Guest Blog Post By Student Ambassador
Aintzane Perez (8th Grade):
Deeply rooted and embedded in societies across the globe lies discrimination. The types and levels of discrimination varies, yet it rears its ugly head no matter the hemisphere. In the United States for instance, we see occasional discrimination of blacks, ethnic minorities, women, and the poor or disabled. We have a history of slavery and women’s suffrage. India, too has a history or discrimination and an old system of castes that has been abolished by law and religion, yet still traces can exist.
India’s caste system is an extremely complex and ancient system which has several theories on its origination. Some religious and some historical. One religious theory states that the primal man, Purush, destroyed himself to create a human society made up of four different body parts. One historical theory states that the caste system began with the arrival of the Aryans in India, the Aryans began to conquer India and place themselves as the “top of the crop” or the Kshatriya, the Brahmins, and the Vaishya. Much later, they made the rest of the people servants. The caste system was outlawed in 1950, however, understanding its history and parts is an important part of India’s identity and cannot be forgotten.
The Brahmins were priests and teachers. They are responsible for teaching and maintaining any sacred knowledge. Surprisingly, in historical record the Brahmins only show up around the Gupta Empire. However, it doesn’t mean they didn’t exist prior to this documentation. Brahmins study religious texts such as the Vedas and the Puranas. They also have forbidden activities, such as making weapons, butchering animals, making or selling poisons, trapping wildlife, and other activities regarding death. Including the fact that they are vegetarians.
The Kshatriyas were warriors and rulers. The earliest Vedic text show that the Kshatriyas were the authority holders. It is said that the Kshatriyas were destroyed by the Parasurama. Some scholars believe this shows the battle between rulers and priests. They weren’t necessarily wealthy, kings usually were classified in this Caste and it was considered their duty to understand weapons to be good rulers.
The Vaishyas were farmers, traders, and merchants. Religious texts assigned Vaishyas to traditional roles in farming but over time they came to be landowners, traders and merchants. The Vaishyas claim dvija status, which is a “twice born” along with Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Indian traders were widely credited for the spread of Indian culture to several regions going as far as southeast Asia. In History, Vaishyas have been involved in roles other than their traditional pastoralism, trade and commerce. According to Ram Sharan Sharma, a historian, the Gupta Empire might’ve been a Vaishya dynasty that was created as a reaction against oppressive rulers.
The Shudras were laborers. The traditional occupation of Shudra is described as laborers and servicers. However, the way they are described varies on the scholar. For example, some sources state agriculturalists and artisans to be the main job of Vaishya varna and some place these jobs with the Shudra varna. Many scholars have tried and locate any historical evidence for the existence of varna in documents of medieval India.
The Dalits were outcasts. They were the street sweepers and latrine cleaners. They are also referred to as “Untouchables” they are members of the lowest caste system. Dalit means “the oppressed” and for good reason as well. Discrimination is very prominent in this caste system. In fact, Dalits are actually born below the caste system and they do work that is viewed as “contaminating” such as preparing bodies for funerals.