The British Caste System and India
This Independence Day, let’s talk about something different, like how Britishers misinterpretation gave birth to Indian caste system.
Invaders like British, tried to understand our society, culture and language and failed rigorously. They interpreted our society with the presumption that India is a backward society with old practices and superstitions. Her rich culture and dharmic principles were ridiculed in every possible way. In fact, all they wanted from their studies was to find loop holes in our system and to disparage our way of life. All they wanted was to spread the myth of superiority in western way of living. All they wanted was to make us feel inferior and accept the slavery.
Most of the bloggers, writers, journalists and even the so called think tanks of India talk only about the materialistic loses during the colonial rule. Shashi Tharoor’s speech in Oxford went viral on internet. Even he mentions only about what India has lost financially. But we lost something more important than that, we lost our educational system, culture and philosophy. Colonial rulers were efficacious in altering our society. Caste system is one such thing which replaced Varna Vyavasta.
Like many languages Sanskrit is also a non-translatable language. One cannot replace the word “Yoga” with “Aerobics”, though Yoga seems like a mere physical exercise, it’s not. Yoga has inveterate spirituality embedded in it, whereas Aerobics doesn’t have any. Same with the word “Shakthi”, it cannot be replaced by “Energy”, Shakthi is divine form of energy. When we consume food, we get energy but not Shakthi.
Such replacement of Sanskrit words will go wrong horrendously. Such replacement gave birth to the evil caste system in our society. That’s why I called it “THE BRITISH CASTE SYSTEM”.
The Sanskrit words “Jati” and “Varna” are replaced by “community” and “caste”. Jati is a group of people living together having something in common like language, profession, culture and so on. Varna is something which is decided by one’s Karma (actions) but not by one’s birth. In one Jati or even in one family, there can be people from different Varnas. Whereas the caste is something one gets as a hereditary social class.
There were only four varnas, Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra. One will be entitiled with Varna based on his Karma.
Vishwamitra, who is known as Sage of Sages was born to a charioteer (Kshatriya) but turned out Brahmin by his aptitude and qualities. Maharshi Satyakam, whose knowledge and wisdom is preserved in Upanishads was born in a Sudra family, but his individual temperament and knowledge made him Brahmin.
What Does Bhagavad Gita Tell?
Bhagavada Gita states that Varna is conferred on the basis of the intrinsic nature of an individual. In Mahabharata, Yudhisthira points out that a Brahmin is not a Brahmin just because he is born in a Brahmin family.
Of course, the ideal Varna vyavasta sluggishly transformed into a system based on birth, but it had only four Varnas unlike today. Even the altered Varan vyavasta was successful without much rebellion because of trust and tolerance of the people.
Britishers misconceived the concept of Varna as a hereditary one. Sir Herbert Hope Risley, a race scientist, a man who adores racism, was the in-charge of formal application of caste system to the entire Hindu population of British India in 1901 census.
When British men arrived in India, the weaver community was of 2 lakh members. But as British levied more taxes on them, oppressed them and even chopped few weaver’s hands and made weaving a timorous job, the community shrank to 20 thousands within in one decade. This shows that even after the Britishers came, people had freedom to change their profession, which is not allowed in severe caste system.
It makes no sense to say all barbers belong to Nayee caste and their next generations must become barbers. But, that is what the mighty British Empire’s ethnographer, Sir Risley had done to our society. The Britishers started to call Jati’s names as caste names.
The British System
The worst and demonic part of this work comes up when Sir Risley started ranking these castes. The Jatis which allied or which worked for Britishers or which were economically better were given the top rank in the list. (Upper Castes)
For example: Many people in Reddy’s Jati from Andhra Pradesh (In Rayalaseema) were the ones who collected taxes for the British government. Now they are in Open caste category. Whereas the same Reddy’s Jati in Karnataka comes under backward caste category, may be because its members didn’t labour for Britishers.
The upper caste were given privilege of oppressing the people from lower castes. Caste was enforced by making it compulsory to mention for any work in the government offices. And even after independence, our leaders didn’t change the bureaucracy. This moderately transformed into the stringent caste system today.
The main objective of Britishers behind this was to bring a division in the Hindu masses. Caste is not something indigenous to Hinduism. Even Christians and Muslims in India (in some areas) have caste system. In fact, now in almost all temples there is no discrimination based on caste but in many churches in Kerala lower caste Christians are not allowed to enter higher caste Christian churches.
Castes like Dudekula Laddaf, Pinjari, Arekatika and so on are all Muslim castes in India. Caste is a cooked up part of Indian society (not just Hindu society) by the colonial rulers.
I hope all such systems which create differences will be thrashed and rejected by people in near future. Jai Hind.
By Charran Pailla,
-Inspired by Rajiv Malhotra