I was born into a Hindu Brahmin family and lived outside of India. For most of my life, I was shielded from all conversations about caste.
“I don’t even know what my caste is.”
“It only exists in rural areas.”
Even the few conversations I had about caste were almost always about reservations. But was it really a thing of the past? Were we capable of existing outside our caste identity?
The caste system is the social stratification based on one’s varna or caste. There are four categories: Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. A fifth category called ‘avarna’ also exists, now known as Scheduled Castes (previously known as ‘untouchables’).
With this 3-part series, I hope to address individuals belonging to the dominant castes (DC) on three key aspects: 1) the role of religion, 2) the relevance of caste in modern India. 3) The pertinent question that most DCs passionately debate about — Are reservations justified?
Where did the caste system originate?
Many believe that the caste system was introduced by the British. But if we look a little deeper, there are mentions of a Varna (Caste) System in Hindu scriptures. But is it as rigid as seen today?
The Role of Religion
There are four Vedas: the Rig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda and the Atharva-Veda. The Sama-Veda doesn’t seem to provide any mentions of a Varna system, but the Yajur-Veda and Atharva-Veda do, though different from the definition in Rig-Veda. Another Hindu scripture, Manusmriti, and Rig-Veda share similar explanations of the Varna system (see Table 1).
People usually present these arguments as counter-points.
- They argue that the texts aren’t discriminatory with the following verses, saying that the castes are movable within the system (see Table 2). But again, it clearly implies that ‘Sudras move up’ or ‘Brahmins are demoted’, showing that there already exists a hierarchy.
- Only Rig-Veda and Manusmriti have…