher bureaucrats while the deserving will remain side lined and one day the majority of nation’s think tank, the policy makers will comprise of undeserving, incompetent people who have attained the position on account of quota benefits and the ministerial positions will be held by the people who don’t have the intelligence to hold the office and they will write the future of the country. If you think that, that day hasn’t yet arrived then wait a little while more, it will.

If the government really has their welfare at heart and it wants to do it without compromising with national prestige of excellence to anything and everything Indian, then it should give them scholarships, should give them jobs for improving their economic status but there concessions in merit at any level, be they lowly government servants, top ranking bureaucrats or the ministers. There was a lot of dissent in other communities because there are poor people in every community. There are people of every caste, even Brahmins who are poor, but they or their children don’t get any benefits of any quotas or reservations.

As the other communities saw the SC and ST reaping benefits of quotas, they started crying foul, started using their voting power as muscle flexing for wresting favours from the government. So the government went in for other census and listed castes as OBCs (which stands for Other Backward Classes) these were the castes which had not been included in the first census done by the British and subsequently accepted by the Indian government after independence. So, the government revised, keeps revising the lists of castes for fresh inclusion in to it the new castes and tribes that can be included in the quota benefits.

When the Congress was in power before Modi’s government came in power, the Jat community in North India, which makes a sizeable percentage of Indian populace, kept protesting for nearly a year for inclusion in to the OBC category. The recent sudden eruption of riots in Gujarat by the Patels came as a surprise to everyone because Patels are among the richest communities in India. They are traditionally traders. Their ancestors have been, since centuries going abroad to start their trading business and today in America they are among the most affluent of communities. They are there all over Africa, Europe, Hong Kong, where they are running successful businesses, but if government’s criteria of categorising the communities on the basis of caste is considered as the only criteria for getting the quota and reservation benefits, then there call for protest is just but how right it is, even a fool can tell you. Obviously, if the government pursues the policies of appeasement for considering the voting power of the community, such incidents are bound to happen.

There are still hundreds of such communities which can cry hoarse and demand inclusion in to the list of SC, ST and OBCs, such that if this trend goes on, one day, the top castes, the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas alone will remain out of it and they will become minorities and need protection as ethnic minorities. Wait and see, this reservation stunt that the government started and has been continuing with since the last sixty eight years is going to be a petard around its own neck.

The reservation policy of the government has failed

I say it because because

There has been little change in the economic status of the marginalized society.

Only a little percentage of people benefitted and they are still continuing to enjoy the benefits.

There is a large scale resentment in the communities who too have suffered persecution in the past but are not included in the government’s list of SC & ST communities.

It hasn’t brought the castes any closer, on the contrary these partisan policies of the government have further divided the nation and bred hatred among the communities. The government can only pass laws and give the protection and reserve seats for them in the colleges and in the offices but it can’t ask the people to accept them as equals.

The government should use economic criteria as the basis of reservation and provide benefits on the basis of merit. It should provide financial support to the children belonging to the poor families.

Once a person has availed the benefit of quota, his children shouldn’t be entitled for it.

But does the Indian government have the nerve to take such strong decisions? No, it can’t and so I think that this quota related violence will continue to flare from time to time.

Some of the prominent Indians who are/were from SC or ST categories.

K. R. Narayanan: Tenth President of India
Babu Jagjivan Ram: Former Deputy Prime Minister of India

G. Venkat Swamy: Former Cabinet Minister, Textiles and Labour

K. G. Balakrishnan: Former Chief Justice of India, chairman of national human rights commission

Ramkrishnan Suryabhan Gavai: Former MP, Governor of Kerela and Bihar

Sushilkumar Shinde: Ex-Cabinet Minister for Home Affairs

Mayawati: Former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

Birsa Munda: Indian independence advocate and tribal leader

At Sulekha, where I post my blogs such discussions do erupt from time to time. From Controversy over the subject at Sulekha, here is what a colleague of mine once wrote

By Rajee Khushwaha

Caste based RESERVATION is a divisive tactics of Nehruvian Strategy to divide the majority community and create COMMITTED VOTE BANKS. This along with SECULARISM is only a decoy to fool the people. Even after 65 years, reservation and secularism, as practised in India, have NOT changed the plight of either the Dalits or the minority communities. Only, some POWER BROKERS or THEKEDARS ( Contractors) OF THESE COMMUNITIES have benefited.

How do you think Casteism would go, when you are doing things just the opposite to it? By maintaining distinct identity of a Dalit, you are abusing that person. Same is true of secularism----- you have separate laws for Hindus, Muslims and now even Sikhs----- how do you think this country will unite.
In fact even if Reservation was needed, it must be once in LIFE TIME, not throughout life---- once you got the job or admission, further mobility must be merit based but we have created these GHETTOS at every step.

Besides. How do you expect a 10 PERCENTER to be a good doctor or a good engineer. What was needed was to create excellent facilities for these castes to come up at par and NOT reservation. Let them compete.

I even think the rising corruption is due to reservation, because incompetent, inefficient and undeserving persons are filling slots in the Government. It is the corruption at the lower levels which is eating into the vitals of the nation---- this is affecting the common man------ even electoral system is corrupted because of reserved seats. Heights of spoon feeding at every step.

When you continue to SPOONFEED, YOU MAKE A PERSON INCOMPETENT and TOTALLY DEPENDENT ON YOU-----thus a NIKAMMA (idler) and NITHALLA (useless person) gets used to freebies. He makes no efforts like an " addict under the Jamun tree (A tall thick tropical tree that bears dark blue coloured fruit) ----if the Jamun falls in his mouth, he would eat but would not pick up if it is on the side". This is what RESERVATION has done to SCs---- ADDICTS UNDER THE JAMUN TREE----- automatic admission in professional colleges, automatic jobs, automatic promotion, preference everywhere. So, what do you expect from them?

Scrap the provisions of reservation and make uniform law for everyone in this country. ONE COUNTRY, ONE LAW SHOULD BE THE CRITERION.

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