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The caste system is one of the unique and ancient features in Indian Society whose root can be traced back to thousands of years.
The word caste is derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word “casta” which means “race, lineage, or breed”. Portuguese used the term casta in the modern sense when they applied it to hereditary social groups in India called as ‘jati’ in India. ‘Jati’ comes from the root word ‘Jana’ which means taking birth. Thus, caste comes to be linked with birth.
Many have tried to explain the caste system in India by means of theories based on tradition, race, politics, occupation, evolution, etc. According to one theory, the caste system has its origin in the divine. It states that the caste system is an extension of the varna system which is thought to have originated from the body of Bramha.
At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers, priests, and intellectuals who are believed to have come from Brahma’s head. Kshatriyas or the warriors and rulers are born from his arms. Vaishyas or the traders were supposed to come from his thighs. At the lowest in the hierarchy were the Shudras who are considered to have come from Brahma’s feet. There is yet another theory which states that caste hierarchy is according to the occupation. Those professions which were regarded as higher and respectable made the persons who carried them out as superior to those who were employed in lowly professions.
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The Sanskrit term for caste is varna which means colour. The origin of caste stratification of the Indian society is found in the chaturvarna system which mentions the four castes: Brahmins, Kashtriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. According to Indian sociologist D.N. Majumdar, the caste system took its birth after the arrival of Aryans in India, as written in his book, “Races and Culture in India”.
The Varna system initially was mainly based on the division of labour and occupation. The three castes, namely Brahma, Kashtriyas and Vaishyas are frequently mentioned in the Rig Veda. Brahma and Kashtriyas represented the poet-priest and the warrior-chief. Vaishyas consisted of all the common people. The name of the fourth caste called the ‘Sudras’, appears only once in the Rig Veda. The Sudras are referred to as the domestic servants.
In my opinion, we need to change our outlook on the caste system in India. We should give to it its original connotation and stop discrimination of any sort based on the social standing of a person because of his caste status.
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