Caste System in India - History & Annihilation

Oct 2015
903
India
#82
Dear All,

Historical narrative has to be built on foundation of Primary Sources. Primary sources on Caste System, which I could get, are listed below. If we stick to them then we can create an accurate narrative of the past.

Kindly add more primary sources that you have come across. May be we can discuss these one by one which will give clarity on historical evolution.

Regards

Rajeev

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Mention in Rig Veda Samhita (c. 1000 BCE)

[ii] Description by Megastheses in his Indika (c. 300 BCE)

[iii] Description in Manava Dharmashastra / Manu Smriti (say 200 CE, Most scholars date it between 200 BCE and 200 CE)

[iv] Mention(s) in Valmiki Ramayan (c. 300 CE)

[v] Mention(s) in Bhagvat Geeta (c. 300 CE)

[vi] Description by Chinese Pilgrim Fa-hien (c. 400 CE)

[vii] Description or Mention by Hieun Tsang (c. 640 CE) - He stayed for 17 years in India and traveled across on foot. For some reason does not mention caste system. Is silence also a statement?

[viii] Description by Al-beruni (c. 1030 CE)

[ix] Description by Niccolao Manucci (c. 1700 CE)

[x] Descriptions by BR Ambedkar (c. 1935 CE)

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kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,532
USA
#83
I am adding one more to the list to annihilate the Hindu caste system: Item#9
1. Prohibit all caste related names
2. Open up priesthood to all castes
3. Prohibit Brahmins from becoming priests for 100 years
4. Prohibit Upper castes from keeping gotra (ancestry) records
5. Outlaw endogamous arranged marriages
6. Prohibit Low castes from performing unclean jobs
7. Prohibit the twice born sacred thread ritual
8. Cleanse all the Hindu holy books of caste references
9. Make selection criteria for entertainment and media talent based (and not on skin color or how Aryan one looks)
 
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tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,332
India
#84
9. Make selection criteria for entertainment and media talent based (and not on skin color or how Aryan one looks)
Legally this one is already in place. Any bias on the basis of caste is regarded as an atrocity. It's why it is so ridiculously easy to harass people even when caste isn't an issue. We've had cases where individuals were charged under the atrocities act even when it was clear said individual didn't and couldn't possibly know about the person's caste prior to a conflict. As a perusal of media will indicate accusations are easy to make and infact routinely made.

How you would ever enforce this however is the issue. No one is ever going to leave a hard copy record of discrimination. So how would you possibly enforce this? You can't outlaw bias for preference in entertainment industry. You could attempt to outlaw bias on the basis of skin colour but again how would you possibly enforce it? No producer or director will actually put it down in writing that actor or model A was chosen over By because of caste or skin colour.
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,117
New Delhi, India
#85
5. Outlaw endogamous arranged marriages
9. Make selection criteria for entertainment and media talent based (and not on skin color or how Aryan one looks)
Now, #5 is not possible. It is like telling a that a Muslim girl cannot marry a Hindu boy she loves. Who would a man or woman marry is his/her personal choice. That will be extreme dictatorship like the Chinese rule of having only one child.

You write as if there are no dark skinned (and hugely popular) actors in India. What about Rajnikant, Sunil Shetty and Ajay Devgan; and Waheeda Rehman, Rekha and Kajol. Complexion in films or TV is a lighting trick and hair are a matter of the wig.

 
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Aug 2017
152
USA
#86
I've always found it rather odd that when it comes to the caste system, people tend to paint incredibly simplistic narratives of how and why it came to exist and continues to exist in India. It is an incredibly complicated amalgamation of societal developments over the course of millennia on the subcontinent and trivializing it as either purely social or purely religious/doctrinal in origin, or claiming it is an intrinsic and necessary part of "Hinduism" or Indian culture is rather myopic and dishonest.

A major misconception I've seen circulated in this thread is the attribution of the caste system to the Manusmriti. To those inculcated in cultures where Abrahamic religions are the norm, it is natural to think of a holy text as subsequently establishing the societal and religious standards in a given society. This model is extremely simplistic when analyzing the caste system in relation to the Manusmriti since the latter, far from being a foundational text, was merely a reflection of trends (religious or otherwise) that had developed organically and were already incumbent in Indian society. Even then, it was a brahmanical conception of the "ideal" society and there is little evidence (to my knowledge) to suggest it was actually used to formulate large scale laws and societal norms on any meaningful level. Even if the average Hindu throughout Indian history was aware of this text, I would be skeptical of its import as it would have merely affirmed the existing feudal (i.e. varna/jati) structures which constituted daily vocational life in the subcontinent.

Related to the aforementioned conception of the caste system are issues surrounding the nature of "Hinduism". Yet again, it is tempting to treat Hinduism as spawning from a central corpus of text(s) (usually deemed to be the Vedas) and god(s) but this model suffers from similar problems as above. For one, it neglects the powerful processes of Aryanization and Sanskritization that took place throughout Indian history and the plurality of regional cultural, societal, and religious norms it spawned. Sometimes these differences are enough to constitute new religions if such differences are calibrated relative to more ossified religions like Christianity and Islam, since not even gods or scriptures are necessarily common among different denominations. More importantly, it ignores the variety of supplementary works, movements, and philosophical sects within "Hinduism" that developed precisely in response to brahamanical heirarchy and ritualism and have played pivotal roles in Indian culture. For instance, there are the schools of Indian philosophy (Vedanta, logic, atomism, yoga, samkhya, etc), the sramana movements in ancient India (which was partly responsible for spawning Buddhism and Jainism), the Bhakti movement, and so on. These more philosophical strains of thought are just as important (if not more important in my opinion) to understanding the nature of Hinduism as the more readily apparent ritualistic and devotional aspects of "popular" Hindusim.

I mention both these factors because they're vital to understanding the future role of the caste system and Hinduism in India. The caste system of today is often a proxy for very real socio-economic differences among different classes and groups in Indian society (as evinced by the fact that even converts out of Hinduism can still face caste-based discrimination). As India continues on its path of rapid economic development and becomes less rural and more urban/suburban, I am optimistic that traditional social barriers will break down, people of different castes will mingle, and Indian society will ultimately morph for the better. I do not think this bodes any ill for Hinduism in lieu of what I mentioned above regarding the sheer diversity of Hindu thought and practice, and the historical precedent that exists self-criticism within the religion. Even on a societal level, there are few educated Hindus who think of the caste system as a positive aspect of Indian society. On the contrary, you will find that many are ashamed of it and are all too willing to jettison it and whatever associations to Hinduism it has.
 
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Oct 2015
903
India
#87
I've always found it rather odd that when it comes to the caste system, people tend to paint incredibly simplistic narratives of how and why it came to exist and continues to exist in India. It is an incredibly complicated amalgamation of societal developments over the course of millennia on the subcontinent and trivializing it as either purely social or purely religious/doctrinal in origin, or claiming it is an intrinsic and necessary part of "Hinduism" or Indian culture is rather myopic and dishonest.

A major misconception I've seen circulated in this thread is the attribution of the caste system to the Manusmriti. To those inculcated in cultures where Abrahamic religions are the norm, it is natural to think of a holy text as subsequently establishing the societal and religious standards in a given society. This model is extremely simplistic when analyzing the caste system in relation to the Manusmriti since the latter, far from being a foundational text, was merely a reflection of trends (religious or otherwise) that had developed organically and were already incumbent in Indian society. Even then, it was a brahmanical conception of the "ideal" society and there is little evidence (to my knowledge) to suggest it was actually used to formulate large scale laws and societal norms on any meaningful level. Even if the average Hindu throughout Indian history was aware of this text, I would be skeptical of its import as it would have merely affirmed the existing feudal (i.e. varna/jati) structures which constituted daily vocational life in the subcontinent.

Related to the aforementioned conception of the caste system are issues surrounding the nature of "Hinduism". Yet again, it is tempting to treat Hinduism as spawning from a central corpus of text(s) (usually deemed to be the Vedas) and god(s) but this model suffers from similar problems as above. For one, it neglects the powerful processes of Aryanization and Sanskritization that took place throughout Indian history and the plurality of regional cultural, societal, and religious norms it spawned. Sometimes these differences are enough to constitute new religions if such differences are calibrated relative to more ossified religions like Christianity and Islam, since not even gods or scriptures are necessarily common among different denominations. More importantly, it ignores the variety of supplementary works, movements, and philosophical sects within "Hinduism" that developed precisely in response to brahamanical heirarchy and ritualism and have played pivotal roles in Indian culture. For instance, there are the schools of Indian philosophy (Vedanta, logic, atomism, yoga, samkhya, etc), the sramana movements in ancient India (which was partly responsible for spawning Buddhism and Jainism), the Bhakti movement, and so on. These more philosophical strains of thought are just as important (if not more important in my opinion) to understanding the nature of Hinduism as the more readily apparent ritualistic and devotional aspects of "popular" Hindusim.

I mention both these factors because they're vital to understanding the future role of the caste system and Hinduism in Indian society. The caste system of today is often a proxy for very real socio-economic differences among different classes and groups in Indian society (as evinced by the fact that even converts out of Hinduism can still face caste-based discrimination). As India continues on its path of rapid economic development and becomes less rural and more urban/suburban, I am optimistic that traditional social barriers will break down, people of different castes will mingle, and Indian society will ultimately morph for the better. I do not think this bodes any ill for Hinduism in lieu of what I mentioned above regarding the sheer diversity of Hindu thought and practice, and the historical precedent that exists for self-criticism. Even on a societal level, there are few educated Hindus who think of the caste system as a positive aspect of Indian society. On the contrary, you will find that many are ashamed of it and are all too willing to jettison it and whatever associations to Hinduism it has.
Dear EternalWay,

Welcome to the thread and your post is equally welcome.

Few people can comprehend the complexity & articulate it with brevity as well as you have done.

Please do find time to comment more and on individual posts as well.

Regards

Rajeev
 

Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,117
New Delhi, India
#88
Kudos, EternalWay, for an excellent post. People forget that Jati system is also an instrument of freedom of a particular people to go about in life in their own way. The Jats follow their own way and the Rajputs follow their own way while the brahmins go about in their own way. True federalism for good or for worse. There ways were never interfered with. Like in US (since you are in US), different states having different rules.
 
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Aug 2017
152
USA
#89
Kudos, EternalWay, for an excellent post. People forget that Jati system is also an instrument of freedom of a particular people to go about in life in their own way. The Jats follow their own way and the Rajputs follow their own way while the brahmins go about in their own way. True federalism for good or for worse. There ways were never interfered with. Like in US (since you are in US), different states having different rules.
This is a good point as well.

It is often ignored that in early Indian history, caste and jati associations were looser within the fabric of Vedic religion as all that was required was an acknowledgement of brahmanical orthodoxy (rather than a meaningful profession of faith). Such laxity was also due to the fact that as organized states were emerging, society became much more complex than the idealized 4-tier varna system could accommodate and many occupations and activities were assumed that had to be incorporated into some more complex relative hierarchy.

Even later on, when societal stratification deepened, jati associations were often a condition of assimilation and participation in the larger political, social, and economic life in India as they permitted mutual support within respective communities.

Ultimately, there is no denying the whole arrangement enabled systemic oppression. But others participating in this thread should bear in mind that the development of the entire structure was not due to specific doctrinal justifications (like from the Manusmriti) from malicious upper caste groups but rather largely a consequence of the natural socio-economic development of India within the broader framework of the clan/kinship structures (which later morphed into different varnas) present even from the time of early Indo-Aryan groups.
 
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Oct 2015
903
India
#90
I've always found it rather odd that when it comes to the caste system, people tend to paint incredibly simplistic narratives ....
I have paraphrased EternalWay's post below. Please correct if something is amiss.

Regards

Rajeev
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Caste system has developed in India over few thousand years and to say that its source is only religious or only social is an over-simplification.

Caste system developed organically in Indian society. It was the feudal structure (varna/jati) prevailing in the daily occupational life in India. Manu Smriti did not create the Caste system but mostly reflected the pre-existing reality.

Hindu religion is not strictly comparable with Christianity & Islam. It does not have a central corpus of sacred texts like Bible or Quran. It did not arise from a single God or a set of Gods like Christianity & Islam - God & his son Jesus Christ, Allah and his messenger.

As the powerful process of "Aryanization and/or Sanskritization" progressed spreading Brahmanical religion, different denominations arose in India response to Brahmanical hierarchy and ritualism. Example denominations are Buddhism, Jainism, and still other like Bhakti Movement [Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc]. These denominations are like different "religions" when compared with Christianity and Islam - and the denominations have played important role in Indian society.

In parallel with above mentioned denominations of Hinduism, several schools of Indian philosophy also arose. There are the six Brahmanical (Sankhya, Yoga, etc), some Shramanic (Jainism, Buddhism), [and still others like Chakvak]. These schools of philosophy are as important to understanding Hinduism as the more visible aspects of Hinduism - ritualistic, devotional, and folk.

Coming to the Caste system in recent times, it mirrors real socio-economic differences within Indian society. That is the reason caste system persists even after conversion of Hindu to other religions.

With economic development and urbanization, Caste system will dissolve. Even though today there are a few Hindus who support it while many who are ashamed of it - still Caste system will breakdown.

This dissolving of Caste system does not threaten Hindu religion because there is huge diversity in Hindu thought and practice and historically Hinduism has had a capacity for "self-criticism."

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