My name is Alexandra. I would like to ask you about the caste - system's evolution from the beginning until today. I found writings about it on the internet, but i would like to hear it from a certain source.
Thank you very much!
ANSWER: Dear Alexandra,
Hinduism is a product of mingling of two streams, the indigenous, and the Aryan (the Aryan homeland is disputed. Some say they were Central Asians, others say that they were Indians, still others maintain that their homeland was way up in North, perhaps in Scandinavia or Western Siberia). The Aryans had a four-fold social division in brahmins (priests), kshatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (traders and agriculturists), and those who worked for others (shudras). The indigenous people were divided into various tribes and professional guilds (potters, ironsmiths, goldsmiths, oil expellers, etc.). Also, there were differences about the region people hailed from and the religious philosophy they subscribed to (as you might know, there are scores of different sects in hinduism).
"The English word "caste" derives from the Spanish and Portuguese "casta", which the Oxford English Dictionary quotes John Minsheu's Spanish dictionary (1599) to mean, "race, lineage, or breed." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste#Etymology
The present caste system in India is a mix of all these. The indigenous social divisions were incorporated in the four-fold social division of Aryans. So, what is your profession, which tribe or region your forefathers hailed from, which religious sect you belong to, these things decide your position in society and your caste. There are hundreds of castes in each of the four divisions.
Caste system in India does not spare even the christians and muslims. They also are divided into castes. It is so strong that even with government encouragement and strict Indian laws about it, we have been able to reduce its disadvantages, but have been able to make only a dent in its structure. After all, it is some five milleniums old. With best regards,
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QUESTION: Thanks for your answer!
You wrote me, that you could reduce the disadvantages. I suppose you are talking about the bad situation of dalits? I was reading about this topic also, that their situation is much better today. Is it true? Or they are still discriminated in villages or even the cities.
Thank you so much.
The position is much better now. Manual scavenging has been outlawed. Any discrimination or abuse of lower castes (dalits) is a penal offense carrying a minimum sentence of five years in jail. We have a very strong affirmative action mandated in the Constitution which provides preference in education, jobs and promotions for lower castes. Representation in national, state, and local political bodies according to the percentage in population (which is 16% for dalits and 7% for tribal people) is reserved for them. Their percentage in political cabinets, administration, and police also is according to this percentage. They get preference in scholarships, housing, loans for business, etc.
But now, it is a political power conflict between the dalits and not-so-dalits, not dalits but also not in higher castes. These people are termed as "Other Backward Classes" whose percentage is 27%. So, naturally, they have greater influence though not the same facilities as dalits. The violence that you may be reading now in news reports is between these two groups. The higher castes are generally not involved in this and are busy in earning their upkeep. And this conflict is not going to end soon till the time that Indian people are better educated and can vote more sensibly. With best regards,