The caste system is one of the unique features in Indian Society. Its root can be traced back to thousands of years.The word caste derives from the Spanish and Portuguese “casta”, means “race, lineage, or breed”. Portuguese employed casta in the modern sense when they applied it to hereditary Indian social groups called as ‘jati’ in India. ‘Jati’ originates from the root word ‘Jana’ which implies taking birth. Thus, caste is concerned with birth.
There are many theories like traditional, racial, political, occupational, evolutionary etc which try to explain the caste system in India.
1. Traditional Theory
According to this theory, the caste system is of divine origin. It says caste system is an extension of the varna system, where the 4 varnas originated from the body of Brahma.
At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and came from Brahma’s head. Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, came from his arms. Vaishyas, or the traders, were created from his thighs. At the bottom were the Shudras, who came from Brahma’s feet. The mouth signifies its use for preaching, learning etc, the arms – protections, thighs – to cultivate or business, feet – helps the whole body, so the duty of the Shudras is to serve all the others. The sub castes emerged later due to inter marriages between the 4 varnas.
The proponents of this theory cite Purusha Sukta of Rigveda, Manusmriti etc to support their stand.
2. Racial Theory
The Sanskrit word for caste is varna which means colour. The caste stratification of the Indian society had its origin in the chaturvarna system – Brahmins, Kashtriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.
Rig Vedic literature stresses very significantly the differences between the Arya and non-Aryans (Dasa), not only in their complexion but also in their speech, religious practices, and physical features.
The Varna system prevalent during the Vedic period was mainly based on division of labour and occupation. The three classes, Brahma, Kshatra and Vis are frequently mentioned in the Rig Veda. Brahma and Kshatra represented the poet-priest and the warrior-chief. Vis comprised all the common people. The name of the fourth class, the ‘Sudra’, occurs only once in the Rig Veda. The Sudra class represented domestic servants.
3. Political Theory
According to this theory, caste system is a clever device invented by the Brahmins in order to place themselves on the highest ladder of social hierarchy.
4. Occupational Theory
Caste hierarchy is according to occupation. Those professions which were regarded as better and respectable made the persons who performed them superior to those who were engaged in dirty professions.
The entire idea behind explaining the caste system was to give you all a glimpse into how the caste system has become an old rhetoric devised to ensure vote banks.
Studies of Indian politics have emphasised the importance of ethnicity to political behaviour. Yet, India is a country where individuals simultaneously hold multiple ethnic identities of language, religion, politicised umbrella caste categories (such as upper castes, backward castes, and scheduled castes), as well as highly localised sub-caste/kinship groups of biradari or jati. If individuals hold multiple identities, which of these identities matters to voters at election time and why?
The removal of the boundaries between “civil society” and “political society” meant that caste now played a huge role in the political arena and also influenced other government-run institutions such as police and the judicial system. Though caste seemed to dictate one’s access to such institutions, the location of that caste also played a pivotal role.
The caste system has traditionally had significant influence over people’s access to power. The privileged upper caste groups benefit more by gaining substantially more economic and political power, while the lower caste groups have limited access to those powers. The caste system distributes to different castes different economic strengths. The upper caste groups can then manipulate the economic and political system to transfer economic strength into political power.
Caste, ascribed at birth, is also influenced by where one is born. Political lines in India have often been drawn along caste lines; however, this is only part of the story. Caste is often specific to a particular area. These caste pockets create a locally dominant castes. Because of the political structure in India, local dominance can translate into regional dominance. This concentration of caste population has meant that smaller, less influential castes have the opportunity stake their claims in the political power arena. However, if a non-dominant caste is not concentrated in a particular area, then they are not likely to get any representation without teaming up with another caste to increase their influence. This means, “localised concentration facilitates a space for contesting the domination of State-level dominant caste”.
However we must not fail to realise that the care mafia is uprooting the very essence of democracy and leading to a creamy layer situation for its few beneficiaries.
It continues to be a win win situation for those in power. Changes in political leadership throughout the history of India have led to changes in the structure of the caste system. So next time cast your vote for the deserving candidate instead of participating in this caste nexus.