Indic concepts of “Caste ” and “Varna” in “Dalit” context

By : Sameer Jalnapurkar

There are two Indic concepts – Jati and Varna, that are different from each other and need some exposition.

Examples of Jatis are – Cobbler, Boatman, Fisherman, Potter, Washerman etc. There are essentially hereditary occupational guilds.

Jati is essentially a social custom, it has nothing to do with Dharma.

The Jati structure helped to preserve Indic society despite oppressive foreign occupation and colonization.

In modern times, the Jatis structure continues to play a significant economic role. See for example the article “Caste as social capital” by S. Gurumurthy – .

Many Indians, even from so-called “lower” Jatis, have prospered through their Jati-based support networks.

Varna, on the other hand, is a Dharmic concept.

It represents the state of evolution of an individual, in the journey towards Self-realization.

It is certainly not  (meant by Dharma Scriptures to be)  hereditary (but in fact has been made so by vested interests=editor).

Varna is not the same as occupation, although it is true that individuals at different stages of evolution tend to have different aptitudes and needs.

Varna is also not something that is imposed by force, it manifests through the desires and life-goals that an individual chooses for himself.

Neither of these two concepts is properly captured by using the term “caste”.

In fact, that term is most often used to denigrate the Indic civilization. We in fact need to stop using the term “caste”.

Ancient Indic society was far more enlightened and benign than any other contemporary civilization.

Outsiders like Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, have recorded their surprise at the freedom enjoyed by Indians of every social class.


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