The Truth About Caste & Hinduism

The Truth About Caste & Hinduism March 16, 2015

The role of caste is a very big issue in Hinduism. It is the number one thing that non-Hindus use to criticize Hinduism. Lower caste Hindus are often converted away from Hinduism with promises of equality (whether or not that equality actually happens is questionable). The Hindu American Foundation has written a detailed essay on why it might be a mistake to align caste and Hinduism.

From my own perspective the way caste discrimination is practiced is a problem…but do I think that because it’s the truth or because I’m American and it goes against my American sensibilities?

Then again, America has its own form of a caste system. We don’t like to acknowledge it, but there are strong dividers of class and economic privilege that create a caste system. Racism plays a very strong role too in how Americans divide and judge people. We don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticism here.

What we do have is an ideal of wanting everyone to have equal opportunities in life. Americans want to believe that we are all born on the same footing and it’s our own hard work that makes us a success. Maybe India simply acknowledges that this isn’t true.

One of the questions I get asked a lot as someone not native to Hinduism is what caste I am in. The truth is that I do not have a caste and I have never needed one. But then again, I don’t live in India. I have had priests perform rituals for me and that has not required a caste as far as I know. I think that my white privilege comes into play here as I think I am granted a default of high caste when it is required.

I am not the person to speak on this subject. I have no personal experience with caste. For that reason I have asked a number of Hindus living with the caste system to give their opinions…

[most of the bold emphasis is added by me. I have not edited opinions or chosen only those I agreed with: these are the authentic responses that came back to me when I put out a request for opinions on this subject]

One
firstly caste system is nowhere connected to birth. there are four sources of power in the society(Brahmins, Vysyas, kshyatriyas, Shudras)
a) Knowledge
b) Wealth
c) Weapons and
d) Land
and in account of not to put these all sources or not more than one source in the hands of any one man individual or community the distribution has taken place.

therefore if you pursued knowledge or you a teacher of knowledge then you shouldn’t have any wealth or you shouldn’t have any weapons so on so forth.

Thus, when you see Brahmins who are meant to be the pursuers of knowledge atleast in the ancient times where respected by kings and are given immense respect.

And similarly the other three sources.

And none of these are connected with the birth of a person.

If a person is born to a parent who is of working class he still can become a brahmin if he pursues Knowledge.

People as it is kaliyuga have bended the facts and used them to their advantage and diluted the scripts or atleast marketed their philosophy of the idea behind this.

Two (quote from Swami Vivekananda)

I do not believe in caste, individually. It has very good things in it. For myself, Lord help me! I would not have any caste, if He helps me. You understand what I mean by caste, and you are all trying to make it very fast. It is a hereditary trade [for] the Hindu. The Hindu said in olden times that life must be made easier and smoother. And what makes everything alive? Competition. Hereditary trade kills. You are a carpenter? Very good, your son can be only a carpenter. What are you? A blacksmith? Blacksmithing becomes a caste; your children will become blacksmiths. We do not allow anybody else to come into that trade, so you will be quiet and remain there. You are a military man, a fighter? Make a caste. You are a priest? Make a caste. The priesthood is hereditary. And so on. Rigid, high power! That has a great side, and that side is [that] it really rejects competition. It is that which has made the nation live while other nations have died — that caste. But there is a great evil: it checks individuality. I will have to be a carpenter because I am born a carpenter; but I do not like it. That is in the books, and that was before Buddha was born. I am talking to you of India as it was before Buddha. And you are trying today what you call socialism! Good things will come; but in the long run you will be a [blight] upon the race. Freedom is the watchword. Be free! A free body, a free mind, and a free soul! That is what I have felt all my life; I would rather be doing evil freely than be doing good under bondage.

Three

There are two things : caste and varna (two ways of classifying people). Varna is the class system which is present in any society.  Caste (“jati” in Hindi) originated from the job you did. Since there were no universities in older times as today, children learnt the job/trade from what their parents did, and hence it was relatively (much more) difficult for persons to switch jobs. Though initially the caste/varna based identity seem to be fluid, the varna and
caste got ossified over time.
You will find in Mahabharata condemnation of any caste-based discrimination. E.g. When Yudishthira is asked the question “Who is a Brahman?” and Yudhisthira says, among other things, something on the lines of : Son of a Brahman is not necessarily a Brahman. (See : http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Caste_System6.htm)
Krishna, the God, is a cow-herd, which will be a “lower” caste. Similar the story of Karna. The writer of Ramayana is from “lower”-caste.
Caste in India : 
Any civilization declines over time, and so did India (as did China and Japan), and this decline manifested, among others, as ossification of caste system.
Now, caste-system by itself is something innocuous, you can see it as a division of labour. It is the caste-based discrimination which is bad. An important point : Caste system is a feature of Indian subcontinent, and not just the Hindus. Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians in India too end up practicing caste-based discrimination.
Few references :
You can search for others too. From my personal experience, I would say only Buddhism and Jainism don’t have any caste, though I am not 100% sure also and could be slightly wrong. But this casteless-ness in these two could be because of their very small numbers.
Yes, caste-based discrimination has seeped in India, and it is terrible. The only antidote to caste-system discrimination is capitalism or meritocracy. Sadly, India being socialist (and in the Soviet camp) during cold war meant that India kept limping with our leaders’ knee-jerk solutions to caste problems, which were hardly successful. In my opinion, only after India’s economic liberalization in ’91 have we seen significant progress on this front, with the rise of “Dalit” (word for repressed backward castes) capitalists.
Also, on the Indian political scene, it has been the Hindu nationalists who have been most vocal in ending caste-based discrimination (e.g. Veer Sarvakar). The current Prime Minister is from a backward caste and was a part of Hindu nationalist organisation RSS.
Though caste-based discrimination is still decently widespread, and it will take some more years of capitalism to wipe it out, the key thing is the ingredients are all there in the philosophy of Hinduism to wipe it out. We don’t have fixed rules, and we are not the people of the book. We do what is in our conscience, and it says that this should be wiped out. At some level, I personally think, it has to do with poverty too. Poverty elimination has to go hand-in-hand with instilling a respect for dignity of all kinds of labour. That is where I admire US. You people also have division of labour, but you Americans seem to have respect for people in all working classes (working class = caste, in a way).
The measure of a culture/nation/religion’s greatness in not that it never gets into trouble, but that it is capable of overcoming them and emerging stronger. That’s the beauty of Hinduism.
[Ambaa: I wish it were true that we Americans show respect for the importance of all types of labor. Ideally I think we want to but we don’t always succeed]
Four

As you know, as per Manu [Note from Ambaa: Not all Hindus see Manu as a legitimate source of Hindu teaching] , humans can be divided into 4 categories as per aptitudes. Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra. This is a time honored classification which has stood the test of time.

However, this has nothing to do with birth. For example, Sudras have natural aptitude for doing manual and menial work. Vysya are good at trading and Agriculture. Kshatriyas make good military persons / administrators / managers. Brahmins (like you and me) have natural aptitude for Spiritual Studies.

As per Astrology / Numerology, humans can be classified into 9 categories as per the traits of the 9 planets, which i have found to be very apt as i have been researching these 2 plus hand reading for 43 years now, from my
age 13. This 9 classifications also tell you the suitable professions for any human being as per birth dates of 1 to 9. 
There is no discrimination now, except may be in some villages. Actually in states like Tamil Nadu where you are supposed to visit, you can observe first hand the discrimination against Brahmins. The Government officials are all Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe / Other backward castes who together has 69 % reservation in Public Sector / Bank / Government jobs. Hence the exodus to Silicon Valley and other places. These 69 % are mostly suitable for menial jobs. If upper castes need 50 % pass mark, these SC/ST/OBC qualifies if they have just 30 %. So you can imagine the dilution of quality. What is worse, they have reservations in Promotions also, not only at initial appointment! But their appointment as Class 1 Officers means Government machinery moves at snail like pace. They abuse upper castes. Especially the ones converted to Christianity from lower castes are most abusive of Hindu upper castes. I suggest you post this article after your visit, so you will be authentic.
Similarly, i have seen this dilution in CII examinations in Africa. If one needs 60 % to pass if one is UK or India Citizen, a Kenyan passes if he has 30 %. This is also discrimination in reverse. So you will find plenty of ACII qualified people in Africa, but quite useless.
[Ambaa: I have seen the problems of holding brahmins to a higher educational standard than others. It’s unfair going both ways!]
Five (A Hindu from Canada)
Caste is nothing more than socio-economic stratification. In theValmiki Ramayana we see that Lord Rama, a kshatriya (warrior/governmental caste), ate remnants of food offered to Him by Shabari (a woman who was a devout Vaishnava, but was born into one of the lowest strata of marginalized society; chandala [ie: outcaste”]) after she had taken bites of it (a MAJOR INTER-CASTE “NO-NO”!), yet Lord Rama viewed Shabari as being His equal. In fact, Rama had bowed before the burial site of Shabari’s satguru, Matang Rishi, prior to visiting Shabari in her hut. Interesting to note that Matang Rishi was also born into the chandala (“outcaste”) strata of society (and yet Goddess Saraswati had taken an avatar, as the Goddess Matangi, and was born as Matang Rishi’s daughter), yet Matang Rishi, due to his intelligence, studiousness, insight, wisdom, and knowledge, was elevated to the status of a brahmin (priest/intellectual/scientific-minded caste).
In modern-day Hinduism, hun, it’s only Indians born in India that really hold strongly to the discriminatory nature of the caste system. Hindu’s that are NRI (non-resident Indian) more often than not DO NOT ASCRIBE themselves to the caste system and do not put into practice caste discrimination. However, interestingly enough, even though Sikhism (an offshoot of Hinduism) was initially adamant about mitigating caste discrimination, most Sikhs that I know of, both personally and otherwise, hold steadfastly to caste discrimination and caste, and sub-caste(!), identification. Getting back to the topic at hand pertaining solely to caste and Hinduism, there is a large number of modern Hindus that hold to the ideology that caste identity ties into the fabric of DNA structuring and that those of lesser intelligence are more often than not bred into the same caste; whereas those of greater intelligence and healthier pedigree are more likelier to be born into higher castes wherein the purity of that bloodline has been kept reserved to those of like ilk. This is one of the reasons why a lot of Hindus are wary of marrying into a family that is not of their specific social strata.
It is said, however, that a bloodline may be fully removed from it’s previous caste designation should the family strain persistently regenerate into higher castes for 3 consecutive generations. This may very well be indicative of social, familial, and environmental conditioning laying the groundwork for an entire changeover in attitudinal behaviour, coupled with overall “improvements” in lifestyle, recurring consistently. In conclusion, birds of a feather flock together.
Six
Caste restriction in India is not created by the Brahmins. Because brahmins never ruled India and never been in power. All these restriction was created by the rulers and those who were in power. Visit: http://udaypai.in/?p=12
Seven
no caste discrimination in vedas….nor geeta supports it. Read the reality here: http://agniveer.com/the-reality-of-caste-system-3/
Eight
we all know ambaa all people are not & can never be made same. tendencies differ 

To be a Brahmin it is very important to follow strictly the rules but ppl tend to disbelieve tend to go out of track coz lack of trust and situations make ppl crazy and loose their  faith (faith not only mean in God but in anything we do. It may be Job in office &or in any task faith trust is important ) for a Brahmin it is very important to know the facts and follow his/her religious duties a must!! for he/she To b A Hindu Brahmin 1should believe in Dharma Karma & dont steal,dont kill,dont lie,dont abuse others,this is way of inner purity so the outer purity only & only if one follow these properly one can become Brahmin (this is only one basic aspect of Brahmin path). Path is difficult thats why ppl in past not allowed in temples …
Nine
in my personal experience and research caste system never existed in hinduism= sanatan dharma but we had “varna ” system varna system divides people into brahmins,kshtryas,vysyas,shudras brahmins=priests,intellectuals
kshtyas=warriors,kings,noble men

vysyas=merchants,traders

shudras=other than the above category

“anyone can be in all 4 categories ”

i am some where between a brahmin and a shudra ( i am an actuary)

politics played a part in dividing people

power hungry people made a good religion bad

in india discrimination is rampant because of ignorance and lack of education

The Drona Problem
Ambaa: I asked some of my respondents what they make of the story of Drona in The Mahabharata. He was born a Brahmin but chose a Kshatriya (warrior) life and it seems that this decision brought karmic punishment.
One person explained that the “punishment” was perhaps more about his fixation on revenge (which is what led him to take up a warrior life) than a statement on changing castes…
– Is it that Drona was “punished”, or is it that Drona suffered because he deviated from his his life of Brahmin ?
  In as much as the point in the epic is that Drona suffered because he deviated to Kshatriya life (especially this particular one with the Kuru   clan with all its convoluted politics), the point seems to be reasonable. As in, if Drona had remained a pious Brahmin meditating upon life and   god, living a nice simple life, etc etc, he would probably have lived happily with his family and died peacefully.   But, due to his desire for revenge (from Drupada), he drifted to this warrior life, and got engulfed in all the political shenanigans of the Kuru
  clan. And when the terrible war took place, his family was also ruined.
  Some abridged version might casually say that Drona was “punished”, to me it looks more like he “suffered”. And he suffered because he   went from a better (spiritual) life he could have led to a more world-enjoying life he chose.
  To be extra cautious, so that people don’t naively interpret it to be advocating “don’t change your job, do what you are born to do”, Drona   goes from a higher level of existence (spiritual, meditating upon god etc etc) to a more worldly form of existence, where he has to undergo   greed, jealously, partisanship for loyalty etc etc. It’s not merely about profession. It is about more peaceful, meaningful, satisfactory life too.
– Another point is that Drona does not suffer merely for changing his, well, profession. There is a Karmic Web of things in which humans are  caught according to Hindu philosophy. Drona does do many other things not right (like the story of Eklavya, among others). And it is likely  that a good part of the suffering is because of that. To me it appears that it is hard to establish one-to-one correspondence of cause and  effect many times. To be a bit poetic : you weave your karmic web through your karma, and whether you suffer or enjoy depends on where
  you are caught in your karmic web at any time.

 Ten

One of my friends linked to this article about dismantling caste and how caste is connected to privilege. A very good read! Caste Privilege 101

And every caste is implicated in maintaining its hegemony. Yes, everycaste. It is only when we actively challenge caste together that we have a chance to end it in our lifetime. But for this to happen, we need to name, see, and reckon it for what it is first.”

http://agniveer.com/the-reality-of-caste-system-3/
http://agniveer.com/the-reality-of-caste-system-3/

Some of the other Hindu bloggers here at Patheos have also dived into this subject. Here are their thoughts:

Hinduism Is Not Caste –Seeking Shanti

Issues in Hinduism: Caste –Gathering Nectar

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Your understanding is excellent for a non-native Hindu. In Spirituality, there are only 2 classes—those who seek God (the wise) and those who do not seek God (the ignorant). Blessed be!

    • Ambaa

      “Those who seek God and those who don’t” I love that! A good point. Though I always am grateful that Hinduism knows many who don’t seek God now will someday.

  • Namaste Ambaa,

    I did not see anyone implicate the former British rulers as the cause of the way caste as a word with Portuguese origin came to be in present-day India.

    Edit: Nos. six and ten did mention the British involvement in this caste discussion, but only briefly, and that needs to be expanded and discussed thoroughly.

    • Ambaa

      As I said at the beginning of the post, I left most of my own thoughts completely out of it as I feel that this is an issue in which I am an ally and not someone to speak with authority. What people shared with me were their own thoughts as Indians living with the caste system. I did not in any way attempt to control what they said.

  • HARRY

    I still don’t think this is explained properly. Bits and pieces of information is everywhere and it’s not cataloged correctly. Good try 9 out of 10.

    • Ambaa

      These were the exact thoughts that people sent me when I asked for Indian Hindus to share what they thought of caste. I did not edit, add, or remove anything. I think this shows the great diversity of thinking that there is on this topic.

  • HARRY

    You also need another article on caste system related to external influence moguls and British.

    • Ambaa

      Would you like to write it for me? 😀

      • HARRY

        Can’t write, I barely can read. 😀

  • Malai

    “The only antidote to caste-system discrimination is capitalism…”

    Capitalism?!

    The only antidote to caste discrimination is sama-darshinah consciousness as described in Gita.

    • Ambaa

      There were more than a few things people said that I do not necessarily agree with, but it was important to me to present what people were really thinking about this subject and not edit with my own perspective in this case.

  • aam

    Whole population (in all castes) appears to be constantly improving, but neither Psychologically nor at the required pace. Retired and old people are continuing their old practices and youngsters are often disillusioned with ‘castes’ and they are finding lesser and lesser time and inclination to think or practice their religions deeply. However, vested interests in all religions are trying their best to hold on and encourage and continue the orthodox practices.

    Though Hinduism has definitely more advanced scientific findings than all others, sadly the next generations failed to take it forward due to known and unknown reasons. Even its effect in everyday life, which was there earlier seems to be shockingly fading. Besides, there may not be any point in bragging about being better than others, when we are no where near the expected or demarcated finishing line (jeevan mukti or the state of non-duality) that is merely constantly flashed or dangled. Unfortunately, the track itself is getting diverted resulting in the ‘means itself becoming the end’.

    Can non-duality be achieved by merely worshiping it or its discoverer or by merely carrying it in our back packs? If equal focus is not given towards scientific upbringing of the newly arriving children in all communities, no wonder future generations may not even like to carry it in their back packs, being unable to understand its great significance. World’s single most important discovery should be scientifically advanced further for saving humanity and also towards its fulfillment. gmybird.wordpress.com

  • responding to Drona punished: Not for deviating from Brahmin to Kshatriya /
    Punished for taking the side of wrong. Not Just drona, Karna the most ideal one on the war field, was killed because he was on the side of Adharma. Mahabharata should be seen as war between two sides one righteousness other devious…Drona was horrible with Ekalavya, rejected Karna, responsible for death of Abhimanyu in an immoral way….it is not just about taking Kshatriya from brahmin life…

  • i think it is apt to post here so I am posting here this article on Caste which i highly recommend to go through to understand the social dynamics..

    http://yalifeslikethat.blogspot.in/2011/11/why-there-is-casteism-in-hinduism.html

    my profile pic is morphing of swami vivekananda n Micheal phelps with the intention of quoting that you are the creator of your strength… thus destiny. adieus