Comments from Sunila Muzawar & Santosh Helekar at foot of this post

Human migration into India - new genetics data - Dr. Santosh Helekar (jan 11, 04)

 

The Caste System of India

José Colaço

 

The caste system of India is probably one of the most ill-understood entities known. It is also the source for differing emotions, actions, reactions and behaviour among different people for a plethora of reasons and even non reasons.

The word 'caste' is the English language translation of the Portuguese word 'casta' which literally means 'breed or lineage'. When the Portuguese arrived in India in 1498, they found what was to them, a perplexing system of stratification and discrimination prevailing amongst the people of India. Unable to explain this system to their rulers in Portugal, the first Portuguese sea-farers to India called it 'casta'.

In order to have a better picture of the 'casta' or the caste system of India, it is important to review the events occurring in the northwest corner of the Indian subcontinent about 3000 years prior to the arrival in India of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama.

The original inhabitants of India are described as being the negrito people. (They continue to live in the hills as well as villages and cities of India as 'scheduled tribes'). There also were Alpine, Mongoloid and Paleo-Mediterranean people.

Priest/Ruler? Mohenjodaro - courtesy harappa.comIn the northwest corner of the Indian subcontinent, in what today is Sind-Pakistan and the Indian State of Saurashtra, existed a very highly developed and sophisticated civilization - the (Sindhus) Indus Valley civilization of Harrapa and Mohenjo Daro. The people who lived in these cities were the original Negritos(Naga) and the Dravidians, the highly intelligent but smaller and dark brown descendants of Mediterranean origin. Recent excavations reveal the high level of sophistication of these Harappan cities which eventually succumbed to a variety of factors including drought, famine . These set of events were probably the initial catalysts for the Dravidian move to their present 'home' in South India. The Nagas moved inland and into the hills.

Around 1500 BC, there was another development occurring several hundred thousand miles west and north-west of the Indus valley. The nomadic, Caucasian, well built but rustic, cattle rearing people from the region around the Caspian Sea were restless. They were looking for newer and greener pastures. They began migrating to different parts of what is now Europe, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The Sanskrit speaking people, the Aryans traveled towards the Indus Valley. Initial migration appears to have been in the form of a few 'scout' or pioneer groups. A full scale migration occurred within the following decades. The Aryans with their superior physique and their horse driven chariots established unquestionable superiority over the Dravidian and tribal population of the Indus Valley.

The origins of the caste delineation are at THIS point in history, when the fair skinned Aryans finally defeat the darker skinned Dravidians and other non Aryans. The word used to describe this classification is 'varna', Sanskrit for 'colour'. In effect, this was a system of colour based differentiation. Prior to that, it was just a social-class-based structure.

The original classification was as follows:

1. Kshatriya - This was the highest 'caste' to which all the tribal chiefs and warriors belonged.
2. Brahmin - This comprised of the priests and other religious needed for the 'sacrifices' which were pivotal to the warrior way of life.
3. Vaishya - the tradesmen who were needed to provide the various services.

The Aryans were quite contemptuous of the darker, non Sanskrit speaking Dravidians who worshipped different gods. They considered them as 'pannis' ( cattle thieves ) and 'dasas' ( slaves ). They formed the fourth 'caste' or the Shudra. Aryans who were mixed with Dasas also fell into the Shudra caste. The tribals were to be the Untouchables.

With time however, a few re-alignments took place. The most important being the move made by the Brahmins to displace the Kshatriyas from the top spot. The Kshatriyas or the warriors were busy either fighting or getting killed. There was no time or perhaps inclination to learn. This was quite convenient for the Brahmins who did not have to fight or get killed. They became powerhouses of knowledge, especially in the fields of medicine and astrology. With extraordinary skill, the Brahmins organized their superior position in the 'varna' through religion and the religious mandates. This almost assured the total and near-perpetual subjugation of the poor, weak, down-trodden and their descendants. The Law of Manu gave the religious sanction to this discrimination.

One example of the Brahmin skill is the manner in which they organized the accordance of 'solar and lunar lineage' for the strong and powerful Rajputs who were actually the invading Huns!. It was a case of 'please the powerful in order to stay in a powerful position. Buddhist literature claims that the Brahmins used the Rajputs to destroy the Buddhists who had shown their dissent to the Brahmanic authority from around the 8th century BC. This explains why Buddhism which was almost the national religion of the subcontinent has comparatively little to show in the form of temples and following.

Women had a special place in this ancient subcontinental society........in the background!. They were denied the opportunity to learn Sanskrit and had to be satisfied with the dialect Prakrit. Sanskrit was the domain of the Brahmin men. The women were hence relegated to subservient positions. They were there, as it were, to cook, clean, sing, dance and for the sexual pleasure of the men folk until it was time to jump into the funeral pyre in order to become a 'sati'. In this regard, the Kamasutra texts make interesting reading.

Much has changed in India since the early days of the Aryan supremacy. India became a major haunt for a string of invaders and other settlers of foreign origin. Among them were the Greeks, Huns, Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Pathans, Mughals, Siddhis, Persians, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. India today, is a pot-pourri of different peoples.

The caste discrimination has been officially outlawed. The caste system itself is slowly beginning to dismantle. Education is taking care of that albeit at snail pace. People of all religions and all castes live and work side by side often oblivious and without regard for the other person’s religious beliefs or caste. There are pockets of religious bigotry and intolerance but they are almost always politically driven. And while they are painful and get widespread press attention, they are an aberration from the present norm of Indian life.

The central government in Delhi has organized a reservation of seats in colleges and positions in the employment sector for individuals from the hitherto-discriminated-against Untouchables and Scheduled Tribes. This issue has sparked off widespread discontent and needs to be looked at again. The reservation policy is a form of reverse discrimination and will eventually backfire on the country's development. Judging by the fact that it is a 'hot' political issue, the likelihood of any changes in this reverse discrimination are highly unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future.

The ugly head of 'caste' rears itself ever so often at the time of marriage. This will continue not only in the system of arranged marriages but also in the non-arranged ones.

A curious oxymoron is the presence and practice of the caste system among the Roman Catholics of Goa and Mangalore. For centuries after conversion to Catholicism, caste discrimination was practiced even within the precincts of the Church !. This is slowly dissipating.

The bias against women remains but to a lesser extent than hitherto. Women are now occupying their rightful place as 'equals' in industry, in society and in many homes. But much work needs to be done in this area. The situations which subjugate individuals because of poverty, lack of education and lack of employment opportunities remain as the major barriers.

PS: I owe my information on the above subject to a long list of sources. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the help, advice, criticism from and reference to the work and writings of the following :

Alfredo de Mello, Romila Thapar, Dr. Teotonio de Souza, Percival Spear, Vivek Menezes, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Dr. K. Jamanadas, Eddie Fernandes, Ben Antao, Ashok Chowgule, Edgar Martins, Paolo Colaço Dias and Francisco Alves.

Originally scripted January 26, 1998

addendum:

http://www.harappa.com/har/har1.html

The Indus Valley civilization flourished around 2,500 B.C. in the western part of South Asia, in what today is Pakistan and western India. It is often referred to as Harappan Civilization after its first discovered city, Harappa

The Indus Valley was home to one of the four largest ancient urban civilizations i.e  Egypt, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and China. It was not discovered until the 1920's. Most of its ruins, including major cities, remain to be excavated. Its script has not been deciphered. Basic questions about the people who created this highly complex culture are unanswered.

 

From: "Sunila Muzawar" <smuzawar@hotmail.com>
Date: Wed Apr 10, 2002


I agree with you that the caste system is wretched but it's no better or worse than the religious systems prevalent today. The caste system started as a flexible professional recognition system. Four main professions namely kshatriya (kings), vani (merchants), brahmin (scholars), shudras (other  services) were recognised. It was flexible and a person could change his/her profession without a problem.

The rigidity came about when the kings, merchants, scholars began to secure themselves against competition by disallowing the professional changes between father and son.

In many ways, religions are increasingly rigid today. Each one professes to be superior to the other and does not recognise the other's proximity to God. Secondly, movement between religions is frowned upon and people doing that are socially ostracised. Intolerance is encouraged to eliminate religious competition. Priests are revered and they are becoming increasingly powerful.

If caste is a slavery tool, religion is fast becoming one or in many cases has already become one. Now since many on this forum are very religious, it means they are slaves with the priests being their masters.

========

From: "santosh helekar" <Chimbelcho@aol.com
Date: Fri Apr 12, 2002


Sunila wrote: [The caste system started as a flexible professional recognition system. Four main professions namely kshatriya (kings), vani (merchants), brahmin (scholars), shudras(other services) were recognised. It was flexible and a person could change his/her profession without a problem. ]

I don't know to what extent the above historical justification has any kind of objective validity, considering the current desire for revisionist thinking among Vedic scholars. But there is now strong objective evidence for the idea that the discrimination between the higher and lower castes might have been motivated by racism.

Furthermore, this evidence completely rules out the above contention that "a person could change his/her profession (caste) without a problem".

I am referring here to a genetic study conducted recently by scientists at the University of Utah on several Indian population groups belonging to different castes. I believe a news report on this study was circulated on this or some other Goan mailing list.

This study found that the members of the higher castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas) are genetically similar to white Eastern Europeans, and substantially different from the members of the lower castes (various Shudra subcastes). The Shudras and tribals have significant genetic similarities with Africans and Asians.

The case appears to be pretty strong that the caste system was the earliest form of skin color-based racist apartheid system.

 

Human migration into India - new genetics data -Dr. Santosh Helekar (Jan 11, 04)

 

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