To identify two characteristic features of caste are ‘purity and pollution’ (unclean) and ‘endogamy’ (marriage within caste). Hindu society as articulated in the Vedas is classified into four Varnas or caste: Brahmin (priest and teacher), Kshatriyas (ruler and warrior), Vaishya (trader) and Shutra (servant). There are further sub-divided hierarchically into many smaller Caste or Jatis. The Dalit, Chandalas and Adivasis caste were left outside from division of varnas and they are treated as the lower caste hierarchy, and they were considered as polluted caste and they can’t touch to the other upper caste, this custom is called untouchability system. The marriage were practicing in form of endogamy where marriage take outside their caste is prohibited.
A caste system is a division of society based on occupation and family lineage. Hindu caste system recognized four distinct classes or divisions among people based on the criteria and enforced it through it is through rigid code of conduct that was specific to each class and rooted in the dharmashastras (law books) of the later vedic period. The four main caste recognized by traditional Hindu society based primarily on hereditary occupation are mention below;
- Brahmins; they are the priest and teacher who perform the religious ritual and obliged to serve the sacrament.
- Kshatriyas; they were the ruler and warrior in the society. Manu laid down that it was the duties of the king and warrior to protect the kingdom and his people.
- Vaishyas; they are the merchant and peasant classes in the society. They were expected to tend catle, offer sacrifices, trade, and lending money and cultivate the land.
- Shutras; they were the lowest class among the four caste divided in the society. There were not allowed to study vedas or event hear the sacred chants. There duties is to serve the other three caste.
- Chandalas, Dalit and Adivasis; the lowest of the shudras and other class outside from the four varnas were treated as impure ones. They are treated as untouchables because of their gory religious practice, penchant for sacrifices, magical rites and unclean habits.
The ideas of ‘pure’ and ‘impure was deeply rooted on ancient history back in Vedic period. The upper caste staying away from the unclean people is understandable in the society that was obsessed with the concept of physical and mental purity. And it was enforced with the help of law book such as Manusmriti and the support of king and panchayat who considered themselves as upholders of dharma. The belief in tradition, superstition, religious belief, fear of punishment, all this play an important role in the caste system. The caste is heredity, duties prescribe by birth, marriage outside the caste is forbidden, and all the member can be recognized the caste by their clan’s names. However all the rigid rules were more flexible in the post-colonial period and the emerging of modernization in the society make the people more rational? There is unusual with people to stay away from the people and who thinks as an expression of the social intelligence and self-preservation instinct because of their different in caste. In the present context, the personal success, family background, financial status is do matter today in the society, as it was thousand year ago but still the people belief in the caste system. Dr.Kethar defines caste as “a social group having two characteristics: (i) membership is confined to those who are born of the members and includes all persons so born; (ii) the member are forbidden by an inexorable social law to marry outside the group. So, the membership confined by birth as pure and impure according to caste hierarchy and marriage is forbidden outside the curtain caste group.
- PURITY AND POLUTION: the three element of caste system are hierarchy, repulsion and hereditary specialization which are directly related to practicing of purity and pollution called untouchable. According to pro. M.N. Srinivas, traditional Indian society was based on Varna and Jati. This system is very ancient in origin from Rigveda and through the passage of time it has undergone, profound changes. The origin of Varna is reasonable clear from the references in the Vedic Corpus stated by him and the genesis of the Jati have been the clan, prior to its becoming a caste.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, has given a pathetic condition and given a lot of fact about the untouchables. He write that “under the rule of the Peshwas in the Maratha country the untouchable was not allowed to use the public street if a Hundu was coming along lets he should pollute the Hindu by his shadow. The untouchable was required to have a black thread either on his wrist or on in his neck as assign or a mark to prevent the Hindu from getting them polluted by his touch through mistake. In Poona, the capital of the Peshwa, the untouchable was required to carry, strung from his Wrist, a broom to sweep away from behind the dust he treated on lest a Hindu walking on the same should be polluted. In Poona the untouchable was required to carry an earthen pot, hung in his neck wherever he went, for holding his spit falling on earth should pollute a Hindu who might unknowingly happen to tread on it”.
Examble-1: The children of untouchables were not allowed to study in public school. Untouchable were not allowed to use the public well, to wear apparel or ornament they like and to eat any food they like.
This list of atrocities is even longer than this. In post-independence India, this is quite lessen but not completely exhausted. He believe in new social order based on the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity in consonance with the principle of democracy. He advocate the backward classes have come realized that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight, who have just realized that without education their existence is not safe. He suffer a lot due to this caste system and still in that system of discrimination, he succeeded to well-educated himself.
- ANDOGAMY: Marriage is a social institution, every society have their own form and type of marriage. Endogamy form of marriage practice in Indian caste system. Marriage within the caste were being practice but marrying outside the caste were punished, this system is called endogamy. The caste system prohibited marriages outside one’s caste to avoid inter mixture of the caste, which was considered to be a sign of decline of dharma and the very reason why the caste system was devised. The Hindu law allowed certain type of inter-caste marriages as an exception rather than rules. Marriages between a higher caste men and lower caste women were less objectionable than marriages between shudras males and higher caste females and marriage between men of upper caste and shudra women. . Dr. Ambedkar proposed widow remarriage and against many social evil, like untouchability, child marriage, sati system and caste system. The marriage system were more relaxed after the pass of Hindu marriage act 1955 amended in the Indian constitution.
According to B.R. Ambedkar, he did not belief in caste, he said “I do not belief the caste system, even as distinguished from varnarashram, to be an Odious and vicious dogma” untouchability is the by- product of caste system. The custom of endogamy: a women or men should marry to their own caste, and she can be disposed of in two different ways so as to preserve the endogamy of the caste;
Examble-2; firstly, those members marrying outside the caste were driven out from village and if the husband died, burn her on the funeral pyre of her deceased husband and get rid of her and something must be done to her if she cannot be burned along with her deceased husband. This is however, is rather an impracticable way of solving the problem of sex disparity.
Secondly; the second remedy is to enforce widowhood on her for the rest of her life. So far as the objective results are concerned, burning is a better solution than enforcing widowhood. (Indian Antiquary Vol. XLI (May 1917)
Dr. Ambedkar advocates inter-caste marriage as one of the solution to the problem. But he stresses that the belief in the ‘shastras’ is the root cause of the maintaining caste. He therefore suggests, “make every man and women free from the thralldom of the ‘shastras’, cleanse their mind of the pernicious nations founded on the ‘shastras’ and he or she will interdine and intermarry” according to him, the society must be based on reason and not on atrocious traditions of the caste system.
Critically analysis on ‘Purity and Pollution’ and ‘Endogamy’; according to my point of view, everyone is equal before the eyes of the God and before the law of the nation-state. However, Purity and pollution and endogamy is the by-product of caste system created by the men. I respect the history of all the society and caste system but it doesn’t mean that I supported social evil which was practice in the Caste system likes, discriminating to lower caste, pure and pollution, child marriage, sati system and endogamy. The division of labor in ascribe but not to be achieved through education and individual capability and interest is not justified. When we examined historically, the Indian society has been a predominantly by Hindu, like 12% of Muslim, Christian form 3% of the population, while silk, Buddhist and other religion groups constitute another 3% of the population. However the Hindu society have rigid Endogamy and caste hierarchy. The ‘untouchable and endogamy’ based on caste system is very much present in Indian society where the society were divided in ‘pure caste’ and ‘impure caste’ but it is very much relaxed in post-independence when compared. Though the Indian caste system is regarded as closed society and the position and status of the individual in the society is decided by birth. However, within the frame work of the cate system itself, there were some kind of mobility is there for many reason likes; Modernization, Industrialization and market economy, secularization of ideas, migration to urban for professional works, a transition from ascribe to achieved status through education and market changes and increasing nationalization toward participation in politics under the constitution of India. Thereby, the concept of ‘pure and impure’ and other belief are more relax in the present generation.
In conclusion; the Indian caste system is very unique in its own way. The origin of the caste system started from Vedas period and there are four caste mention;
- Brahmin (priest and teacher),
- Kshatriyas (ruler and warrior),
- Vaishyas (merchant and peasant) and
- Vhudras (servant or serving to other three group).
However there other group left out in the four division of Varnas, like; Dalit, chandalas and Adivasis, they are treated as lower caste along with lowest shudras who were considered to be polluted caste. The other three caste considered themselves as ‘pure’ and they are upper caste in the society. Caste is a closed group, hereditary and decided by birth but not by achieves. Mr. Ambedkar did not belief in the caste system and he said it is the creation by the people. He advocated the inter-caste marriage in order to solve the problem of endogamy. He further added that, education is the best way to protect oneself from caste discrimination. Pro. M.N. Srinivas is a well know Indian sociologist, he talk about the mobility in the society. According to him, the mobility taking place in the society, where the individual members can move their positions by adopting the other higher caste, he called it Sankritilization. The society was changing toward modernization and the people were more rational, belief in nationalism, democratization in society and constitution of the country give the ideas of equal right before law.