India is growing and changing fast, but some traditional views are still in place Institutions like the caste system have been outlawed, yet caste discrimination and segregation still occurs
The most recent economic data indicated that, in urban areas, a wealth gap of 60% exists between people traditionally from the highest and lowest caste So what is the Indian caste system? And how is it affecting modern India? Well, the caste system is a hereditary, social hierarchy, also called “the Jati [dʒɑːti] system”, that’s existed in India for nearly two thousand years Historians think that these social distinctions may be based in ancient Hinduism, which delineates four major social classes, or varnas On top are the Brahmins, usually described as priests and scholars Then come the Kshatriyas, described as nobles and warriors
The Vaishyas below them operate commercial businesses And the Shudras, below THEM, are referred to as laborers or servants Then, there is a fifth group, completely ostracized from traditional Indian society – the Untouchables Now called Dalits, this lowest caste is relegated to undesirable jobs, like cleaning sewers Because they are considered impure, the Dalits have been regularly segregated from schools and religious temples, and there are reports that some have even been punished for letting their shadow fall on someone of a higher caste
Experts think that this hierarchy wasn’t strictly adhered to in the region, until the British claimed India as a colony, and wrote the caste system into their laws From there, the system became more rigid, and when India gained independence from Britain in 1947, it was ingrained into the culture Obviously, the Dalits got the short end of the stick in this historical arrangement But in 1955, discrimination based on caste was outlawed And to help re-integrate lower-castes in modern society, the government later implemented affirmative action-like quotas for certain jobs and university admissions
However, vestiges of the caste hierarchy undoubtedly remain A politician’s caste continues to be an important deciding factor for many voters, and marrying or acting outside of one’s caste continue to be taboo in many rural areas For India to become completely caste-free, more education, government policies, and social programs may be needed Although this social system is still rooted deep in India, it does have cracks To hear the inspiring story of one young boy who beat the system, check out this video from This Happened Here
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