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The Caste System: Clearing up the Misconceptions Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ajay K, India Jun 10, 2005
Culture , Human Rights   Opinions
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India and Hinduism in particular have come under a lot of flak on account of the Caste System. A noble system, which was actually a symbol of the Utopia that was ancient India, has been misused and abused over the last few centuries. The Caste System as it was in 1947, when India attained independence, still had the concept of untouchability, and “untouchables” were then born into an impoverished life, destined to stay poor and backward till they died. Interestingly enough, a man of the highest intellect arose from being an “untouchable” and wrote the Indian Constitution, which is regarded as one of the most egalitarian and fair constitutions in the world.

Official practice of the Caste System was banned by the new Republic of India in 1950 and over the last 55 years, Caste differences have virtually disappeared in India’s cities. Unfortunately, in many of India’s villages, Caste divisions exist and there are occasional rounds of violence between members of high and low castes. More education to the masses has helped reduce this friction, but higher caste persons, who enjoy their status in the “social ladder,” are adamantly resisting change. Similarly being a low caste person in India has distinguished advantages. Preferential admissions to universities, government job reservations and other “privileges” come with being a low-caste member in India.

In modern India, both high caste Brahmins and low caste Dalits are guilty of misrepresenting and abusing the Caste System. This misuse of scriptures has been to the delight of the anti-India elements both in India and overseas. With the advent of the internet, many web-sites have been proliferating for the purpose of demeaning Hinduism and the Caste System, using quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita, the scared text of the Hindus.

The first verse that is so commonly misused is Bhagavad-Gita 1:41 which says: “By the prevalence of impiety, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt; and women being corrupted, O descendent of the Vrishni-clan, then arises ‘intermingling of castes.’”

This verse is not a racist statement calling for segregation as has been interpreted by many an India-baiter. Indian culture has always valued the integrity of the family as an institution in life. The verse states that when the true moral integrity of families is destroyed, the morality in the whole society will go down and there will be an ad-mixture of castes. Caste here is not in the perverted term that is misused by India’s politicians and “caste-activists.” Noted Hindu Teacher, Swami Chinmayananda said, “what we witness around us, in the name of caste, is the ugly decadence into which the Hindu way-of-living has fallen.”

Caste in those days was conceived of as an intelligent division of the available manpower in the community on the basis of intellectual and mental capacities of the individual. A person wasn’t born into a caste but rather assigned one on the way he lived his life. It must be understood that in ancient India, all children spent their entire childhood in residential schools known as “Gurukuls” where they learned all about life. It was from here that a young adult chose his caste with the belief that all kinds of work and activity are equally important.

Thus, a person with a high intellect and a passion for research and studies became a Brahmin. Those who had leadership qualities and political ambition became a Kshatriya. People who wanted to be involved in agriculture and trade became Vaishyas. The Shudras, who were later termed “untouchables,” were actually just people who chose service and labor as their activity. All four castes were equally important in Indian society.

The verse’s usage of the phrase ‘admixture of castes’ has nothing to with protecting the purity of any race; but rather, emphasizes that inter-mingling of incompatible occupations can be destructive to a society. For instance, if a lawyer was in an operation theatre to operate on a patient, the result would be dangerous. The verse’s essence lies in the preservation of families and values, not to create a sense of confusion.

The other commonly misused verse is Bhagavad-Gita 4:13 which reads: “The four-fold Varna been created of GUNA and KARMA; though I am the author thereof know Me as non-doer and immutable”

This verse has been even more misused by social criminals to justify the perverted form of the Caste System. “Varna” or caste refers to different shades of color but not in the context of the color of a person’s skin. The text attributes some definite colors to the ‘gunas’ which mean mental temperaments. Attribution of color to a form of behavior is seen in the English language, where the color red is often used to denote anger. The reference to the white, red and black colors is about man’s thoughts. Swami Chinmayananda said, “From individual to individual, even when thoughts are superficially the same, there are clear distinctions recognizable from their temperaments. On the basis of these temperamental distinctions, the entire mankind has been, for the purpose of spiritual study, classified into the four castes.” Different professions and activities needed different types of temperaments. The system of equality of all kind of work emphasized by the Caste System created a Utopian society in ancient India. The principle was that all castes work in cooperation and partnership for the good of society.

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Ajay K


Sunil Swaminathan Iyer | Jun 23rd, 2005
The article is well researched and puts things in proper perspective. The Geeta has been under attack from many elements and it is nice to see your analysis which nullifies the baseless lies and propoganda that one can see on the internet. Well Done Ajay! Regards, Sunil

Great, but could add more info
Kiranmayee | Jun 23rd, 2005
Ajay, the article is really good and gives out some of the misinterpreted quotations. And their history. But, I believe that more could be added. Like reference to articles on Web which are contributing to the misquote

AK | Jun 23rd, 2005
Kiran I just chose the 2 most abused Gita verses. I don't have copies of the Vedas or other scriptures. As soon as I get access to them, I will do some research. Thanks for reading.

Vivek Prabhu | Jun 23rd, 2005
Finally... we have an article with a balanced perception! I'd be grateful if you could put up a list of your references... :D

AK | Jun 23rd, 2005
I just refered to the Chinmaya Mission's Bhagavad Geeta as I feel it is the best interpretation. You can get it at the Guruvayurappan temple in Mayur Vihar.

Gita, Hinduism, and the Caste System
clarita zarate | Jun 28th, 2005
Ajay, I could not find the message you wanted me to include here. Barry and I just read the article again. Barry is well versed in world issues and he says that what you wrote is very informative. I would love to see references also. I am glad that you are throwing light on this subject. I have much to learn. I feel that I have gathered my greatest knowlege from Buddhist philosophy and the Gita. In my eyes people are equal. However, it is difficult to undo -with a constitution- what has gone on for a thousand years or more [I am not sure how long it's gone on}. Caste was used to separate people into different social levels, not to help the less fortunate. The goal should be to elevate the consciousness through education and compassion. It has to help both sides or it becomes useless. It could have become a way of elevating their consciousness through unattachment to material possesions which nurtures higher ideals and cultivates harmony. Love can only exist if one loves his brother as himself. Peace and love is created by a global humanity. Without it there is no freedom. Both work to meet in the middle and both are rewarded equally. Marriage between cultures is good, I beleive, to intergrate people - promoting peace between all races. Marriage within cultures helps to preserve ancient history, roots, teachings, irreplaceable knowlege. The virtues of the spirit are the building blocks of true happiness. I looked up the word caste in my synonym finder. caste, n. class, rank, order, degree; position, standing, place, station, condition, status; shpere, affiliation, group, family, claln, lineage, descent, ancestry. It is interesting to note that castaway has the root word caste. castaway: n. 1. discard, castoff, Inf. throw out, hand me down... 2. unperson, pariah, Ishmael, expatriate, political refugee,... 3. wanderer, nomad, panhandler, , down and outer..... 4. adrift, cast adrift, shipwrecked, abandoned, forsaken, stuck..... 5. unwanted, preowned, trashed, unwanted..... Also there is the word castigate castigate, v. 1. punish, discipline, chastise, chasten, spank, slap, .... 2. criticize, scold, blame, chide, reproach, censure, dress down, humble, penalize...... there is such a long list of words that I omitted a lot of them. If you want a list with all of the ones in the book just ask me. I am looking forward to more articles of this nature. Thank you Clarita

AK | Jun 29th, 2005
Clarita and Vivek I used the Bhagavad Gita published by the Chinmaya Mission as a reference. That's all. The Bhagavad Gita has several chapters and verses. I quoted 2 of those. The version of the Gita I used has excellent explanations. There is a concise version written by Ekanath Eashwaran, published by Penguin Publsihers. I recommend that version as well.

Good but needs to be followed
Anil Kumar | Aug 1st, 2005
First of all thx for describing the caste system in a proper manner,it should be activated in our society in the same manner. The basic problem regarding the caste system is our mental status,specually for those person who belongs to the upper caste category as per our hindu religion follows,the high cast person dont want to give chance to lift the lower cast & poor people.They teach their kids about the racisim,caste and other stupid things during grown-up time,after few years when the kids become teenager ,they follow the same tradtion as told by their parents & other elders in the family. I had various discussion with my friends directly and indirectly then i came to know that they are deeply affected by this virus (i would like to say the caste system as a virus for Hindu religion) and reverting back them from this state is quite difficult. So we should work together to eliminate this caste system from our mind then society.Once we would in position to achieve this,hindu religion can be considered one of the best religion across the world.

AK | Sep 10th, 2005
Anil You get the point that it's the people that have made a mockery of our scriptures and way of life. It will be a tough fight to win, but we Indians can win if we are united.

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