Caste System In India: Is It Religiously Approved Or Arbitrary & False?

The orthodox caste system in hindu society is slowly fading away due to urbanization, modern education, drastic changes in vocation patterns and international competition . There are doubts in hindus’ mind how it got originated and what is the solution to get rid of it. This is a major issue even today in various states of India. We are trying to summarize the concept after studying all relevant Hindu scriptures and documents.

1.Every Cloud has a Silverlining

Rajaram Mohan Roy (18th century), Swami Dayananda and Swami Vivekanand (19th century) were strong condemners of caste-system. Swami Vivekanand converted few thousands dalits into Brahmins by initiating them into Gayatri. It is said an individual who is initiated into a Mantra from an eligible Guru, will be considered as Brahmin. Many, including untouchables, followed these saints, took Mantra and got converted into Brahmins. All most all saints have put their maximum energy (by initiating through Mantra) to cure this social disorder. Still this is an unsolved problem. So why to blame the expansion of abrahamic religions, where they have only one God?

2. History

Our Vedas (the Shruti) and Bhagawad Gita , the only Hindu authorized scriptures , do not mention anything about caste system. They just mention (for example Rig Veda Purusa Sukta – brahmanosya mukhamasit, bahu rajanyah kritaha, uru tadasya yadvaishyaha, padhyagam shudro ajayata etc) four keywords (called Varna, color, class) Brahmana, Kshyatriya, Vaisya and Shudra with their definition based on Guna-Karma. This is also called Svabhavaja Karma or action based on mental inclination. Later texts like Mahabharat, Gita(Sloka 4.13 – Chatur Varnyam Maya Sristam Guna Karma Vibhagasah) also defines these keywords based on Guna-Karma.

These Guna-Karma divisions as per Sankhya darshan is:

  1. Activities done by a person with dominant Satwa guna called as Brahmana.
  2. With dominant Rajo guna mixed with Satwa guna called as Kshyatriya.
  3. With dominant Rajo guna mixed with Tamo guna called as Vaisya.
  4. With dominant Tamo guna is called Shudra.

Vedas and Gita ‘do not’ divide the society based on Guna-Karma. People chose this as a formula to divide the society.

So this caste system is neither the God created, nor a vision of Veda. It is a human creation. Interestingly Upanishads and Mahabharata say in the beginning all humans were with dominant Satva guna ( pure mind). Later their mind got corrupted with the karma they do. This is in contradiction with what we study about primitive humans from western study: living in jungle, taking raw meats, barbaric life etc. Our civilization says the first set of humans born with pure mind, called as Rishis. And we are all the Rishi-putra/putri (children of saints).

3. How caste system got adopted into Hindu society?

Given the definitions given in Veda and Gita, how it got implemented in Hindu society? That is the trick of specification vs implementation inconsistency.

  1. At some level of our ancestors the caste was a ‘self-declared’ or a ‘voluntary’ designation based on what kind of profession they chose.
  2. Later it was a political (King’s) decision to allocate caste to individuals to give it a permanent shape. In Mahabharat, King Yudhisthira is saying “it was difficult for him to determine the caste of an individual based on mental inclination”. Here also it was not hereditary. There was choice for profession and change in caste.
  3. Wherever politics enter, the things get spoiled. Same happened here also. And caste became a matter of (a) privilege, later (b) hereditary and tied to some (c) old customs. Individuals were imposed a caste forcefully to get the low profile jobs done. This became a hereditary system.
  4. History says there are many royal communities once they became powerful, they declared themselves as Brahmin or Kshatriya caste on a whole community and ruled over rests.
  5. Hindu society was so conservative and social customs were very orthodox that anybody violated any custom was thrown out of village, property confiscated and made untouchables. Many communities were made religiously impure by birth. History says that even many Brahmins, who wanted to be liberals or violated any custom were forced to become untouchables as a punishment.

4.Entrenchment of Caste System

On one side the rulers made rules to make a concrete infrastructure to divide people. On the other hand the priest-class did not leave any stone unturned. Various tags were discovered to identify people using (a) Surname (b) Gotra (c) Sutra (d) Caste/sub-caste (e) external symbols like sacred thread, Tilakam, Tulsi necklace (f) false rituals with wrong notion like Pinda-dana (g) fear of eternal hell on mixture of community, even if Veda did not mention of any hell etc.External symbols were compulsory for each community to prove their caste, acts as an identity card, otherwise people could not isolate from other castes. False rumors were spread through folk songs, on sharing of “Roti and Beti(common dining and marriage)” will incur sin.

5. Consequences of wrong adoption of Caste System into Hindu Society

  1. Due to this wrong implementation of Vedic definition, the Varna (class, color) systems converted into caste (Jati) hereditary systems.
  2. India lost its patriotic feeling. Rather it was just a combination of few separated communities without any coherence. All the feeling and enjoyment and marriage were limited to same narrow community.
  3. The only way the human breed can mix is through marriage. This cross-community marriage got blocked in fear of losing property and privileges. Even in some communities only elder son was allowed to marry. Youngsters were advised to practice polyandry e.g. Kerala Namboodiri Brahmins. Later again each community gets divided and sub-divided into many smaller castes to protect the selfishness and narrowness among themselves. So the concept of sanatan dharma or nationhood went for a toss .
  4. Women were deprived of Vedic rights and temple worships. Though there are twenty five women rishis (Gargi, Maitreyi, Vak etc) mentioned as editors of Veda, we not sure why women were not allowed to chant Vedic Mantra. Even today many women are scared to chant Veda.
  5. Foreign rulers did not try to solve this social disorder. Rather they took advantage of this Indian weakness. Because their colonization policy was based on “divide and rule”. And we succumbed to our own faulty system.

6. What are the solutions as given by Swami Vivekananda?

Swami Vivekananda has highly criticized caste system and its related discrimination. He wrote in a letter, ALMORA, 30th May, 1897 – ” Conviction is daily gaining on my mind that the idea of caste system is the greatest dividing factor and the root of Maya; all castes on the principle of birth are bondage. [CW-6]”

  1. Remove false notion: Though our castes are apparently linked with our religion, but actually they are not so. In religion there is no caste. Caste is social custom.
  2. Revert back to equal hood and caste less hindu society: We are all Risi-putras and putris. We need to reach a modern civilization stage where everybody will be treated equally without any special privilege to any community. Then only caste-less hindu society will be possible.

7. Conclusion:

So your caste was voluntarily declared by your own forefathers. Now it is your turn to undo the mistake.