definition of caste system in hinduism
Both are prosperous and politically dominant communities, but they support their demand for caste quotas by saying large numbers in their communities are poor and suffering.
In 1989, quotas were extended to include a grouping called the OBCs (Other Backward Classes) which fall between the traditional upper castes and the lowest.
The lowest of the four ancient social classes, or Varnas-, the Shudras were considered so low as to be prohibited from the study of the “Vedas,” the earliest texts of sacred Indian literature. Shudras are now con-sidered to be a “scheduled caste” by the Indian Government, meaning that they are historically disadvantaged. The government’s 2011 census showed that over 200m Indians belong to a scheduled caste.
The system appears to have had ancient roots. Sanskrit texts from the second millennium BC refer to a practice of dividing individuals into social groups called “varnas”—the term’s precise meaning is unclear, but is seems not only to suggest classification, but also colour. The Varnas, which are associated with early Hinduism, are the first recorded manifestation of India’s caste system. Four principal classes emerged, in descending order of prestige: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. Myth holds that these groups were created from the mouth, arms, thighs and feet of an ancient character called Purusha.
From the traditional Hindu point of view, this social system is the necessary complement of the principles of dharma, karma, and samsara. Corresponding to hells and heavenly regions in the hereafter, the castes are the mundane social frame within which karma is manifested and worked out.
The origin of the caste system is not known with certainty. Hindus maintain that the proliferation of the castes (jatis, literally “births”) was the result of intermarriage (which is prohibited in Hindu works on dharma), which led to the subdivision of the four classes, or varnas. Modern theorists, however, assume that castes arose from differences in family ritual practices, racial distinctions, and occupational differentiation and specialization. Scholars also doubt whether the simple varna system was ever more than a theoretical socioreligious ideal and have emphasized that the highly complex division of Hindu society into nearly 3,000 castes and subcastes was probably in place even in ancient times.
There has been tremendous resistance among non-Dalits to this protective discrimination for the Scheduled Castes, who constitute some 16 percent of the total population, and efforts have been made to provide similar advantages to the so-called Backward Classes, who constitute an estimated 52 percent of the population. In August 1990, Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap (V.P.) Singh announced his intention to enforce the recommendations of the Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission), issued in December 1980 and largely ignored for a decade. The report, which urged special advantages for obtaining civil service positions and admission to higher education for the Backward Classes, resulted in riots and self-immolations and contributed to the fall of the prime minister. The upper castes have been particularly adamant against these policies because unemployment is a major problem in India, and many feel that they are being unjustly excluded from posts for which they are better qualified than lower-caste applicants.*
The principals of the caste system were outlined in the Laws of Manu. The Laws of Manu were written around 250 B.C. These texts established Hindu law based on a large number of wise sayings a and prohibitions in everyday life. The Hymn of the Primeval Man tells how the four main castes were created before the heavens:
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Basically, the caste system is based on historic religious origins and is influenced by social and economic developments from colonial times. The word “caste” originates from the Portuguese casta meaning “race, lineage, breed”. Inequality determined by social class or birth still exists in India.