The Caste System
New Internationalist magazine,
The caste system ensures that between
250 and 300 million people worldwide continue to suffer from segregation,
exclusion, modern day slavery and other extreme forms of discrimination,
exploitation and violence.
The Indian caste system is probably the
oldest social hierarchy in the world. It is difficult to place
a firm date on its origin as the system evolved over time into
a rigid social hierarchy, and was further reinforced under British
rule. You can be a president or a pauper, but you cannot escape
the caste you are born into.
Caste originated as a Hindu system of
social stratification (though it often persists in other religions
as well) and has been exported throughout the Indian Diaspora.
A person remains in the same caste from birth to death and caste
is handed down from generation to generation, Such divisions are
justified by making use of the religious doctrine of karma, a
belief that status in life is determined by one's deeds in previous
In the caste system in India there are
four principal varnas or generic caste categories. Within each
of these categories there are many subgroupings.
Brahmins - priests and teachers
Kshatriyas - rulers and soldiers
Vaishyas - merchants and traders
Sudras - labourers and artisans
A fifth category, now often called Dalits,
is outside the system; at the bottom of the hierarchy. It consists
of those popularly known as 'Untouchables', and officially known
as 'scheduled castes'. Mahatma Gandhi called them harijans: 'children
Caste systems in other parts of the world
also have a rigid social structure and consist of a group of people
who are considered 'tower' than others because by birth they traditionally
perform tasks that are considered dirty, demeaning or polluting.
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