Caste System in Indian Society
The caste system is the most fundamental feature of the Hindu society. Looking back over the course of centuries since its unknown beginning, the system has exercised a very profound influence on the social and economic life of the people. Originally it was introduced on the basis of division of labour in the society and was calculated to promote its economic strength and efficiency. The division was, to begin with, completely flexible and it was possible for a member of one caste to change to the other. But as time passed, the caste system became a water-tight social compartment.
Many theories have been propounded to account for the origin of caste system in India. The political theory states it was shrewd trick of upper class Brahmins. The occupational theory traces its origin to the family’s’ occupation. The racial theory owns its origin to the fact that different races organizing their own race to form a separate caste. The traditional theory points towards its creation by the gods to perform different functions. Some believe that Manu in his “Manu Smriti” divided the human society into four classes, viz., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. But Dr. Smith objected to this theory. He felt that it was the result of misunderstanding arising due to misinterpretation of Vanillas as Castes.
And last of all comes the Evolutionary Theory. This theory maintains caste system as a social phenomenon, the origin of which lies in social evolution which came into being through a long and slow evolutionary process. It is quite possible that during the evolutionary process some ugly things did make their entry into the system. The one and probably the worst was the custom of untouchability. With improvement in education, this social evil has almost disappeared from the society.
Still the caste system is not without its merits, which must not be ignored. It was based on the division of labour and thus enabled the society to function efficiently. It made labour more efficient as the hereditary skill in art was transferred from father to son. Castes served as a social insurance in societies and helped their members in times of need. The caste system solved the problem of choosing careers and the problem of unemployment did not arise. The system provided united action against exploitation. Also by eliminating competition, it protected the poor. Thus for a Hindu, the caste system has proved, “his club, his trade union, his benefit society, and his philanthropic society.”
However, the caste system has not only outlived its utility, but is a positive evil, which must be cast away as soon as possible. By splitting the society into water-tight compartments, it operates as an obstacle to the social and national unity, which is essential for a national effort at economic regeneration. It kills the spirit of enterprise and initiative by making functions hereditary. By making change of occupation difficult the system makes the labour and capital immobile. It retards the progress by creating a spirit of exclusiveness among the people and keeping them away from the progressive influences.
It is gratifying to find that the shackles of the system are fast breaking down. The welfare of scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes has been special concern of the state. Measures to provide increased educational and job facilities to them are taken effectively. So the greatest duty of the present generation is to do away with casteism which breathes the evil spirit of inequality, hostility and captivity. Our society cannot develop with the discrimination of caste in whatever form it may be.