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Caste system of India

Apropos your thought-provoking, well-researched, thematic, hard hitting and eye-opening editorial “India as a Hindu Rashtra: Impossible” (March 7). I would say that the editor has truly epitomized that “India is not only divided on religion grounds but also in caste system.” India’s caste system is a social structure that divides different groups into ranked categories. Members of “higher” castes have a greater social status than individuals of a “lower” caste. There are different theories about the establishment of the caste system viz. religious-mystical, biological and socio-historical theories. According to the Caste system of India, I would like to point out that there is perplexity in the caste system begins by the use of the word caste. The Indians in their different languages use the word ‘Jat’ for any community who has something common like religion, language, origin, similar geographical background and so on. The Indians also use the word ‘Jat’ for Varna. The Portuguese who were the first European power to arrive in India distorted the word ‘Jat’ into caste. The British who arrived to India much later after the Portuguese also used the word caste. The British used the word Caste instead of Jat and Varna. And so sometimes in English the caste system is explained in a confusing way according to which, the caste system consists of four castes which are divided into many castes. Sometimes in English the word caste is used for Varna and the word sub-caste for Jat. On the other hand, the word ‘Hindu’ may not express immediately this sense of unity. It may have different meanings. One may have to explain what this word really means. At the first glance it has the sense of exclusivity. It is associated with Hindu belief system.  This word does not have any roots in the ancient India. It has originated a few hundred years ago and in fact it is the name given to Indians by others.

No doubt, India can finally move towards becoming a Hindu Rashtra, reverting to the glory of the Gupta Period; ignoring in the process the undeniable cultural diversity which generations of foreign invasions has injected into this nation of ours. As Gandhiji said, “The nation is not built on religion.” And of course, there were other elements in the national struggle like equality of women. Hindu-Muslim unity was not the only touchstone for secularism. Secularism means you rely on reason, not religion. Demographically, India has been a Hindu nation, and Hindus has never imposed their way of life on others. Acceptance of people of different faiths has been the hall mark of the Hindu way of life and thinking. There were no instances of religious persecution in India. Ironically, it is Hindus who ill-treated their own members. Therefore India has been both a secular and Hindu nation from the historical times. Gandhi himself was deeply religious, but he never defined the “self” of “self-rule,” the swa- of swaraj, as Hindu, Muslim or even Indian. It was Gandhi’s quest for the self and for its sovereignty that carried the day, creating the decades-long struggle which eventually liberated India. India has a rich history of tolerance and diversity, perpetrated by a way of life, commonly known as Hinduism.


Vinod C. Dixit

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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