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The culture of India is largely based upon the caste system that has been in effect for hundreds of years. This caste system has prevented true progress in India due to its narrow-minded beliefs. The caste system has been present in multiple cultures, but the caste system in India has been the one to leave the biggest impact on modern society or even remain in place. The Indian caste system is unique to their culture in that it is called the “Jati” system, and based upon the cultures morals, values, and social structure. “Although tribes and religious distinctions exist in other societies as well, what sets India apart is the prevalence of the caste system.” (Gupta, 410)
The Indian “Jati” system is composed of four “Varna”, four categories or classes of society. The first or top class of society, the category acknowledged as the most elite are called the “Brahman”. This class is composed mostly of “…priest[s] whose rituals and sacrifices alone could ensure the proper functioning of the world.” (Strayer, 159) The next class or varna was the that of the Kshatriya whose main function was that of “…protecting and governing society.” (Strayer, 159) Thirdly, were the Vaisya class, who were usually viewed as the people or commoners. Some were farmers others were merchants, but this was the last class of respected people. It was also the last class of those considered to be “twice born”, of pure Aryan decent “…for they experienced not only a physical birth but also formal initiation into their respective varnas and status as people of Aryan descent.” (Strayer, 159)
Lastly, were the Sudra, or as they are more, well known, the “untouchables”. The Sudras were the lowest of the four classes of society and were simply natives to India living amongst those that they were forced to serve. “Regarded as servants of their social betters, they were not allowed to hear or repeat the Vedas or to take part in Aryan rituals. So little were they valued that a Brahmin who killed a Sudra was penalized as if he had killed a cat or dog.” (Strayer, 159)
This four-tiered social structure was believed to form the body of the god Purusha. This idea impressed the classes of the structure even more upon those who lived within the Hindu caste or Jati. The Jati played a very large part in daily life of the Indian people, due to the fact that a large part of the “social distinctions…arose based largely on occupation…Each jati was associated with a particular set of duties, rules, and obligations which defined its members’ unique and separate place in the larger society.” (Strayer, 161) Even though the world outside has evolved and things such as slavery have been outlawed, and men and women are viewed equally, the caste system although practiced somewhat differently remains in place.
In reality, all the Indian society is doing as a whole and as the individual are holding themselves back. They remain in a primitive stage of phase of life all due to the fact, that generation after generation have been taught to believe that they will only go so far in life. These individuals have been taught to fulfill their obligation without questioning, because if they are in a respectable caste (of Aryan blood) they will be reborn into the life they hope to have when in reality this is entirely false. This belief itself can be compared to times of slavery in America when owners would promise their slaves freedom after the slave worked for a certain number of years, only later to find that the master or owner was lying. The exception in the caste system is that the people of the castes never live to learn that it is untrue, which is one of the many reasons the system has lasted so long. Their beliefs go beyond this world so their only proof is in death, thereby making it impossible for anyone on the outside to argue their beliefs.
Those affected most by the caste system are the Shudras or the untouchables. There are around “one hundred and sixty million untouchables that face violent reprisals if they forget their place.” (O’neill, National Geographic Online) The small-minded individuals who support Indian society, and the structure of the caste system believe that they are going to be “reborn” and hope that with rebirth will come a better life, higher standing among society perhaps. The untouchables are treated worse than animals and are punished even when they speak many times. In my opinion they are one of the world’s saddest realities. They are human and yet they are despised and hated because they are not of a certain ancestry. Because they work with their hands they are considered filthy. These realities are what make me loath it when an American teenager does not claim that something is fair. For there are far worse things in the world than many are aware of one of them being the untouchables.
A very sad example of how the untouchables are treated is the story of a man named Girdharilal Maurya. He out of the few untouchables who dare attempt to tried to make a life for his family and himself. He worked hard as a leatherworker, which is what deemed him an untouchable due to the fact that “…Hindu law says that working with animal skins makes him unclean, someone to avoid and revile.” (O’Neill, National Geographic) One evening when his wife and daughter were at their small home, and Maurya was away, men from the village paid a visit to remind him exactly where he and his family belonged. “They broke his fences, stole his tractor, beat his wife and daughter, and burned down his house.” (O’Neill, National Geographic)
It is men like these that hold back Indian society. The primitive nature with which they force those below them to the bottom of the social ladder is the thing stopping them from progressing into a better life. The idea that the locals view it as more practical to use violence and scare tactics, than to encourage economic stability of anyone in the community is primal at best. Instead, of limiting it to the select few, the Indians need to open their minds, and possibly consider altering the structure of their religion just slightly so that it includes those that are considered untouchables, if only to establish a working class for the nation. The untouchables should not simply be treated like homeless, filthy animals, they are people, these people have a right to live a healthy prosperous life just as much as the most elite individual living in India. As it may remain the idea of encouraging violent acts such as the one committed against Mr. Maurya, only reinforces the idea that until change is made in India they will remain as they are, living in the same time in which their beliefs were developed.
If change were to be seen in India, I believe that it would be extremely beneficial. If untouchables were hired, and allowed to live healthy, hardworking lives, even on the lower end of the social spectrum India would not be sitting in the pool of it’s own problems, but running the race with the other countries in the world. There are certain areas that are seeing economic growth and social change such as New Delhi and Mumbai. The tourism industry has gone through the roof of these major cities and a few others. The change in these cities has created more job opportunities and brought more business to the local businesses than they would have ever had otherwise.
In conclusion, if the people of India were to become more open minded, and welcoming to change then opportunities for Indian culture would have more doors opened to it. The religious structure that the people have taken on for the past few thousand years has done much more harm then good. If the people of India were to accept those lower in the Jati, as acceptable to more obligations and a wider array of jobs then they would be creating more job opportunities and bettering lives in the process. Yet, instead they remain living within the same traditions that they have for hundreds of years and they remain in more modern world with the same if no more problems, both economically, socially and politically. The Indians need to stop living in the past and begin living in the future for only then will they begin to recover what could be a great nation laying among the decay of a religiously crippled society.
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