India's Handicap: The Caste System


Caste System in India is under scrutiny after the recent Hathras rape case where the victim was hospitalised but couldn't survive the trauma. Caste system pervades India's rural and urban landscape. Caste is your ascribed status in society and it decides how you are treated. From partaking a meal, to marriage to position in an office.

The Indian caste system is the oldest form of surviving social stratification today. Earlier, the caste system in India was considered a result of development during the collapse of the Mughal era and the rise of the British colonial regime but, today in the so-called modern society of India, the caste system stands as a pillar of division between mankind. The system has divided people into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma and dharma.


Manusmriti also known as "The Laws of Manu" or "The Institutions of Manu," is a most important and authoritative Hindu Law Book, which served as a foundational work on Hindu law in ancient India for at least 1500 years. The book "acknowledges and justifies the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society". The Indian caste system has four divisions of Hindus, it's main categories - Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Critics believe that the group originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation.

The top hierarchy is of Brahmins, they have arrived from lord brahma's head - these people are teachers & intellectuals. The next group is of Kshatriyas, they have arrived from lord brahma's arm - these people are generally warriors & rulers. The next group in the hierarchy is vaishyas, they have arrived from lord brahma's thighs - these people are generally traders. At the bottom of the heap were the Shudras, who came from Brahma's feet and did all the menial jobs. Apart from the Hindu caste system, there were the Dalits – also known as the untouchables.


For many decades, the Caste system has led the ways many Indians. Caste-based differences have also been practised in regions and religions of the Indian subcontinent - Nepalese Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. The caste system has been challenged by many reformist Hindu movements, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity,and also by present-day Indian Buddhism. New developments took place after India achieved independence, when the policy of caste-based reservation of jobs was formalised with lists of Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Since 1950, the country has enacted many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population.

Rural communities in India settled on the basis of their caste (Upper class and lower class). The lower caste people generally reside near water wells, Segregated colonies, etc whereas, the upper class lived in well sophisticated places. The Brahmins never shared food and water with the shudras. The concept of casticism back in the 90's was to a very great extent. People were not allowed to have inter-caste marriages. However, there were people who came forward to fight for their prestige. Dalit leaders like Dr. BR Ambedkar who authored the Indian constitution, and KR Narayanan who became the nation's first Dalit president came forward in the fight against discrimination.


Independent India follows a constitution that has always been against all sorts of discrimination (caste, creed, or color) but it hasn't fully embraced the principles of egalitarianism. In order to bring in egalitarianism, some authorities jointly announced the quota system. This system provides a reserved status for Scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in government jobs, schools, and institutions. Scheduled caste and scheduled tribes were the lowest caste in the year 1950. After this came the OBC's, also known as other backward classes, they came in the year 1989. The OBCs fall in the middle category.

In the 20th century, with the rise of secularism, education, and development people have become open to acceptance. They have realised that we all are one. Although, the influence of casteism has declined but it has certainly not ended! On one side, People of different castes live side-by-side and inter-caste marriages are becoming more common and on the other side, there is extreme violence on dalits. Recently, a man was brutally beaten and was made to drink urine forcefully. The atrocities against dalits need to end.

The choice is with the people on whether they want to be an ascribed status society as designed by Manu, a caste system proponent or a part of a progressive world order.

Riddhima Kedia

Riddhima Kedia

News Junkie and National Soccer Player

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