Hinduism and the Cast System Essay
Hinduism and the Cast System
Stratification refers to a system where individuals are classified in groups within the society. The status of individuals within the society is influenced by how these individuals are stratified by the society. The stratification is based on the individuals’ wealth and income class, social class, ethnicity, gender, political status and religion as practiced by the caste system of India. Other societal stratification is based on open and close systems. An open system also known as meritocracy is a system where status within the society is achieved by merit through individual’s own efforts.
On the other hand, a close system is a system where the status within the society is assigned to individuals rather than earned. This assignment is based on a number of factors such as family setting as the case with the feudal system where stratification is based on landowners and serfs. Political factors may also influence the stratification of the society as practiced of communist societies. Stratification is a recipe for social inequality within the society especially among the Hinduism and the caste system of India (Jenna, 2006). Inequality is a social problem experienced in almost every society setting.
The existence of inequality could be as a result of hierarchical classification a case called social hierarchy or it may exist without such hierarchy, a situation known as social differentiation where both male and female are treated as equal. The manifestation of social inequality in the hierarchical ranking of individuals and groups within the society results in what is commonly referred to as social stratification which is a group phenomenon. The process by which theses groups are ranked in a hierarchy based on status is known as stratification.
A stratified society is therefore a society that is characterized by inequality of different groups classified by the society as being of low or high class. This phenomenon is closely practiced by the philosophy of Hinduism as a religion and tradition and commonly practiced by Indian social institutions. Caste derives its meaning from a Spanish term caste referring to lineage. It also refers to race of kind. The Indian caste stratification dates back to the chaturvarna system which divided the Hindu society into distinct groups such as the Brahmins, the Kashtriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras.
The caste system originated form the Varna system which was based on division of labor. However, defining caste becomes a complex task because of its complexity. Certain groups define caste as a collection of families sharing a common name and descent and therefore comprising a homogeneous unit within the community. Others argue that status is predetermined such that where a person is born dictates automatically the caste class.
Stratification as practiced in Hinduism is based on untouchability where discrimination is practiced against members of the society belonging to a lower hierarchy of the caste based system known as the Dalits. As a result of discrimination and exploitation subjected to the Dalits by members of the upper caste hierarchy, most of the members of theses groups turned to other religious faiths such as Islam and Christianity which subjected their followers to equal treatment. This religious conversion provided an escape path from the oppressive rule of the upper class caste.
However, these conversions did not prove to be a restorative step as discrimination continued to be subjected to the members of the non-Hindu faiths and particularly to the Indian Muslims. Most of Muslims in India descended from the. low caste class converts and the untouchables with only a few claiming their origin to foreign descent. These groups claiming foreign descent believe that they are superior to other groups and categorize themselves as ashraf meaning the noble. The indigenous descendants are commonly known as ajlaf meaning low class.
Using this classification, three quarters of the Indian Muslim population occupy the ajlaf category and conversion into Islam faith has not helped them either. This is because they continue to be discriminated by their fellow co-believers who are considered of upper caste. These cases are particularly common in the states north of India such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar where members of the lower caste are denied rights to use graveyards to perform burials. There have been calls for the reservation of jobs and entry into academic institutions by groups fighting for equal representation in the government.
The Indian constitution has a clause which allows the president to declare particular caste classes as scheduled so that they benefit from reservations (Gavin, 1996). The representation of Muslims in jobs and academic institutions is below the Dalits. Discrimination based on family background is prevalent within the Muslim community in India. However, the demand for a separate identification for a Dalit Muslim and the benefits associated with this caste has not helped either to solve this inequality. This is a dangerous step that would extend divisions in the already divided Muslim community.
Caste and religion should therefore not be used as basis for any affirmative action. These reservations also provide a basis for social and economic discrimination because the community has to be categorized as backward in order to benefit from reservation. The economic status should therefore be the only basis of providing reservation for an individual or a group of people. This is because economic backwardness is associated with social discrimination and therefore accessing education and jobs is restricted.
Providing reservation on the basis of economic stats would only benefit deserving cases by ensuring that elite groups within the society do not misappropriate such benefits (Kader, 2006). Nevertheless, Indian Muslims have reacted positively to the challenges of being viewed as minorities within the society. However, these challenges continue to be experienced by Indian Muslims with a shift in its national and international status. Therefore the challenges experienced currently by the community come from both internal and external factors. External factors are considered to be those that originate from factors outside the society.
These factors include the perception of Indian Muslims as fifth columnists exhibiting other territorial faithfulness and being pro-Pakistan. The internal factors are those factors emanating from the caste system discrimination practice within the Muslim community. The Quran allows gender and tribe differentiation but does not legalize social stratification. However, the Muslim society is highly disintegrated and diversified into caste based systems which is against the doctrines of the Quran. These integrations within the society affect relationships between the different castes.
These include categorizing people into superior and inferior castes, their level of impurity exhibited by their occupation. Some castes were regarded as impure as others and therefore belonging to a lower status within the community. Animals such as pigs which are regarded as impure and therefore any occupation associated with these animals automatically occupy low caste hierarchy in the society. These castes are perceived to be unclean. Any physical contact therefore with these castes is therefore prohibited and if it happens accidentally there has to be purification through a simple bath especially before performing any religious activity.
Not only is pollution caused by bodily contact but it is also involves contact of impure substances. Such substances include human secretions making women experiencing periods unclean and are prohibited from entering holy places. Status differentiation is also prevalent on marriages and eating habits. Temple construction was also a means of achieving social respect within the society and therefore elevating people to a higher class. This reinforced temple entry restriction as only members of upper castes had the capacity to build temples.
The exiting temples were also in the hands of upper castes because the colonizers had passed them into hands. These castes were given licenses to build temples in order to promote discrimination during colonization period. Colonization acted as a catalyst to reinvent social stratification and much of what now the Indian tradition which has an autonomous caste system headed by the Brahma. Caste is therefore a colonial creation that has been reminiscent by the social forms of administration proceeding the colonial era. Economic factors played a significant role in the classification of castes and their relationships.
Periods associated with extreme economic exploitations witnessed intensified caste discriminations as compared to periods of during which economy was expansive (Bhatty, 1996). The Gupta period was particularly associated with increasing prosperity and social mobility. Agricultural production improved during this period leading to improvements in the social status of cultivators. The society cannot be exclusively judged by its modern standards. In the modern world, the printed mater is widely available in the form of computers which store information and therefore making older and ancient systems redundant.
However, the ancient systems such as the artisans contributed in the emergence of preservations of specialized skills and knowledge and their perfection. These artisans were closely to caste in India and particularly favored by the Brahmins who ensure that this identity is maintained and preserved (Deshpande, 2000). The community cannot wish away the harm that social discrimination has brought to members of low castes within the Indian community. Efforts should therefore be employed to fight this vice by ensuring that the practice is eliminated completely.
Groups and individuals should therefore intervene to promote awareness programs to break the social barriers created by the caste based system. In the modern world, the caste system continue to be practiced which implies serious social inequalities. These inequalities continue to be propagated through race and national descent. The colonial era was characterized by racial and descent discrimination which enabled them to justify their exploitation. This era was fundamental in creating exploitations across geographical territories.
This economic destruction has been inherited by the modern society across many colonized nations not only India. Inequality in wages across nationals also has its origin in colonization. Democratization of India still continues as caste and discriminations involving gender causes serious harm. These social inequalities among the Dalits are a source of tribulation to these groups and therefore should be fought at all cost. The elimination of these social evils cannot be done in isolation of other numerous necessary changes. It is therefore important to understand how these social inequalities are shaped and eliminated.
The success of this process also depends on the development of the economy of India. Throughout the history of mankind, low class castes have been subjected to social discrimination of different nature with economic gap being the major cause of these inequalities. Systems based like the cased systems which are based on unequal access to resources such as land, and wealth from raw materials usually results in social inequalities and discrimination. Embracing low castes within the Indian society was masterminded by Mahatma Gandhi who referred to them as a people of God.
At the moment, the Indian constitution has strict laws against discrimination and untouchability. Marriages between members of opposite castes have been on the rise and are expected to continue. There has been affirmative action to uplift the economic status of the outcastes by ensuring access to education and reservation for places in higher institutions of learning. Even thought these reservations have encountered public outcry, they are significant in improving equality in a society that has been plagued by social stratification (Jenna, 2006).
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 September 2016
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