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.