The caste system has taken roots firmly and deeply in the Hindu society. How did the caste system originate and what is its nature?

The caste system has taken roots firmly and deeply in the Hindu society. How did the caste system originate and what is its nature?

The early Vedic society seems to have been divided into two broad groups: the ‘Dvijas’ (‘twice-born’) who were capable of thinking and acting independently, and the Non-Dvijas, also called Sudras, who could not do so. In course of time, as the society expanded, divisions became inevitable. This division took place in accordance with the Guna and Svabhava (qualities and nature) of people, which again were the determining factors with regard to the vocations chosen by them.

In the earliest period of evolution of the Varna system, the Brahmanas and others had the full freedom to choose or change their vocations. However, due to the practical difficulties encountered in a fast growing society, it was not possible to determine one’s calling based on one’s Guna and Svabhava. Hence the much easier method of fixing it on a hereditary basis was adopted. At this point of its evolution Varna and Jati (caste) practically got fused. Again, the number of castes went on multiplying gradually as a result of admixture of the various groups as also the development and specialization of more trades and skills. Thus castes came to be determined by birth and hereditary occupations.

The very fact that the caste system has survived for millennia shows that there must be something worthwhile and useful in it. Any person born in a particular caste feels a sense of belonging to that group of society which gives him psychological security. It also helps him to learn the hereditary trade natural to his caste and practise it without unhealthy competition. Endogamous marriage system unites the members of the caste into a well-knit group who can come to one another’s rescue in times of need.

Since a child of a particular caste grows in an atmosphere conducive to the development of the profession of that caste, it has greater chances of developing the necessary skills. However, the hitch came when the flexible framework was fossilized to a degree of rigidity that prevented change and growth in the case of deserving individuals who could shine better in other professions. Not withstanding this, there is nothing in the system itself that we should feel ashamed of.

If this is so, why should there be animosities among the various caste groups? The origin lies in the vanity and selfishness of persons who could not assimilate learning, power and wealth and who used these to exploit the less fortunate ones. It is they who brought into vogue the hierarchies of castes because of which respect was demanded rather than commanded. The fault therefore lies with these individuals and not with the system. It is not fair to condemn a whole system because of a few aberrations even as we do not condemn the entire police force or the administrative machinery of a government when a few members of the system go wrong.

The various castes can be compared to the various departments of an office. They are different groups discharging different duties and responsibilities for a common purpose, viz. the well-being of the society as a whole. Hence internecine quarrels among them will ultimately ruin the entire society including the warring groups themselves.

There was a time when people belonging to a particular caste were obliged to go in for the vocation of the caste. A feeling that certain vocations were ‘better’ or ‘superior’ which entered the psyche of the society naturally spilled into the caste system also creating difficulties among the castes. But there is no reason for its continuance now since members of all castes have the necessary freedom and opportunity to choose a calling of their choice by opting for the required training. Hence, in the modern context of education and training facilities being thrown open to all, caste conflicts are not only meaningless, but utterly imprudent leading to self-destruction.