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Caste Dynamics In India: Unveiling Historical Roots, Contemporary Challenges And Paths To The Social Equity

In general caste means any class or group of people who inherit exclusive privileges or are perceived as socially distinct. Entomology defines caste as a class of physically distinct individuals with a particular function in the society. Caste in simple language is a surname a name which comes after one's name and this surname is referred as caste which divides people in different class, position, occupations, etc.

In present such caste or surnames have divided society in different section and created wide range of disparities among the people. This research paper is attempting to explain how India developed the caste system and how caste system of India helped British in British colonial period in India and how India is coping with caste system in India.

Caste system was first time described in Manu smriti between 200 BCE and 200 ce, it was outlined that caste system is hierarchical structure of society and the duties associated with each varna.

Caste created a division between the people of distinct group in the society based on their birth, occupation, and social status. It is historically associated with Hinduism, although similar system exists in other cultures and religions as well.

In hind society caste system have divided people in four varnas, known as:
  1. Brahmins: they are considered the top-class people, scholar, most privileged in the society. Someone who have God like power and have a position like God in the society
  2. Kshatriyas: they come after brahmins and are considered warriors, rulers, people lower than kshatriyas had to obey their orders as kshatriyas were the ruler who protect the its kingdom's people.
  3. Vaishyas: they are considered the merchant and agricultural class.
  4. Shudras: the laborer and servant class. This community was last of all three varna the work associated was of serving their loads and had low status in the society but were considered upper than the Dalits
Dalits the untouchable caste community the people who were not even allowed to enter place of people in above varna and are not even part if the varna in India. These people were not even considered part of the society. It is a oppressed community in the society.

This research paper presents a critical analysis on how origin of India's caste system, how did it take its deep roots in Indian society before, during and after British rule in India.

Research methodology
This research paper is of descriptive nature and research performed and written in this paper is of secondary source. This paper contains deep analysis of caste system in India. Secondary sources of information consist of newspaper, journals, and websites, etc.

India is a secular country in present but in reality, Indian society is populated with Hindu population as compared with other religion. Hinduism does not have one scripture but is ocean of scriptures such as Vedas, puranas, shastras, Mahabharat, Ramayana, etc. but as compared with other scriptures of Hinduism Vedas � rig Veda, Sam Veda, yajur Veda, Athar Veda are given higher priority and position or rank above all. These are transmitted orally from 2000 BCE (4000 years). These Vedas contains knowledge of spirituality, religion, society, literature, science, math, astronomy, nature.

These Vedas have divided people through their occupation but not by people's caste. Vedas does not contain any division by caste or by their birth. The story of rishi Valmiki the Ramayana writer, the father of rishi Valmiki was brahmin but rishi Valmiki was upbrought by hunter then he starts performing loot for his family then he changed his paths and became brahmin by performing spiritual activity.

Shree Bhagwat Geeta have also discussed that people as not divided into four varna just by birth but becomes a part of a varna through his work or occupation which he performs.

B.R.Ambedkar and many scholars have acknowledged that casteism came into existence in post Vedic society ( 1000 ce or after 3000 year).

Existence of casteism in Indian society
Dharmashashtra first time discussed casteism. Dharmashashtra was a like Hindu law books in ancient time. Dharmashashtras are the books of various scholars and Hindu priest or brahmins who have written their different ideology and these ideologies were read and understood by people of that time.

These books have tried to develop the society according to their ideology which have created conflict in understanding the previous scripture which explained the working of the Indian society and consequences of such changes are experienced in present time. People to save their higher position in the society started to create disparities and discrimination through caste as expecting and teaching their child to learn and continue the thing which their ancestor have done throughout their life and not allowing them to change or not letting them do what they actually want to do.

People found passing their profession's activity and religious knowledge to their descendants easy than letting them knowing different occupation of practices. Brahmins wanted to save their higher positions in the society and created their own way of society by dividing it by caste scriptures, shlokas, etc. were interpretated wrong and such wrong interpretations were passed on and such caste division practice was given a name of god's division.

People in ancient time did not even tried to interpretate the scripture on their own but relied on what other have explained them. These dharmashashtra does not say same thing but explains different views as of each scholar or priest as what he personally believes or not.

Rigveda's shloka:
Brahmanosya mukhamasit,
Bahu rajanyah kritah,
uru tadasya yadvaishyah,
padbhyam shudro ajayata
Caste System in India: Part 01 (Varna, Jati and Hinduism) : r/IndiaRWResources

In its original meaning: This shloka explaining that brahma is explains the occupation in the society with his body parts as how they use their body parts to perform their occupation. brahmins are the head and the mouth as -people who have knowledge and have power of mind and play a role priest and teacher in the society and use to direct others as how they have to live in the society by creating rituals, laws, etc. Kshatriyas are the arms as people who were warriors and the rulers, rulers use to work for the justice, protection, finances, etc. Vaishyas are the thighs as they were the farmers, traders and merchants. Shudras are the part of lower leg as they perform works like labor.

All these varnas makeup a society a livable for an individual. This shloka does not compare or include caste, it is talking about occupations and such occupations are being compared with the body parts which are must in such occupations. This shloka does not talk about class or caste weather lower or upper caste but all the works done by human are performed by the part of human.

But this shloka was explained as description of caste and was misused to create disparities by the brahmins or upper-class people or scholars for their privileges and benefits.

People with same occupation started to make their own small groups and such small group or communities were given names and children of such community use to practice same occupation and were also prohibited to change their profession and this caused people to get a certain caste who can follow a certain profession only.

Origin of lower caste or untouchables
In ancient time people use to live in small groups or tribes and such tribes or groups or communities had their own way of living. For example, hunters and gathers, they used to live in small group and use to hunt animals for food and survival.

During period between Aryans to British era some community or tribe refused to merge with other bigger communities, in the mean time the bigger communities started to develop faster than the small communities whereas small communities where stuck with their ancient practices and refused to change o evolve with the time, this resulted in creating disparities and differences between the communities. But when time changed and British era was started the people started to join big communities but due to lack of knowledge between small communities and bigger communities started to exploit with them.

Developed communities started to hire underdeveloped once to do their small jobs such as bathroom cleaning, servant works, butchers, etc. so to keep getting such privileges developed communities started to create discrimination between people not allowing them to enter temples, education institutions, and making them feel and practice untouchability.

So that such people do not get developed to know their rights and develop one's can exploit them. If undeveloped one's were allowed to develop themselves then developed one's would not be able to get their services done as underdeveloped ones would have stopped doing cleaning work or servants work as they would also focus on doing such work which would raise their standards in the society.

One of the greatest examples of untouchable practice is British's thought towards Indians or Africans. When British came to India, they also did the same with Indians as Indians were less developed as compared to Britain and their people. British during colonial period also ensured that Indians should not attain much knowledge or developed practice as if they would have got developed as of British then Indians would have understood their plans and Indians would have stand against them much prior and would have retained their freedom earlier than 1947.

Census report of British India, 1881
This report was made by Sir Herbert Hope Risley, the census commissioner, this report marked the beginning of the systematic enumeration based on the caste. In his report he introduced a comprehensive classification of caste and tribe. [1]

In which he first presented his view of Indian society as fundamentally structured by caste. Risley argued that caste was a system of social precedence deriving from a race-based hierarchy of social life. Historical anthropologist Bernard Cohn has argued that Risley's formulation of the racial basis of caste was his "theoretical axe to grind"[2]his response to what he saw as the fallacious occupation-based view of caste used in earlier censuses. Risley's reformulation of caste as social precedence had enormous consequences for the way Indian society would come to be viewed by the British colonial government, with continual reverberations in contemporary Indian politics.

Risley in his book the people of India presented an explanation for the creation of the caste system as a consequence of the initial contact between the invading Indo-Aryan's and the native Dravidians. According to his theory, the largely male Indo-Aryan marauders arrived in the subcontinent and intermarried with Dravidian women, but maintained strict hypergamy and prevented Indo-Aryan women from marrying Dravidian men.

Thus, the two races remained distinct, and caste was devised by the Indo-Aryans as a way to prevent racial miscegenation. Risley argued that its continued influence in Indian society today cannot be understood as a product of religious doctrine since caste was evident in Christian and Muslim populations as well.

Instead, caste was tied to one particularly crucial innate characteristic of Indian society writ large-what Risley saw as its "particularism instinct" and "tendency to morcellement."[3] Whereas European societies tended to fuse together under the umbrella of "the nation," no such solidarity was to be found in India, where endless splintering prevented the consolidation of Indian nationalism.

The origins of caste, Risley argued, were thus rooted in "a basis of fact and a superstructure of fiction"[4]: while endogamy explained the racial integrity of distinct castes, the Indian mind's "lax hold of facts" and "its passion for endless division and sub-division" prevented it from overthrowing this system of social precedence.[5] Ultimately, it was Risley's formulation of the caste system as a racial hierarchy that would go on to dominate colonial policies of governance in the form of subsequent censuses and surveys.

The legacy of Risley's work is still palpable in India today, where the colonial understanding of caste as rigidly hierarchical has provided the basis for affirmative action policies since independence.

Britishers have always been known for divide and rule in India, British used such report of sir Herbert hope risley's was used for dividing Indian people among themselves so that British can get more grasp of Indian society as fast as possible to make India a colonialized country under them. India even after attaining independence is still struggling to remove caste system at its fullest.

Caste system after independence
After independence in 1947 India have taken many steps towards eradication of caste system in the people and creating equality among people.

Some of the steps taken are:

Article 14

In the constitution of India, Article 14 talks about equality before the law. This article ensures that no person shall be deprived of their rights and will have their equal status, say, rights, etc., before the law. No one shall be discriminated by their status in the society nor anyone shall get any privileges.

Article 15 and 16

In the constitution of India, Article 15 and 16 prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, caste, religion, or place of birth. Everyone shall be given equal opportunities, and no one shall be discriminated.

Article 17

Article 17 abolishes untouchability, and it is prohibited to be practiced in any form.

Reservation Policies

Reservation policies are made by the government, and states are also given power to make reservations for their specific state. Reservations are mainly provided in government jobs, educational institutions, etc. People are divided into 4 categories:
  • General - People who do not face any discrimination in society and are of upper caste or are not socially backward.
  • Scheduled Caste - Those who are backward in society or do not have privileges or belong to lower caste.
  • Schedule Tribe - Those who are underdeveloped or have joined developed society late and are facing discrimination.
  • Other Backward Class/OBCs.

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was enacted in 1989. This law aims to prevent atrocities against individuals belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. It provides for stringent punishment for crimes committed against these communities and seeks to deter acts of discrimination. If we see at present time and question does caste system still exist? In present time caste system is being abolished with the time being and people have start doing their own work by themselves. For example, "A" a boy who do his own work like making food, cleaning washroom, working to earn money. Even if we look around people of upper caste have started to work in odd jobs such as cleaning jobs, service jobs, etc. people with the changing time and scenarios have started to accept lower caste people and think them as equal to them by eating with them, wearing same cloths as of them, working for same jobs, etc.

Caste system in present is like deep rooted tree which was sowed for more than 1000s of years, to cut this system out the society the only weapon is education. Education is a cutter for such deep-rooted tree. Caste system is a man-made ideology which man himself can remove it by creating equality, promoting education, etc. connecting caste system with religion is not fair as to benefit ourself. Caste system begin with people who wrongly interpretated the shlokas or ideologies of Hinduism, to solve this people themselves needs to understand things on their own rather depending on anyone.

People who are offered reservations are for uplifting their social status in the society but if we see people under reservation are getting benefitted are using or getting such opportunities generation to generation even after uplifting their status in the society. Reservation system and other uplifting schemes should be changes or modified with the changing time. People who are able to sustain them selves or are able to buy their rations are still availing the facilities of ration shops and this problem is stopping people who are in real need of such scheme.

  1. Hannah Carlan' Sir Hertert Hope Risley (4 January 1851 � 30 September 1911), UCLA Social Science MANAS
  2. URL:
  3. Cohn, "The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia," 247.
  4. Risley, The People of India, 79�80.
  5. Risley, The People of India, 273.
  6. Risley, The People of India, 273.

Written By: Deepanshi Garg
- Amity university, Uttar Pradesh BA.LLB(H)

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