Caste – Historical Origin

   This unique dimension of social injustice is the product of a peculiar historical past of India where the four Varnas or castes (Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vaisya and Sudra) have been the backbone of her social organization since time immemorial. There, in a structured society regulated by law, the people were compartmentalized into rigid and isolated classes, whose lives were dedicated to their respective specialized and different missions of life. There, at the lowest rung was Sudra, who was socially a Dalit (crushed) and an oppressed. The rationale of putting him on the lowest rung was that he was not able – because of his spirit’s lack to master or even control his lower animal tendencies. It was reasoned that because of his daily lowly activities or karmas, his propensity to fall down to the lower animal instincts and not to rise up and go ahead on the enlightened path, he deserved the lowest place on the social ladder. He was not able, it was argued, to steer his daily conduct onto the path (as laid down by the law of sages) neither of Brahmin, which entailed the mastery over one’s senses, desires and thoughts, nor of a Kshtriya, which needed the heart’s courage of being fearless in war and to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of his subjects, nor even of a Vaisya, which necessitated to be honest in one’s trading activities.

  However, the moment the caste became heritable by one’s birth without any nexus to his activities or karma, the rationale for this fourfold social classification lost its moral force and relevance. Thenceforth, this classification became illogical, unjust and retrograde. Thenceforth, this classification became a tool of social oppression in the hands of so-called higher castes to serve their selfish interests.

  But the history does not move by logic and reason. The caste classification, though devoid of any reason, struck deep roots in the society and from that point of time – a point in remote antiquity – the social injustice in Hindu India commenced.

  This injustice to the people who found themselves placed simply because of their birth on the lowest rung of the social ladder was not inflicted to their body only but to their soul also, which is much more profound in its harmful impact on one’s life. Many Sudras became sages and saints but still they did not become Brahmins. And, conversely, many Brahmins became debauch by their karmas but still they were not pushed down on the social ladder to the rung of Sudras. This India has been regulated not by any spiritual considerations for thousands of years but by sheer hypocrisy and is still being regulated so. It is the spiritual India that has been wounded the most by this hypocrisy.

  This is what the recorded history of India has been. There are some honorable exceptions to this general rule of the Indian history. But it is not the exceptions to the rule that make the history of a nation.

  With the march of time, the already decadent caste classification became more and more injurious to the society. Time degrades everything. Pure and crystal clear things become rotten and harmful with the passage of time. The entry of an outside deserving element to the ranks of the three classes on the higher rung was completely closed with a sense of arrogance. This morbidity was the most at the top rung, that is, the Brahmin class. It was not possible for anybody – except the individual born to Brahmin parents – to get him included in the top caste. Next down on the ladder – Kshtriya – were less rigid. They valued valor and the more meritorious in their field were included by them in their ranks and fold. In this way, Huns and Kushans, who conquered several tribal holds in ancient India, were admitted to thirty-six sub-castes of Kshtriya. There are many Gotras of Kshtriyas of today that are reminiscent of their Hun or Kushan origin. The next on the social rung – Vaisyas – were still more liberal in this respect and many trading communities were admitted by them in their fold.

  The case for the last on the ladder, that is, Sudras was different in this respect, i.e. the entry of the outsiders into their ranks. There were many entry points for the inclusion of people in this caste. Firstly, initially there were all those who were not able to rise through their karmas to rise up and move on to the upper rungs of the caste ladder and by the very nature of human weakness there must had been a considerably large number of them. Also, there were those who had fallen in accordance with the prevailing law from their higher ranks by virtue of their matrimonial alliance in lower caste and were relegated to this lowest caste. Then, there were those who had fallen in wars and were not killed. It was advantageous to the upper rungs to include them in this serving class. Many historians hold that Dravidas and even Mlachchas or (Greek) Yavanas found their entry this way in this class.

  Sudras of yore, which are for the most part the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of today, were regarded by upper classes, and particularly by the top most class, of the society worse than animals. They were untouchables, which animals were not. The mere physical touch of an untouchable Sudra was considered enough by the higher caste people to make them impure in their body. While slaves, where slavery existed, were treated unkindly, they were never the outcaste untouchables.  This way, a Sudra was assaulted on his soul, which was worse than the assault on his body. He was considered to be a sin incarnate. There was no cure possible for his pathetic condition, which was associated with his birth and therefore inherited social status. Acquiring wealth – even the acquisition of kingship – was not sufficient to elevate his social status in the legally organized society.

  It was a psychological punishment that was inflicted on the soul of a Sudra. He was made to believe that he was indeed a sin incarnate on Earth for which there was no atonement. This was one face of the social injustice that Sudra faced. The other one was that a Brahmin, however lowly and impure he may be in his actions or Karmas, was always a Divine light to be obeyed and prayed for one’s salvation. One way of atonement of one’s sins was to offer him alms. This alms-giving to a Brahmin without any regard to his conduct was declared a work of merit on the part of the giver. This bitter historical reality has been inherited by free India.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Abolition of ‘Untouchability’ in India | Indian People's Congress
  2. Trackback: Electing Parliament: The On-line Way (2) | Indian People's Congress

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