Caste System in India
The caste system is one of the main principles of the formation of Indian society. The hierarchical order roots in the ancient vision of the social division. The Indians adhere to it even at the current course of time. The division is based on different criteria, related to power, social status, kinship, birth, access to land, etc. The traditional social morphology of the Indian society was represented by varna phenomenon. Nonetheless, there has been a paradigm shift, observed in the perception of social stratification recently. As a result, Jati system was introduced. Both approaches reflect authenticity of the Indian culture. Moreover, each notion embodies particular beliefs of the Indian philosophy. The shift from varna to jati reveals an important change in the perception of the hierarchy and the overall legitimacy of the caste system, as well as demonstrates the evolution of Indian community. The present paper focuses on the core reasons of the jati domination over varna in India currently. These phenomena have numerous discrepancies, predetermined by their authentic nature. It is relevant to conduct an in-depth investigation of each system in order to provide a constructive comparison and a justified conclusion.
The initial stage of the discussion requires a proper comprehension of the notion of caste. Understanding of a caste should not be limited to a particular form of identity, which is predetermined by the birth or by belonging to a certain social group, but it should be expanded to be a matter of consciousness. The long Indian intellectual tradition is a background for the transformations in the consciousness of people. Admittedly, the radical changes, which occurred in India, were expected to eliminate the consciousness of the caste hierarchical order. These changes included the development in economic and political spheres of life, influence of the secular Constitution, progress in scientific and educational processes. Nonetheless, the notion of caste was not eliminated but transformed.
The term varna has such meanings as “color” and “light” and denotes four cosmogonic types of human beings. The differentiation in the context of varna is based on the lifestyle. The main “colors” of societies in terms of varna perception include classes of ‘priests’, ‘rulers’, ‘commoners’, and ‘servants”. It was the initial social classification in India that was based primarily on the land possession, social position, and the overall power. The varna was predestined before the birth. The caste system was excessively strict and the level of mobility during the lifetime was insufficient.
There is a dilemma, related to the underlying principle of varna stratification, namely, the access to land. The land was allotted according to the rank within a particular group, but there were several factors, which contradicted the assumption that this principle predetermined varna sufficiently at that period of time. First, the agriculture was considerably underdeveloped, and, as a direct result, the lands for plant cultivation had to be changed yearly. Second, the Aryans resided in “semi-nomadic conditions”, which meant that there was a lack of such concepts as ownership of specific lands and permanent occupation of particular territories. Third, the structure of the community was not defined clearly, since the processes of opposition, preservation of the authority and absorption continued to mould and restructure it. Therefore, the aspect, related to land possession, developed during further stages of varna evolution. Nonetheless, it had considerable impact on the caste system formation, as far as the land possession implied a correspondent social status and significant political power. Due to these reasons, the initial criteria for the caste stratification were, namely, the issues of purity and pollution. The connection between the caste and the level of purity relied not only on the birth issues. It primarily concerned the kind of work a person was foreordained to do. To be more precise, the main factor in the given context was “the ability or inability of a caste to abstain from the occupations considered as polluting.” This claim has a particular relation to the land issue, since it concerns ownership and social status that are directly interrelated to the type of work.
The formation of the four main categories of varna system was accompanied by significant changes and developments both in social and economic scopes. It was a period when “small, peasant predominating villages, which used pre-iron agricultural equipment and gave the surplus to the Brahman-Kshatriya” were formed. Admittedly, exploitation was on a considerable level, and such an approach to community organization contributed to a vivid actualization of varna categories. It was one of the roots of varna development along with the relations of production. These aspects were among the most important for the determination of a caste for each individual. Some scholars argue that the image of a caste, formed by the means of varna classification, is distorted. It is also important that “the foundation of purity and pollution in the caste system was not mental but material.” This aspect predetermined the potential for mobility within the existing caste system.
Jati system is regarded as “any set of beings supposed to cohere as a biological and/or social “community” (samaja).” The core aspects of the jati system are connected with the criteria of marriage and kinship. It may be proclaimed that categorization of jati is based on the varna. In such a way, a different conception of the social structure is demonstrated. The flexible nature of the jati phenomenon corresponds to the similar essence of a human being. Moreover, it acquires particular markings with the course of time. These markings are formed under the influence of different actions, which involve personal, cosmic, nutritive, interpersonal, and ancestral factors. Taking into consideration the fact that the markings are heritable, but at the same time they have a changeable and transmissible nature, it is relevant to regard the jati system as a different phenomenon in comparison with the genetic racism. In fact, the majority of Hindu entities are excessively reluctant to change. Therefore, heritability of markings is the strongest aspect that characterizes jati.
Jatis were confused with the conventional meaning of caste or varna ranks since the 19th century. In India these ranks predetermined all spheres of activity for the population, including the religious beliefs, kinds of occupation, and political issues. Furthermore, varna stratification led to the issuing of a sacred decree, which forbade people that belonged to different castes to marry each other or even to exchange food items. The main difference of the conception of population categorization in case of jatis is that they consist primarily of “dispersed, named networks of families, also larger, internally stratified clusters of such networks, that attempt to preserve or raise their collective natures.” It became possible due to the methods of intermarry and subsistence. The focus of classification in terms of jati is put on the genealogic information, belonging to a particular varna, and even on the occupational aspects to a certain extent, but neither political power, nor religious preferences have influence on jatis. One of the most significant developments in the jati system is related to marital issues. To be more precise, this system does not impose an obligation of endogamy, as far as women can change their network to a better one through a marriage. Along with it, a notion of dharma is important in the context of jati system. It means appropriateness, relevance, extensive cosmic and moral order or “coherence.” The paradigm shift in the values, priorities, and taboos illustrates an important change that happened within the Indian society, regarding its conception of the hierarchical structure and the main factors that predetermine social order.
The prevalence of jati over varna system is predetermined historically and socially. Historical record reveals the origin of varna formation. The roots of varna caste system are in the ancient history, namely, in the co-existence of two absolutely different races, the Aryans and the indigenous inhabitants of the Indo-Gagnetic Plains. The appearance of people with European roots differed strikingly from those, with the darker complexion and presumably Negrito strains. It was a basis for varna differentiation in terms of color. It is important that such co-existence is considered to be unique, since the historical record describes it as a rare case. The Aryans conquered the land due to their prowess. Hence, the victory should have been preserved, and the Aryans managed to underline their superiority by means of their race or “color” of their skin. In such a way two particularly discrepant strata of community were formed, namely, “the Arya” and “the Dasa varna.” The distance, provided by such classification, guaranteed the order in the community.
The next level of stratification was within the Aryans. There was an elite stratum and the class of commoners. The process of assimilation of the Aryans with the indigenous population also contributed to the evolution of varna system. Nevertheless, there were no clear borders of the traditionally distinguished four varnas during that period. For instance, a stratum of priests developed later. Nowadays, four castes are outlined within varna classification, namely, the “priests”, “rulers”, “commoners”, and “servants’’. Nonetheless, the evolution of the Indian community and, especially, a considerable level of influence of both alien and autochthonous tribes, contributed to the establishment of jati as a system, which prevails over varnas. As a result, colonial policy produced a diversity of cultural networks, so that jatis, and the system of social classification according to the socio-cultural criteria became dominant. Moreover, a higher level of tolerance was introduced in terms of political and economic power. There is also a contradicting stance, concerning the historical record of the social stratification development. It posits that there is a single origin of the mankind, and that the currently discussed categorizations, either varna or jati caste systems, are the results of a consequent “devolution toward heterogeneity and chaos.” The diversity of networks , produced by the occurrence of miscegenation is considered to be a destruction of the original population. In fact, such an argument lacks consistency, as far as there is a “contrary tendency for rulers to agglomerate jatis and for commoners to move flexibly about the middle of society.” Hence, the dominance, acquired by jatis over varnas, demonstrates the evolution of the Indian society in a socio-cultural context.
The dominance of jatis over varnas is an important issue, because it reflects a course of evolution of the Indian society and shows the prevailing values and priorities of the modern population of India. The formation of caste system is one of the main factors of historical development of the country. A modern perception of the social order and hierarchical stratification of the Indian community is followed by new developments in the sphere of marriage, political impact, and land possession. The paradigm shift of values expands the outlook of the society.