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Caste System in India (A Historical Perspective)

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Item Code: NAM091
Author: Ekta Singh
Publisher: Kalpaz Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9788178353012
Pages: 297
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
Weight 510 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

The present work consists of well-written, well-analysed and well-researched material of eight chapters in comprehensive way. Ekta Singh commences the work with very introduction, moving forward with Caste System: the early stages, Caste as status in the family and clan, evaluation of Castes, from Rig Veda onward, Castes in India, their mechanism, Genesis and development, view of W.C. Bannerji, rules for untouchables, Social Reform Party, communal award, defenders of Caste system, ethics of Hindus, Vedas and Smritis, necessity of religion, beliefs and morals, the social reforms, the theory of Karma, various kinds of rituals, advent of the British rule, Harijan Sevak sangh, upliftment of Harijans, role of saints and sadhus, religion and God, Caste system in modern India, conversions, Hinduism, and culture, Christians in Travancore Durbar, the system of satyagraha and the gospel of spinning and khadi.

It could be called a well-researched work as the material for this great work collected from the great institutions like National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Supru House Library, Delhi University Library, Indian Council of Research Library, Sahitya Akademi Library and Jawaharlal Nehru University Library.

About the Author

Ekta Singh has completed her Ph.D. in History in the year 2003. At present she is doing research on “Medieval Indian History” and “Modern Indian History”. Her articles has been published from various organizations. At present she is in New York.


The Caste System in India is deep rooted in the long-drawn socio-economic, cultural and political history of our subcontinent. It has brought about a deep and complete division in the Hindu society. Since the days of yore, these divisions had become the symbols of status, from the upper class to the lowest category. Some social reformers and their movements did effect the socio-economic status of the Castes. But the efforts in this direction should not cease and they should remain an ongoing process.

The theme has been well-weaved into eight chapters which have been dealt with in a comprehensive way. They commence from the Introduction, moving ahead with. They commence from the Introduction, moving ahead with Caste System: the early stages, Caste as status in the family and clan, evolution of Castes, from Rig Veda onward, Castes in India, their mechanism, Genesis and development, views of W.C. Bonnerji, rules for untouchalbes, Social Reform Party, Communal Award, defenders of Caste system, ethics of Hindus, Vedas and Smritis, necessity of religion, beliefs and morals, the social reforms, the theory of Karma, various kinds of rituals, advent of the British rule, Harijan Sevak Sangh, upliftment of the Harijans, role of saints and sadhus, religion and God, Caste System in Modern India, Conversions, Hinduism and culture, Christians in Travancore, temple entry, Vykom Satyagraha, role of Travancore, temple entry, Vykom Satyagraha, role of Travancore Durbar, the system of Satyagraha and the gospel of spinning and khadi. The Bibliography is fairly comprehensive.

I have collected the research material from several academic institutions, viz, National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Sapru House Library, Central Secretariat Library, Delhi University Library, Indian Council of Historical Research Library, Sahitya Akademi Library and Jawaharlal Nehru University Library. I am grateful to the members of these institutions for affording their academic support to me during my researches. I have used and analysed the material from the writings of well-known authors. I feel much beholden to them.


Originating from the Portuguese word, caste, meaning breed, and now defined by the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences as, “an endogamous and hereditary subdivision of ethnic group occupying a position of superior or inferior rank or social esteem in comparison with such other divisions,” the caste system of India has now become on of the most rigid and defining social institutions in the world.

Having existed for nearly 3,000 years the caste system has come to dictate the lives and roles of much of India’s population by ruling social class and status. This system of defining caste from birth has created a rigid barrier of mobility within the country. Those of lower castes and without caste (the Dalits) are often subject to intense discrimination and are not given the privilege of basic human rights. While efforts have been made, including laws prohibiting discrimination based on caste, in a society as governed by customs as India is, it is difficult to persuade a society to relinquish traditional methods and thought.

A. Caste Problem in India

“I have a message for the world, which I will deliver without fear and care for the future. To the reformers I will point out that I am a greater reformer than any one of them. They want to reform only little bits. I want root-and-branch reform.”

Caste in Society and not in Religion

Though our castes and our institutions are apparently linked with our religion, they are not so. These institutions have been necessary to protect us as a nation, and when this necessity for self-preservation will no more exist, they will die a natural death. In religion there is no caste. A man form the highest caste and a man from the lowest may become a monk in India and the two castes become equal. The caste system is opposed to the religion of Vedanta.

Caste is a social custom, and all our great preachers have tried to break it down. From Buddhism downwards, every sect has preached against caste, and every time it has only riveted the chains. Beginning from Buddha to Raja Rammohun Roy, everyone made the mistake of holding caste to be a religious institution and tried to pull down religion and caste altogether, and failed.

In spite of all the ravings of the priests, caste is simply a crystallized social institution, which after doing its service is now filling the atmosphere of India with its stench, and it can only be removed by giving back to people their lost social individuality. Caste is simply the outgrowth of the political institutions of India; it is a hereditary trade guild. Trade competition with Europe has broken caste more than any teaching.

The Underlying Idea of the Caste System

The older I grow, the better I seem to think of caste and such other time-honoured institutions of India. There was a time when I used to think that many of them were useless and worthless, but the older I grow, the more I seem to feel a difference in cursing any one of them, for each one of them is the embodiment of the experience of centuries.

A child of but yesterday, destined to die the day after tomorrow, comes to me and asks me to change all my plans and if I hear the advice of that baby and change all my surroundings according to his ideas I myself should be a fool, and no one else. Much of the advice that is coming to us from different countries is similar to this. Tell these wiseacres, “I will have you when you have made a stable society yourselves. You cannot hold on to one idea for two days, you quarrel and fail; you are born like moths in the spring and die like them in five minutes. You come up like bubbles and burst like bubbles too. First form a stable society like ours. First make laws and institutions that remains undiminished in their power through scores of centuries. Then will be the time to talk on the subject with you, but till then, my friend, you are only a giddy child.”

Caste is a very good thing. Caste is the plan we want to follow. What caste really is, not one in a million understands. There is no country in the world without caste. Caste is bases throughout on that principle. The plan in India is to make everybody Brahmana, the Brahmana being the ideal of humanity. If you read the history of India you will find that attempts have always been made to raise the lower classes. Many are the classes that have been raised. Many more will follow till the whole will become Brahmana. That is the plan.

Our ideal is the Brahmana of spiritual culture and renunciation. By the Brahmana ideal what do I mean? I mean the ideal Brahmana-ness in which worldliness is altogether absent and true wisdom is abundantly present. That is the ideal of the Hindu race. Have you not heard how it is declared he, the Brahman, is not amenable to law, that he has no law, that he is not governed by kings, and that his body cannot be hurt? That is perfectly true. Do not understand it in the light thrown upon it by interested and ignorant fools, but understand it in the light of the true and original Vedantic conception..If the Brahmana is he who has killed all selfishness and who lives to acquire and propagate wisdom and the power of love-if a country is altogether inhabited by such Brahmanas, by men and women who are spiritual and moral and good, is it strange to think of that country as being above and beyond all law? What police, what military are necessary to govern them? Why should any one govern them at all? Why should they live under a government? They are good and noble, and they are the men of God; these are our ideal Brahmanas, and we read that in the Satya Yuga there was only one caste, and that was the Brahman. We read in the Mahabharata that the whole world was in the beginning peopled with Brahmans, and that as they began to degenerate they became divided into different castes, and that when the cycle turns round they will all go back to that Brahmanical origin.

The son of a Brahman is not necessarily always a Brahman; though there is every possibility of his being one, he may not become so. The Brahman caste and the Brahman quality are two distinct things.

As there are sattva, rajas and tamas- one or other of these gunas more or less-in every man, so the qualities which make a Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya or a Shudra are inherent in every man, more or less. But at time one or other of these qualities predominates in him in varying degrees and is manifested accordingly. Take a man in his different pursuits, for example: when he is engaged in serving another for pay, he is in Shudra-hood; when he is busy transacting some piece of business for profit, on his account, he is a Vasihya; when he fights to right wrongs then the qualities of a Kshatriya come out in him; and when he meditates on God, or passes his time in conversation about Him, then he is a Brahman. Naturally, it is quite possible for one to be changed from one caste into another. Otherwise, how did Viswamitra become a Brahman and Parashurama a Kshatriya?

The means of European civilization is the sword; of the Aryans, the division into different varnas. This system of division into varnas is the stepping-stone to civilization, making one rise higher and higher in proportion to one’s learning and culture. In Europe, it is everywhere victory to the strong and death to the weak. In the land of Bharata (India), every social rule is for the protection of the weak.

Such is our ideal of caste, as meant for raising all humanity slowly and gently towards the realization of the great ideal of spiritual man, who is non-resisting, calm, steady, worshipful, pure and meditative. In that ideal there is God.

We believe in Indian caste as one of the greatest social institutions that the Lord gave to man. We also believe that through the unavoidable defects, foreign persecutions, and above all, the monumental ignorance and pride of many Brahmans who do not deserve the name, have thwarted in many ways, the legitimate fructification of this glorious Indian institution, it has already worked wonders for the land of Bharata and it destined to lead Indian humanity to its goal.

Caste should not go; but should be readjusted occasionally. Within the old structure is to be life enough for the building of two hundred thousand new ones. It is sheer nonsense to desire the abolition of caste.


1Caste System: Early Stages39
2Caste Determines Social Positions57
3Evolution of Castes99
4Castes in India- Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development121
5Annihilation of Caste143
6The Social Reforms199
7Caste System in Modern India237

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