This article is about socio-political stratification in Indian society. For religious stratification in Hinduism, see Varna (Hinduism).
The caste system in India is the paradigmatic ethnographic example of caste. It has origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. It is today the basis of educational and job reservations in India. It consists of two different concepts, varna and jati, which may be regarded as different levels of analysis of this system.
The caste system as it exists today is thought to be the result of developments during the collapse of the Mughal era and the British colonial regime in India. The collapse of the Mughal era saw the rise of powerful men who associated themselves with kings, priests and ascetics, affirming the regal and martial form of the caste ideal, and it also reshaped many apparently casteless social groups into differentiated caste communities. The British Raj furthered this development, making rigid caste organisation a central mechanism of administration. Between 1860 and 1920, the British segregated Indians by caste, granting administrative jobs and senior appointments only to the upper castes. Social unrest during the 1920s led to a change in this policy. From then on, the colonial administration began a policy of positive discrimination by reserving a certain percentage of government jobs for the lower castes.
Caste-based differences have also been practised in other regions and religions in the Indian subcontinent like Nepalese Buddhism,Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. It 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. These caste classifications for college admission quotas, job reservations and other affirmative action initiatives, according to the Supreme Court of India, are based on heredity and are not changeable.[a] Discrimination against lower castes is illegal in India under Article 15 of its constitution, and India tracks violence against Dalits nationwide.
Definitions and concepts
Caste, varna and jati
Main article: Varna (Hinduism)
Varna literally means type, order, colour or class. and was a framework for grouping people into classes, first used in Vedic Indian society. It is referred to frequently in the ancient Indian texts. The four classes were the Brahmins (priestly people), the Kshatriyas (also called Rajanyas, who were rulers, administrators and warriors), the Vaishyas (merchants and tradesmen), and Shudras (artisans, farmers and labouring classes). The varna categorisation implicitly had a fifth element, being those people deemed to be entirely outside its scope, such as tribal people and the untouchables.
Main article: Jāti
Jati, meaning birth, is mentioned much less often in ancient texts, where it is clearly distinguished from varna. There are four varnas but thousands of jatis. The jatis are complex social groups that lack universally applicable definition or characteristic, and have been more flexible and diverse than was previously often assumed.
Some scholars of caste have considered jati to have its basis in religion, assuming that in India the sacred elements of life envelop the secular aspects; for example, the anthropologist Louis Dumont described the ritual rankings that exist within the jati system as being based on the concepts of religious purity and pollution. This view has been disputed by other scholars, who believe it to be a secular social phenomenon driven by the necessities of economics, politics, and sometimes also geography. Jeaneane Fowler says that although some people consider jati to be occupational segregation, in reality the jati framework does not preclude or prevent a member of one caste from working in another occupation. A feature of jatis has been endogamy, in Susan Bayly's words, that "both in the past and for many though not all Indians in more modern times, those born into a given caste would normally expect to find marriage partner" within his or her jati.
Jatis have existed in India among Hindus, Muslims, Christians and tribal people, and there is no clear linear order among them.
Main article: Caste
The term caste is not originally an Indian word, though it is now widely used, both in English and in Indian languages. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is derived from the Portuguese casta, meaning "race, lineage, breed" and, originally, "'pure or unmixed (stock or breed)". There is no exact translation in Indian languages, but varna and jati are the two most proximate terms.
Ghurye's 1932 opinion
The sociologistG. S. Ghurye wrote in 1932 that, despite much study by many people,
we do not possess a real general definition of caste. It appears to me that any attempt at definition is bound to fail because of the complexity of the phenomenon. On the other hand, much literature on the subject is marred by lack of precision about the use of the term.
Ghurye offered what he thought was a definition that could be applied across British India, although he acknowledged that there were regional variations on the general theme. His model definition for caste included the following six characteristics,
- Segmentation of society into groups whose membership was determined by birth
- A hierarchical system wherein generally the Brahmins were at the head of the hierarchy, but this hierarchy was disputed in some cases. In various linguistic areas, hundreds of castes had a gradation generally acknowledged by everyone
- Restrictions on feeding and social intercourse, with minute rules on the kind of food and drink that upper castes could accept from lower castes. There was a great diversity in these rules, and lower castes generally accepted food from upper castes
- Segregation, where individual castes lived together, the dominant caste living in the center and other castes living on the periphery. There were restrictions on the use of water wells or streets by one caste on another: an upper-caste Brahmin might not be permitted to use the street of a lower-caste group, while a caste considered impure might not be permitted to draw water from a well used by members of other castes.
- Occupation, generally inherited. Lack of unrestricted choice of profession, caste members restricted their own members from taking up certain professions they considered degrading. This characteristic of caste was missing from large parts of India, stated Ghurye, and in these regions all four castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) did agriculture labour or became warriors in large numbers
- Endogamy, restrictions on marrying a person outside caste, but in some situations hypergamy allowed. Far less rigidity on inter-marriage between different sub-castes than between members of different castes in some regions, while in some endogamy within a sub-caste was the principal feature of caste-society.
The above Ghurye's model of caste thereafter attracted scholarly criticism for relying on the British India census reports, the "superior, inferior" racist theories of Risley, and for fitting his definition to then prevalent colonial orientalist perspectives on caste.
Ghurye added, in 1932, that the colonial construction of caste led to the livening up, divisions and lobbying to the British officials for favourable caste classification in India for economic opportunities, and this had added new complexities to the concept of caste. Graham Chapman and others have reiterated the complexity, and they note that there are differences between theoretical constructs and the practical reality.
Modern perspective on definition
Ronald Inden, the Indologist, agrees that there has been no universally accepted definition. For example, for some early European documenters it was thought to correspond with the endogamous varnas referred to in ancient Indian scripts, and its meaning corresponds in the sense of estates. To later Europeans of the Raj era it was endogamous jatis, rather than varnas, that represented caste, such as the 2378 jatis that colonial administrators classified by occupation in the early 20th century.
Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion, notes that caste has been used synonymously to refer to both varna and jati but that "serious Indologists now observe considerable caution in this respect" because, while related, the concepts are considered to be distinct. In this he agrees with the Indologist Arthur Basham, who noted that the Portuguese colonists of India used casta to describe
... tribes, clans or families. The name stuck and became the usual word for the Hindu social group. In attempting to account for the remarkable proliferation of castes in 18th- and 19th-century India, authorities credulously accepted the traditional view that by a process of intermarriage and subdivision the 3,000 or more castes of modern India had evolved from the four primitive classes, and the term 'caste' was applied indiscriminately to both varna or class, and jati or caste proper. This is a false terminology; castes rise and fall in the social scale, and old castes die out and new ones are formed, but the four great classes are stable. There are never more or less than four and for over 2,000 years their order of precedence has not altered."
The sociologist Andre Beteille notes that, while varna mainly played the role of caste in classical Hindu literature, it is jati that plays that role in present times. Varna represents a closed collection of social orders whereas jati is entirely open-ended, thought of as a "natural kind whose members share a common substance." Any number of new jatis can be added depending on need, such as tribes, sects, denominations, religious or linguistic minorities and nationalities. Thus, "Caste" is not an accurate representation of jati in English. Better terms would be ethnicity, ethnic identity and ethnic group.
Sociologist Anne Waldrop observes that while outsiders view the term caste as a static phenomenon of stereotypical tradition-bound India, empirical facts suggest caste has been a radically changing feature. The term means different things to different Indians. In the context of politically active modern India, where job and school quotas are reserved for affirmative action based on castes, the term has become a sensitive and controversial subject.
Sociologists such as M. N. Srinivas and Damle have debated the question of rigidity in caste and believe that there is considerable flexibility and mobility in the caste hierarchies.
Pages from Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India according to Christian Missionaries in February 1837. They include Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Arabs as castes of India.
There are at least two perspectives for the origins of the caste system in ancient and medieval India, which focus on either ideological factors or on socio-economic factors.
- The first school focuses on the ideological factors which are claimed to drive the caste system and holds that caste is rooted in the four varnas. This perspective was particularly common among scholars of the British colonial era and was articulated by Dumont, who concluded that the system was ideologically perfected several thousand years ago and has remained the primary social reality ever since. This school justifies its theory primarily by citing the ancient law book Manusmriti and disregards economic, political or historical evidence.
- The second school of thought focuses on socio-economic factors and claims that those factors drive the caste system. It believes caste to be rooted in the economic, political and material history of India. This school, which is common among scholars of the post-colonial era such as Berreman, Marriott, and Dirks, describes the caste system as an ever-evolving social reality that can only be properly understood by the study of historical evidence of actual practice and the examination of verifiable circumstances in the economic, political and material history of India. This school has focused on the historical evidence from ancient and medieval society in India, during the Muslim rule between the 12th and 18th centuries, and the policies of colonial British rule from 18th century to the mid-20th century.
The first school has focused on religious anthropology and disregarded other historical evidence as secondary to or derivative of this tradition. The second school has focused on sociological evidence and sought to understand the historical circumstances. The latter has criticised the former for its caste origin theory, claiming that it has dehistoricised and decontextualised Indian society.
Ritual kingship model
According to Samuel, referencing George L. Hart, central aspects of the later Indian caste system may originate from the ritual kingship system prior to the arrival of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism in India. The system is seen in the South Indian Tamil literature from the Sangam period, dated to the third to sixth centuries CE. This theory discards the Indo-Aryan varna model as the basis of caste, and is centred on the ritual power of the king, who was "supported by a group of ritual and magical specialists of low social status," with their ritual occupations being considered 'polluted'. According to Hart, it may be this model that provided the concerns with "pollution" of the members of low status groups. The Hart model for caste origin, writes Samuel, envisions "the ancient Indian society consisting of a majority without internal caste divisions and a minority consisting of a number of small occupationally polluted groups".
The varnas originated in Vedic society (ca.1500–500 BCE). The first three groups, Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishya have parallels with other Indo-European societies, while the addition of the Shudras is probably a Brahmanical invention from northern India.
The varna system is propounded in revered Hindu religious texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda and Manusmriti's comment on it, being the oft-cited texts. Counter to these textual classifications, many revered Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with this system of social classification.
Scholars have questioned the varna verse in Rigveda, noting that the varna therein is mentioned only once. The Purusha Sukta verse is now generally considered to have been inserted at a later date into the Rigveda, probably as a charter myth. Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, professors of Sanskrit and Religious studies, state, "there is no evidence in the Rigveda for an elaborate, much-subdivided and overarching caste system", and "the varna system seems to be embryonic in the Rigveda and, both then and later, a social ideal rather than a social reality". In contrast to the lack of details about varna system in the Rigveda, the Manusmriti includes an extensive and highly schematic commentary on the varna system, but it too provides "models rather than descriptions". Susan Bayly summarises that Manusmriti and other scriptures helped elevate Brahmins in the social hierarchy and these were a factor in the making of the varna system, but the ancient texts did not in some way "create the phenomenon of caste" in India.
Jeaneane Fowler, a professor of philosophy and religious studies, states that it is impossible to determine how and why the jatis came in existence. Susan Bayly, on the other hand, states that jati system emerged because it offered a source of advantage in an era of pre-Independence poverty, lack of institutional human rights, volatile political environment, and economic insecurity.[clarification needed]
According to social anthropologist Dipankar Gupta, guilds developed during the Mauryan period and crystallised into jatis in post-Mauryan times with the emergence of feudalism in India, which finally crystallised during the 7–12th centuries. However, other scholars dispute when and how jatis developed in Indian history. Barbara Metcalf and Thomas Metcalf, both professors of History, write, "One of the surprising arguments of fresh scholarship, based on inscriptional and other contemporaneous evidence, is that until relatively recent centuries, social organisation in much of the subcontinent was little touched by the four varnas. Nor were jati the building blocks of society."
According to Basham, ancient Indian literature refers often to varnas, but hardly if ever to jatis as a system of groups within the varnas. He concludes that "If caste is defined as a system of group within the class, which are normally endogamous, commensal and craft-exclusive, we have no real evidence of its existence until comparatively late times."
Untouchable outcastes and the varna system
The Vedic texts neither mention the concept of untouchable people nor any practice of untouchability. The rituals in the Vedas ask the noble or king to eat with the commoner from the same vessel. Later Vedic texts ridicule some professions, but the concept of untouchability is not found in them.
The post-Vedic texts, particularly Manusmriti mentions outcastes and suggests that they be ostracised. Recent scholarship states that the discussion of outcastes in post-Vedic texts is different from the system widely discussed in colonial era Indian literature, and in Dumont's structural theory on caste system in India. Patrick Olivelle, a professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions and credited with modern translations of Vedic literature, Dharma-sutras and Dharma-sastras, states that ancient and medieval Indian texts do not support the ritual pollution, purity-impurity premise implicit in the Dumont theory. According to Olivelle, purity-impurity is discussed in the Dharma-sastra texts, but only in the context of the individual's moral, ritual and biological pollution (eating certain kinds of food such as meat, going to bathroom). Olivelle writes in his review of post-Vedic Sutra and Shastra texts, "we see no instance when a term of pure/impure is used with reference to a group of individuals or a varna or caste". The only mention of impurity in the Shastra texts from the 1st millennium is about people who commit grievous sins and thereby fall out of their varna. These, writes Olivelle, are called "fallen people" and considered impure in the medieval Indian texts. The texts declare that these sinful, fallen people be ostracised. Olivelle adds that the overwhelming focus in matters relating to purity/impurity in the Dharma-sastra texts concerns "individuals irrespective of their varna affiliation" and all four varnas could attain purity or impurity by the content of their character, ethical intent, actions, innocence or ignorance (acts by children), stipulations, and ritualistic behaviors.
Dumont, in his later publications, acknowledged that ancient varna hierarchy was not based on purity-impurity ranking principle, and that the Vedic literature is devoid of the untouchability concept.
Vedic period (1500–1000 BCE)
During the time of the Rigveda, there were two varnas: arya varna and dasa varna. The distinction originally arose from tribal divisions. The Vedic tribes regarded themselves as arya (the noble ones) and the rival tribes were called dasa, dasyu and pani. The dasas were frequent allies of the Aryan tribes, and they were probably assimilated into the Aryan society, giving rise to a class distinction. Many dasas were however in a servile position, giving rise to the eventual meaning of dasa as servant.
The Rigvedic society was not distinguished by occupations. Many husbandmen and artisans practised a number of crafts. The chariot-maker (rathakara) and metal worker (karmara) enjoyed positions of importance and no stigma was attached to them. Similar observations hold for carpenters, tanners, weavers and others.
Towards the end of the Atharvaveda period, new class distinctions emerged. The erstwhile dasas are renamed Shudras, probably to distinguish them from the new meaning of dasa as slave. The aryas are renamed vis or Vaishya (meaning the members of the tribe) and the new elite classes of Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) are designated as new varnas. The Shudras were not only the erstwhile dasas but also included the aboriginal tribes that were assimilated into the Aryan society as it expanded into Gangetic settlements. There is no evidence of restrictions regarding food and marriage during the Vedic period.
Later Vedic period (1000–600 BCE)
In an early Upanishad, Shudra is referred to as Pūşan or nourisher, suggesting that Shudras were the tillers of the soil. But soon afterwards, Shudras are not counted among the tax-payers and they are said to be given away along with the lands when it is gifted. The majority of the artisans were also reduced to the position of Shudras, but there is no contempt indicated for their work. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas are given a special position in the rituals, distinguishing them from both the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The Vaishya is said to be "oppressed at will" and the Shudra "beaten at will."
Second urbanisation (500–200 BCE)
Our knowledge of this period is supplemented by Pali Buddhist texts. Whereas the Brahmanical texts speak of the four-fold varna system, the Buddhist texts present an alternative picture of the society, stratified along the lines of jati, kula and occupation. It is likely that the varna system, while being a part of the Brahmanical ideology, was not practically operative in the society. In the Buddhist texts, Brahmin and Kshatriya are described as jatis rather than varnas. They were in fact the jatis of high rank. The jatis of low rank were mentioned as chandala and occupational classes like bamboo weavers, hunters, chariot-makers and sweepers. The concept of kulas was broadly similar. Along with Brahmins and Kshatriyas, a class called gahapatis (literally householders, but effectively propertied classes) was also included among high kulas. The people of high kulas were engaged in occupations of high rank, viz., agriculture, trade, cattle-keeping, computing, accounting and writing, and those of low kulas were engaged in low-ranked occupations such as basket-weaving and sweeping. The gahapatis were an economic class of land-holding agriculturists, who employed dasa-kammakaras (slaves and hired labourers) to work on the land. The gahapatis were the primary taxpayers of the state. This class was apparently not defined by birth, but by individual economic growth.
While there was an alignment between kulas and occupations at least at the high and low ends, there was no strict linkage between class/caste and occupation, especially among those in the middle range. Many occupations listed such as accounting and writing were not linked to jatis. Peter Masefield, in his review of caste situation in India states that anyone could in principle perform any profession. The texts state that the Brahmin took food from anyone, suggesting that strictures of commensality were as yet unknown. The Nikaya texts also imply that endogamy was not mandated.
The contestations of the period are evident from the texts describing dialogues of Buddha with the Brahmins. The Brahmins maintain their divinely ordained superiority and assert their right to draw service from the lower orders. Buddha responds by pointing out the basic facts of biological birth common to all men and asserts that the ability to draw service is obtained economically, not by divine right. Using the example of the northwest of the subcontinent, Buddha points out that aryas could become dasas and vice versa. This form of social mobility was endorsed by Buddha.
Classical period (320–650 CE)
The Mahabharata, whose final version is estimated to have been completed by the end of the fourth century, discusses the varna system in section 12.181, presenting two models. The first model describes varna as a colour-based system, through a character named Bhrigu, "Brahmins varna was white, Kshtriyas was red, Vaishyas was yellow, and the Shudras' black". This description is questioned by Bharadvaja who says that colors are seen among all the varnas, that desire, anger, fear, greed, grief, anxiety, hunger and toil prevails over all human beings, that bile and blood flow from all human bodies, so what distinguishes the varnas, he asks. The Mahabharata then declares, "There is no distinction of varnas. This whole universe is Brahman. It was created formerly by Brahma, came to be classified by acts." The epic then recites a behavioral model for varna, that those who were inclined to anger, pleasures and boldness attained the Kshtriya varna; those who were inclined to cattle rearing and living off the plough attained the Vaishya varna; those who were fond of violence, covetousness and impurity attained the Shudra varna. The Brahmin class is modeled in the epic as the archetype default state of man dedicated to truth, austerity and pure conduct. In the Mahabharata and pre-medieval era Hindu texts, according to Hiltebeitel, "it is important to recognise, in theory, varna is nongenealogical. The four varnas are not lineages, but categories."
Adi Purana, an 8th-century text of Jainism by Jinasena, is the first mention of varna and jati in Jainism literature. Jinasena does not trace the origin of varna system to Rigveda or to Purusha, but to the Bharata legend. According to this legend, Bharata performed an "ahimsa-test" (test of non-violence), and during that test all those who refused to harm any living beings were called as the priestly varna in ancient India, and Bharata called them dvija, twice born. Jinasena states that those who are committed to the principle of non-harming and non-violence to all living beings are deva-Brahmaṇas, divine Brahmins. The text Adipurana also discusses the relationship between varna and jati. According to Padmanabh Jaini, a professor of Indic studies, in Jainism and Buddhism, the Adi Purana text states "there is only one jati called manusyajati or the human caste, but divisions arise on account of their different professions". The caste of Kshatriya arose, according to Jainism texts, when Rishabha procured weapons to serve the society and assumed the powers of a king, while Vaishya and Shudra castes arose from different means of livelihood they specialised in.
Late classical and early medieval period (650 to 1400 CE)
Scholars have tried to locate historical evidence for the existence and nature of varna and jati in documents and inscriptions of medieval India. Supporting evidence for the existence of varna and jati systems in medieval India has been elusive, and contradicting evidence has emerged.
Varna is rarely mentioned in the extensive medieval era records of Andhra Pradesh, for example. This has led Cynthia Talbot, a professor of History and Asian Studies, to question whether varna was socially significant in the daily lives of this region. The mention of jati is even rarer, through the 13th century. Two rare temple donor records from warrior families of the 14th century claim to be Shudras. One states that Shudras are the bravest, the other states that Shudras are the purest. Richard Eaton, a professor of History, writes, "anyone could become warrior regardless of social origins, nor do the jati - another pillar of alleged traditional Indian society - appear as features of people's identity. Occupations were fluid." Evidence shows, according to Eaton, that Shudras were part of the nobility, and many "father and sons had different professions, suggesting that social status was earned, not inherited" in the Hindu Kakatiya population in the Deccan region between the 11th and 14th centuries.
In Tamil Nadu region of India, studied by Leslie Orr, a professor of Religion, "Chola period inscriptions challenge our ideas about the structuring of (south Indian) society in general. In contrast to what Brahmanical legal texts may lead us to expect, we do not find that caste is the organising principle of society or that boundaries between different social groups is sharply demarcated." In Tamil Nadu the Vellalar were during ancient and medieval period the elite caste who were major patrons of literature. They ranked higher in the social hierarchy than the Brahmins.
For northern Indian region, Susan Bayly writes, "until well into the colonial period, much of the subcontinent was still populated by people for whom the formal distinctions of caste were of only limited importance; Even in parts of the so-called Hindu heartland of Gangetic upper India, the institutions and beliefs which are now often described as the elements of traditional caste were only just taking shape as recently as the early eighteenth century - that is the period of collapse of Mughal period and the expansion of western power in the subcontinent."
For western India, Dirk Kolff, a professor of Humanities, suggests open status social groups dominated Rajput history during the medieval period. He states, "The omnipresence of cognatic kinship and caste in North India is a relatively new phenomenon that only became dominant in the early Mughal and British periods respectively. Historically speaking, the alliance and the open status group, whether war band or religious sect, dominated medieval and early modern Indian history in a way descent and caste did not."
Medieval era, Islamic Sultanates and Mughal empire period (1000 to 1750)
Early and mid 20th century Muslim historians, such as Hashimi in 1927 and Qureshi in 1962, proposed that "caste system was established before the arrival of Islam", and it and "a nomadic savage lifestyle" in the northwest Indian subcontinent were the primary cause why Sindhi non-Muslims "embraced Islam in flocks" when Arab Muslim armies invaded the region. According to this hypothesis, the mass conversions occurred from the lower caste Hindus and Mahayana Buddhists who had become "corroded from within by the infiltration of Hindu beliefs and practices". This theory is now widely believed to be baseless and false.
Derryl MacLein, a professor of social history and Islamic studies, states that historical evidence does not support this theory, whatever evidence is available suggests that Muslim institutions in north-west India legitimised and continued any inequalities that existed, and that neither Buddhists nor "lower caste" Hindus converted to Islam because they viewed Islam to lack a caste system. Conversions to Islam were rare, states MacLein, and conversions attested by historical evidence confirms that the few who did convert were Brahmin Hindus (theoretically, the upper caste). MacLein states the caste and conversion theories about Indian society during the Islamic era are not based on historical evidence or verifiable sources, but personal assumptions of Muslim historians about the nature of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in northwest Indian subcontinent.
Richard Eaton, a professor of History, states that the presumption of a rigid Hindu caste system and oppression of lower castes in pre-Islamic era in India, and it being the cause of "mass conversion to Islam" during the medieval era suffers from the problem that "no evidence can be found in support of the theory, and it is profoundly illogical".
Peter Jackson, a professor of Medieval History and Muslim India, writes that the speculative hypotheses about caste system in Hindu states during the medieval Delhi Sultanate period (~1200 to 1500) and the existence of a caste system as being responsible for Hindu weakness in resisting the plunder by Islamic armies is appealing at first sight, but "they do not withstand closer scrutiny and historical evidence". Jackson states that, contrary to the theoretical model of caste where Kshatriyas only could be warriors and soldiers, historical evidence confirms that Hindu warriors and soldiers during the medieval era included other castes such as Vaishyas and Shudras. Further, there is no evidence, writes Jackson, that there ever was a "widespread conversion to Islam at the turn of twelfth century" by Hindus of lower caste. Jamal Malik, a professor of Islamic studies, extends this observation further, and states that "at no time in history did Hindus of low caste convert en masse to Islam".
Jamal Malik states that caste as a social stratification is a well-studied Indian system, yet evidence also suggests that hierarchical concepts, class consciousness and social stratification had already occurred in Islam before Islam arrived in India. The concept of caste, or 'qaum' in Islamic literature, is mentioned by a few Islamic historians of medieval India, states Malik, but these mentions relate to the fragmentation of the Muslim society in India. Zia al-Din al-Barani of Delhi Sultanate in his Fatawa-ye Jahandari and Abu al-Fadl from Akbar's court of Mughal Empire are the few Islamic court historians who mention caste. Zia al-Din al-Barani's discussion, however, is not about non-Muslim castes, rather a declaration of the supremacy of Ashraf caste over Ardhal caste among the Muslims, justifying it in Quranic text, with "aristocratic birth and superior genealogy being the most important traits of a human".
Irfan Habib, an Indian historian, states that Abu al-Fadl's Ain-i Akbari provides a historical record and census of the Jat peasant caste of Hindus in northern India, where the Taluqdars and Zamindars (tax collecting noble classes), the armed cavalry and infantry (warrior class) doubling up as the farming peasants (working class), were all of the same Jat caste in the 16th century. These occupationally diverse members from one caste served each other, writes Habib, either because of their reaction to taxation pressure of Muslim rulers or because they belonged to the same caste. Peasant social stratification and caste lineages were, states Habib, tools for tax revenue collection in areas under the Islamic rule.
The origin of caste system of modern form, in the Bengal region of India, may be traceable to this period, states Richard Eaton. The medieval era Islamic Sultanates in India utilised social stratification to rule and collect tax revenue from non-Muslims. Eaton states that, "Looking at Bengal's Hindu society as a whole, it seems likely that the caste system – far from being the ancient and unchanging essence of Indian civilisation as supposed by generations of Orientalists – emerged into something resembling its modern form only in the period 1200–1500".
Post-Mughal period (1700 to 1850)
Susan Bayly, an anthropologist, notes that "caste is not and never has been a fixed fact of Indian life" and the caste system as we know it today, as a "ritualised scheme of social stratification," developed in two stages during the post-Mughal period, in 18th and early 19th century. Three sets of value played an important role in this development: priestly hierarchy, kingship, and armed ascetics.
With the Islamic Mughal empire falling apart in the 18th century, regional post-Mughal ruling elites and new dynasties from diverse religious, geographical and linguistic background attempted to assert their power in different parts of India. Bayly states that these obscure post-Mughal elites associated themselves with kings, priests and ascetics, deploying the symbols of caste and kinship to divide their populace and consolidate their power. In addition, in this fluid stateless environment, some of the previously casteless segments of society grouped themselves into caste groups. However, in 18th century writes Bayly, India-wide networks of merchants, armed ascetics and armed tribal people often ignored these ideologies of caste. Most people did not treat caste norms as given absolutes writes Bayly, but challenged, negotiated and adapted these norms to their circumstances. Communities teamed in different regions of India, into "collective classing" to mold the social stratification in order to maximise assets and protect themselves from loss. The "caste, class, community" structure that formed became valuable in a time when state apparatus was fragmenting, was unreliable and fluid, when rights and life were unpredictable.
In this environment, states Rosalind O'Hanlon, a professor of Indian History, the newly arrived colonial East India Company officials, attempted to gain commercial interests in India by balancing Hindu and Muslim conflicting interests, by aligning with regional rulers and large assemblies of military monks. The British Company officials adopted constitutional laws segregated by religion and caste. The legal code and colonial administrative practice was largely divided into Muslim law and Hindu law, the latter including laws for Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. In this transitory phase, Brahmins together with scribes, ascetics and merchants who accepted Hindu social and spiritual codes, became the deferred-to-authority on Hindu texts, law and administration of Hindu matters.[b]
While legal codes and state administration were emerging in India, with the rising power of the colonial Europeans, Dirks states that the late 18th-century British writings on India say little about caste system in India, and predominantly discuss territorial conquest, alliances, warfare and diplomacy in India. Colin Mackenzie, a British social historian of this time, collected vast numbers of texts on Indian religions, culture, traditions and local histories from south India and Deccan region, but his collection and writings have very little on caste system in 18th-century India.
During British rule (1857 to 1947)
Although the varnas and jatis have pre-modern origins, the caste system as it exists today is the result of developments during the post-Mughal period and the British colonial regime, which made caste organisation a central mechanism of administration.
Jati were the basis of caste ethnology during the British colonial era. In the 1881 census and thereafter, colonial ethnographers used caste (jati) headings, to count and classify people in what was then British India (now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma). The 1891 census included 60 sub-groups each subdivided into six occupational and racial categories, and the number increased in subsequent censuses. The British colonial era census caste tables, states Susan Bayly, "ranked, standardised and cross-referenced jati listings for Indians on principles similar to zoology and botanical classifications, aiming to establish who was superior to whom by virtue of their supposed purity, occupational origins and collective moral worth". While bureaucratic British officials completed reports on their zoological classification of Indian people, some British officials criticised these exercises as being little more than a caricature of the reality of caste system in India. The British colonial officials used the census-determined jatis to decide which group of people were qualified for which jobs in the colonial government, and people of which jatis were to be excluded as unreliable. These census caste classifications, states Gloria Raheja, a professor of Anthropology, were also used by the British officials over the late 19th century and early 20th century, to formulate land tax rates, as well as to frequently target some social groups as "criminal" castes and castes prone to "rebellion".
The population then comprised about 200 million people, across five major religions, and over 500,000 agrarian villages, each with a population between 100 and 1,000 people of various age groups, which were variously divided into numerous castes. This ideological scheme was theoretically composed of around 3,000 castes, which in turn was claimed to be composed of 90,000 local endogamous sub-groups. 
The strict British class system may have influenced the British colonial preoccupation with the Indian caste system as well as the British perception of pre-colonial Indian castes. British society's own similarly rigid class system provided the British with a template for understanding Indian society and castes. The British, coming from a society rigidly divided by class, attempted to equate India's castes with British social classes. According to David Cannadine, Indian castes merged with the traditional British class system during the British Raj.
Colonial administrator Herbert Hope Risley, an exponent of race science, used the ratio of the width of a nose to its height to divide Indians into Aryan and Dravidian races, as well as seven castes.
ब्राह्मण कौन है ?
जाति प्रथा के बारे में सबसे हँसी की बात ये है कि जन्म आधारित जातिप्रथाअस्पष्ट और निराधार कथाओं पर आधारित हैं. आज ऐसा कोई भी तरीका मौजूद नहीं जिससे इस बात का पता चल सके कि आज के तथाकथित ब्राह्मणों के पूर्वज भी वास्तविक ब्राह्मण ही थे. विभिन्न गोत्र और ऋषि नाम को जोड़ने के बाद भी आज कोई भी तरीका मौजूद नहीं है जिससे कि उनके दावे की परख की जा सके.
जैसे हम पहले भी काफी उदाहरण दे चुके हैं की वैदिक समय / प्राचीन भारत में एक वर्ण का आदमी अपना वर्ण बदल सकता था. कृपया पढ़ें;
अगर हम ये कहें कि आज का ब्राह्मण [जाति / जन्म आधारित ] शूद्र से भी ख़राब है क्योंकि ब्राह्मण 1000 साल पहले चंडाल के घर में पैदा हुआ था, हमारे इस दावे को नकारने का साहस कोई भला कैसे कर सकता है ? अगर आप ये कहें कि ये ब्राह्मण परिवार भरद्वाज गोत्र का है तो हम इस दावे की परख के लिए उसके DNA टेस्ट की मांग करेंगे. और किसी DNA टेस्ट के अभाव में तथाकथित ऊँची जाति का दावा करना कुछ और नहीं मानसिक दिवालियापन और खोखला दावा ही है.
क्षत्रिय कौन है ?
ऐसा माना जाता है कि परशुराम ने जमीन से कई बार सभी क्षत्रियों का सफाया कर डाला था.स्वाभाविक तौर पर इसीलिए आज के क्षत्रिय और कुछ भी हों पर जन्म के क्षत्रिय नहीं हो सकते!
अगर हम राजपूतों की वंशावली देखें ये सभी इन तीन वंशों से सम्बन्ध रखने का दावा करते हैं – 1. सूर्यवंशी जो कि सूर्य / सूरज से निकले, 2. चंद्रवंशी जो कि चंद्रमा / चाँद से निकले, और 3. अग्निकुल जो कि अग्नि से निकले. बहुत ही सीधी सी बात है कि इनमे में से कोई भी सूर्य / सूरज या चंद्रमा / चाँद से जमीन पर नहीं आया. अग्निकुल विचार की उत्पत्ति भी अभी अभी ही की है. किवदंतियों / कहानियों के हिसाब से अग्निकुल की उत्पत्ति / जन्म आग से उस समय हुआ जब परशुराम ने सभी क्षत्रियों / राजपूतों का जमीन से सफाया कर दिया था. बहुत से राजपूत वंशों में आज भी ऐसा शक / भ्रम है कि उनकी उत्पत्ति / जन्म; सूर्यवंशी, चंद्रवंशी, अग्निकुल इन वंशो में से किस वंश से हुई है.
स्वाभाविक तौर से इन दंतकथाओं का जिक्र / वर्णन किसी भी प्राचीन वैदिक पुस्तक / ग्रन्थ में नही मिलता. जिसका सीधा सीधा मतलब ये हुआ कि जिन लोगों ने शौर्य / सेना का पेशा अपनाया वो लोग ही समय समय पर राजपूत के नाम से जाने गए.
ऊँची जाति के लोग चंडाल हो सकते हैंअगर तथाकथित ऊँची जाति के लोग ये दावा कर सकते हैं कि दूसरे आदमी तथाकथित छोटी जाति के हैं तो हम भी ये दावा कर सकते हैं कि ये तथाकथित छोटी जाति के लोग ही असली ब्रह्मण, क्षत्रिय और वैश्य हैं. और ये ऊँची जाति के लोग असल में चांडालों की औलादें हैं जिन्होंने शताब्दियों पहले सत्ता पर कब्ज़ा कर लिया था और सारा इतिहास मिटा / बदल दिया था. आज के उपलब्ध इतिहास को अगर हम इन कुछ तथाकथित ऊँची जाति के लोगों की उत्पत्ति / जन्म की चमत्कारी कहानियों के सन्दर्भ में देखें तो हमारे दावे की और भी पुष्टि हो जाती है.
अबअगर किसी जन्मगत ब्राह्मणवादी को हमारी ऊपर लिखी बातों से बेईज्ज़ती महसूस होती है तो उसका भी किसी आदमी को तथाकथित छोटी जाति का कहना अगर ज्यादा नहीं तो कमबेईज्ज़ती की बात नहीं है.
हम लोगों में सेम्लेच्छकौन है ?
इतिहास से साफ़ साफ़ पता लगता है कि यूनानी, हूण, शक, मंगोल आदि इनके सत्ता पर काबिज़ होने के समय में भारतीय समाज में सम्मिलित होते रहे हैं. इनमे से कुछों ने तो लम्बे समय तक भारत के कुछ हिस्सों पर राज भी किया है और इसीलिए आज ये बता पाना बहुत मुश्किल है कि हममे से कौन यूनानी, हूण, शक, मंगोल आदि आदि हैं! ये सारी बातें वैदिक विचारधारा – एक मानवता – एक जाति से पूरी तरह से मेल खाती है लेकिन जन्म आधारित जातिप्रथा को पूरी तरह से उखाड़ देती हैं क्योंकि उन लोगो के लिए म्लेच्छ इन तथाकथित 4 जातियों से भी निम्न हैं.
जाति निर्धारण के तरीके की खोज में
आप ये बात तो भूल ही जाओ कि क्या वेदों ने जातिप्रथा को सहारा दिया है या फिर नकारा है ? ये सारी बातें दूसरे दर्जे की हैं. जैसा कि हम सब देख चुके हैं कि असल में “वेद” तो जन्म आधारित जातिप्रथा और लिंग भेद के ख्याल के ही खिलाफ हैं. कृपया देखें http://agniveer.com/vedas-caste-discrimination/. इन सारी बातों से भी ज्यादा जरूरी बात ये है कि हमारे में से किसी के पास भी ऐसा कोई तरीका नहीं है कि हम सिर्फ वंशावली के आधार पर ये निश्चित कर सकें कि वेदों कि उत्पत्ति के समय से हममे से कौन ऊँची जाति का है और कौन नीची जाति का. अगर हम लोगों के स्वयं घोषित और खोखले दावों की बातों को छोड़ दें तो किसी भी व्यक्ति के जाति के दावों को विचारणीय रूप से देखने का कोई भी कारण हमारे पास नहीं है.
इसलिए अगर वेदजन्म आधारित जातिप्रथा को उचित मानते तो वेदों में हमें किसी व्यक्ति की जाति निर्धारण करने काभरोसेमंद तरीका भी मिलना चाहिए था.ऐसे किसी भरोसेमंद तरीके की गैरहाजिरी में जन्म आधारित जातिप्रथा के दावे औंधे मुंह गिर पड़ते हैं.
इसी वज़ह से ज्यादा से ज्यादा कोई भी आदमी सिर्फ ये बहस कर सकता है कि हो सकता है की वेदों की उत्पत्ति के समय पर जातिप्रथा प्रसांगिक रही हो, पर आज की तारीख में जातिप्रथा का कोई भी मतलब नहीं रह जाता.
हालाँकि हमारा विचार ये है कि, जो कि सिर्फ वैदिक विचारधारा और तर्क पर आधारित है, जातिप्रथा कभी भी प्रसांगिक रही ही नहीं और जातिप्रथा वैदिक विचारधारा को बिगाड़ कर दिखाया जाना वाला रूप है. और ये विकृति हमारे समाज को सबसे महंगीविकृति साबित हुई जिसने कि हमसे हमारासारा का सारा गर्व, शक्ति और भविष्य छीन लिया है.
नाम में क्या रखा है ?
कृपया ये बात भी ध्यान में रखें की गोत्र प्रयोग करने की प्रथा सिर्फ कुछ ही शताब्दियों पुरानी है. आपको किसी भी प्राचीन साहित्य में ‘राम सूर्यवंशी’ और ‘कृष्ण यादव’ जैसे शब्द नहीं मिलेंगे. आज के समय में भी एक बहुत बड़ी गिनती के लोगों ने अपने गाँव, पेशा और शहर के ऊपर अपना गोत्र रख लिया है. दक्षिण भारत के लोग मूलत: अपने पिता के नाम के साथ अपने गाँव आदि का नाम प्रयोग करते हैं. आज की तारीख में शायद ही ऐसे कोई गोत्र हैं जो वेदों की उत्पत्ति के समय से चले आ रहे हों.
प्राचीन समाज गोत्र के प्रयोग को हमेशा ही हतोत्साहित किया करता था. उस समय लोगों की इज्ज़त सिर्फ उनके गुण, कर्म और स्वाभाव कोदेखकर की जाती थी न कि उनकी जन्म लेनेकी मोहर पर. ना तो लोगों को किसी जाति प्रमाण पत्र की जरूरत थी और ना ही लोगों का दूर दराज़ की जगहों पर जाने में मनाही थी जैसा कि हिन्दुओं के दुर्भाग्य के दिनों में हुआ करता था. इसीलिए किसी की जाति की पुष्टि करने के लिए किसी के पास कोई भी तरीका ही नहीं था . किसी आदमी की प्रतिभा / गुण ही उसकी एकमात्र जाति हुआ करती थी. हाँ ये भी सच है कि कुछ स्वार्थी लोगों की वज़ह से समय के साथ साथ विकृतियाँ आती चली गयीं. और आज हम देखते हैं कि राजनीति और बॉलीवुड भी जातिगत हो चुके हैं. और इसमें कोई भी शक की गुंजाईश नहीं है कि स्वार्थी लोगों की वज़ह से ही दुष्टता से भरी इस जातिप्रथा को मजबूती मिली. इन सबके बावजूद जातिप्रथा की नींव और पुष्टि हमेशा से ही पूर्णरूप से गलत रही है.
अगर कोई भी ये दावा करता है कि शर्मा ब्राहमणों के द्वारा प्रयोग किया जाने वाला गोत्र है, तो यह विवादास्पत है क्योंकि महाभारत और रामायण के काल में लोग इसका अनिवार्य रूप से प्रयोग करते थे, इस बात का कोई प्रमाण नहीं. तो हम ज्यादा से ज्यादा ये मान सकते हैं कि हम किसी को भी शर्मा ब्राह्मण सिर्फ इसीलिए मानते हैं क्योंकि वो लोग शर्मा ब्राह्मण गोत्र का प्रयोग करते हैं. ये भी हो सकता है कि उसके दादा और पड़दादा ने भी शर्मा ब्राह्मण गोत्र का प्रयोग किया हो. लेकिन अगर एक चंडाल भी शर्मा ब्राह्मण गोत्र का प्रयोग करने लगता है और उसकी औलादें भी ऐसा ही करती हैं तो फिर आप ये कैसे बता सकते हो कि वो आदमी चंडाल है या फिर ब्राह्मण? आपको सिर्फ और सिर्फ हमारे दावों पर ही भरोसा करना पड़ेगा. कोई भी तथाकथित जातिगत ब्राह्मण यह बात नहीं करता कि वो असल में एक चंडाल के वंश से भी हो सकता है, क्योंकि सिर्फ ब्राहमणहोने से उसे इतने विशेष अधिकार और खास फायदे मिले हुए हैं.
मध्य युग के बाहरी हमले
पश्चिम और मध्य एशिया के उन्मादी कबीलों के द्वारा हजार साल के हमलों से शहरों के शहरों ने बलात्कार का मंज़र देखा. भारत के इस सबसे काले और अन्धकार भरे काल में स्त्रियाँ ही हमेशा से हमलों का मुख्य निशाना रही हैं. जब भी कासिम, तैमूर, ग़ज़नी और गौरी जैसे लुटेरों ने हमला किया तो इन्होने ये सुनिश्चित किया कि एक भी घर ऐसा ना हो की जिसकी स्त्रियों का उसके सिपाहियों ने बलात्कार ना किया हो. खुद दिल्ली को ही कई बार लूटा और बर्बाद किया गया. उत्तर और पश्चमी भारत का मध्य एशिया से आने वाला रास्ता इस अत्याचार को सदियों से झेलता रहा है. भगवान् करे कि ऐसे बुरे दिन किसी भी समाज को ना देखने पड़ें. लेकिन हमारे पूर्वजों ने तो इसके साक्षात् दर्शन किये हैं. अब आप ही बताइए कि ऐसे पीड़ित व्यक्तियों के बच्चों को तथाकथित जातिप्रथा के हिसाब से “जाति से बहिष्कृत” लोगों के सिवाय और क्या नाम दे सकते हैं ? लेकिन तसल्ली कि बात ये है कि ऐसी कोई बात नहीं है.
हमारे ऋषियों को ये पता था कि विषम हालातों में स्त्रियाँ ही ज्यादा असुरक्षित होती हैं. इसीलिए उन्होंने “मनु स्मृति” में कहा कि ” एक स्त्री चाहे कितनी भी पतित हो, अगर उसका पति उत्कृष्ट है तो वो भी उत्कृष्ट बन सकती है. लेकिन पति को हमेशा ही ये सुनिश्चित करना चाहिए कि वो पतित ना हो.
ये ही वो आदेश था जिसने पुरुषों को स्त्रियों की गरिमा की रक्षा करने के लिए प्रेरित किया और भगवन ना करे, अगर फिर से कुछ ऐसा होता है तो पुरुष फिर से ऐसी स्त्री को अपना लेंगे और अपने एक नए जीवन की शुरुआत करेंगे. विधवाएं दुबारा से शादी करेंगी और बलात्कार की शिकार पीड़ित स्त्रियों का घर बस पायेगा. अगर ऐसा ना हुआ होता तो हमलावरों के कुछ हमलों के बाद से हम “जाति से बहिष्कृत” लोगों का समाज बन चुके होते.
निश्चित तौर से, उसके बाद वाले काल में स्त्री गरिमा और धर्म के नाम पर विधवा और बलात्कार की शिकार स्त्रियों के पास सिर्फ मौत, यातना और वेश्यावृति का ही रास्ता बचा. इस बेवकूफी ने हमें पहले से भी ज्यादा नपुंसक बना दिया.
कुछ जन्म आधारित तथाकथित ऊँची-जातियों के ठेकेदार इस बात को उचित ठहरा सकते हैं कि बलात्कार की शिकार स्त्रियाँ ही “जाति से बहिष्कृत” हो जाती हैं. अगर ऐसा है तो हम सिर्फ इतना ही कहेंगे कि ये विकृति की हद्द है.
बाकी अगले भाग में http://agniveer.com/the-reality-of-caste-system-2/आप पढ़ सकते हैं.
[कृपया ध्यान दें – यह लेख मुख्य: रूप से उस विचारधारा के लोगो पर परकेन्द्रित है जो जन्मआधारित जातिगतभेदभाव का पक्ष लेते हैं. इसीलिए सभी लोगों से प्रार्थना है कि हमारी समीक्षा को केवल इस घृणास्पद प्रथा और ऐसीघृणास्पद प्रथा के सरंक्षक, पोषक और समर्थकों के सन्दर्भमें देखा जाए न कि किसी व्यक्ति, समाज और जाति केसन्दर्भमें. अग्निवीर हर किस्म के जातिवाद को आतंकवाद कासबसे ख़राब और घृणितरूप मानता है औरऐसीघृणास्पद प्रथा के सरंक्षक, पोषक और समर्थकों को दस्यु. बाकी हम सब लोग, चाहे वो इंसान के द्वारा स्वार्थवश बनाई गयी तथाकथित छोटीजातिया ऊंची जाति का हो, एक परिवार, एकजाति, एक नस्ल के ही हैं. हम अपने पाठकों से निवेदन करते हैं कि वो ये न समझेंकि इस लेख को वैदिक विचारधारा “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम” के विपरीत किसी व्यक्ति या वर्ग विशेष के लिए लिखा गया है. ]
जाति प्रथा से जुड़े हुए कुछ ऐसे तथ्य जिनके बारे में हमें पता होना चाहिए और जिनके बारे में हम सोचें:
कृपया इसे लेख को आप हमारी श्रृंखला की एक कड़ी के रूप में ही पढ़े और विशेषत: लेख, http://agniveer.com/vedas-caste-discrimination/
This article is also available in English here http://agniveer.com/the-reality-of-caste-system/
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