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Indian Caste System Essay

2586 words - 11 pages

Indian Caste System

Caste is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduidm, which is also a division in society based on wealth, inherited rank, or occupation, and allows little mobility out of the position to which a person is born. The word caste was first used by 16th century Portuguese traders; it is taken from the Portuguese word casta. Varna, the word for caste, means color and referring to the old racial differences between conquerors and conquered. The basis of the caste divisions was social and economic rather than racial.
The origin of the caste system can be traced back to the Later Vedic Phase in Indian history (1000-600B.C.) ...view middle of the document...

One of the main characteristics of the caste system is that one is born into a particular caste and cannot adopt a caste. Thus, now a person born into a chamar (shoemaker) caste remains a chamar though he might be a shopkeeper or clerk. Also, some jobs are still done, even in urban households, by people belonging to a certain caste. Another important characteristic of the caste system is caste endogamy. Endogamy is when people strictly marry into the same caste. The Indian caste had hereditary membership, and marriage was only permitted within the same caste. There were restrictions on the choice of occupation and on personal contact with members of other castes. Finally, the caste system was broken up greatly during the period of British rule in India. Many things have changed over the years. Long before the arrival of the British, new religions and reform movements within India attacked the caste system. Buddhism was the first to do so in the 6th century B.C.. It is not known how much of an effect Buddhism had on the caste system as a whole. The caste system was next challenged by the Muslims. As a result of Muslim rule, the system divided into more groups. Next came the British. The first effect that the British had on the caste system was to strengthen it, for the British gave the Brahmans back special privileges the Muslim rulers had taken away. On the other hand, the British law courts did not agree that the lower-caste persons should receive greater punishment than the upper-caste persons for committing the same offense. In the cities that came about during British rule, it became possible for untouchables or low-caste persons to "pass" as members of higher castes from some distant area. It became difficult for the members of different castes not to come in contact at factories and in buses.iv Other situations occurred in which castes did not matter. The educated in the cities mingled socially with people who were of other castes but of their own financial position and class. When the British first came to India, their main contacts were with the Brahmans. They, with a few other upper castes, were the first to profit from British education and to enter government service under the East India Company.iv The "Scheduled castes" were at the bottom of the social ladder. When India was under British rule they were carried on a specific list, or "schedule", and got special government protection and scholarship aid. They have suffered from religious and civil disabilities. Some of their degrading jobs included sweeping the streets, and they could not do many things, go many places, and were all abused. The Sepoy Mutiny was an important event that took place under the British, and was an unsuccessful rebellion against British rule in India. The sepoys felt that the British did not respect their traditions of religion and caste, which gave them the desire to rebel in the first place, but also gave reason to change in India. There are three...

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