The Caste system is one of the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. With its roots in India, the system divides the population into rigid hierarchical categories based on one’s work (karma) and duty (dharma) (Crackonwall n.p). This system splits Hindus into four main groups, namely; Shudras, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas, and Brahmins.
Diagram 1: The Hindu Caste hierarchy
Source: (Sonawani, 2015)
As illustrated in Diagram 1, the Bhramins are at the top of the hierarchy, and they include influential individuals such as priests and teachers. The Shudras are at the bottom of the hierarchy (Sonawani). They are ranked lowly and are considered by the government as a disadvantaged population. Outside the caste hierarchy are the untouchables or the Dalits, comprising of street sweepers, latrine cleaners, and other members of the lowest social class. Approximately 25% of the 1.3 billion Indian population are classified under the Dalits (Elwes and Brown, 2020). For centuries, the Dalits have been economically and socially marginalized. Moreover, the lack of a social safety net in India further sends them deeper into poverty (Elwes and Alexander n.p). Occupants of the top castes enjoy greater social privileges and status, unlike members of lower castes.
The caste system is intrinsic to Hinduism as it originated from Brahma, the supreme of all Hindu gods. The video entitled “The Indian Caste System” demonstrates that the caste system dictates almost all aspects of Hindu’s social and religious life for many centuries (Crackonwall n.p). In this complex hierarchy, each group occupies a specific spot. For many years, rural communities have been organized based on castes. Notably, the lower and upper castes lived in segregated colonies. For instance, the Brahmins would not share water wells with the Shudras, while marriage between different castes was prohibited.
The Indian government banned caste discrimination in employment, education, and access to other opportunities. Though discrimination based on castes is illegal, the practice persists especially in areas such as marriage and employment.
Crackonwall. The Indian Caste System – An Introduction. YouTube. 18 Oct 2011 Print. Accessed on 16th June 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh_xvKLhZHg
Sonawani, Sanjay. Origin of the Indian Caste System. 2015. Print. Accessed on 16th June 2020 from https://hubpages.com/politics/Origin-of-the-Caste-System-of-India
Elwes, Jay and Brown, Alexander. How does India’s caste system work? Prospect Magazine. 2014. Print. Accessed on 16th June 2020 from https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/how-does-indias-caste-system-work