The Caste System and Its Evolution Through Time By Katherine Graham Throughout history and throughout many different cultures and countries discrimination based on one?s race, religion, social standing, and gender has been evident. Segregation and slavery in the United States, Apartheid in South Africa, the Holocaust originating in Germany, and discrimination against women throughout the world are all examples of the horrors of discrimination that so many countries have faced. However, one of the most severe and most long-standing cases of discrimination is found in the exotic country of India, a land that is mystified for its religion and culture. Though within these mystical attractions of India there lies a darker side, the caste system, one of the worst tools ever used for discrimination. The caste system finds its origin within the many beliefs and practices of the Hindu religion. Hinduism teaches that human beings are divided into four categories: the Brahmins who have white skin, the Kshatriya who have red skin, the Vaisyas with yellow skin, and the Sudras with black skin. Though these categories appear to be based solely on skin color, Hinduism states otherwise, for each hue or color actually refers to an attribute of that person. The Brahmins with white skin are thought to possess goodness, the Kshatriya with red skin possess passion, the yellow skinned Vaisyas have both passion and goodness, while the black skinned Sudras are attributed with darkness.(Four Orders par.1) The Hindus followed these divisions of the caste system strictly; however, these beliefs became more severe during Aryan invasions over 4,000 years ago. The Aryans originally wanted only to separate themselves, being light skinned, from the darker skinned Dravidians of southern India. These divisional practices, which at one time helped to categorize the many diverse groups of India and gave them a better sense of unity, eventually transformed into a more severe system of many rules and regulations.(Casting 17) The four main rules that pertain to all castes and to those belonging to them are: * Caste members can socially mix with only those belonging to their caste. * Caste determines where each member can live. * Caste determines what an individual may eat and drink. * Caste determines how each member may earn a living.(Casting 17) The two most prominent of these rules are those which forbid social movement within the castes and the rules which determine how each person may make a living. Persons who find themselves in violation of either of these two rules know that their punishment will be harsh. For example, in 1994 in Bihar, a northern state in India, a girl of a lower caste eloped with an Untouchable boy, the Untouchables consist of all who do not belong to any other groups and are therefore outcastes (Mayhew 208). The two were discovered and with the approval of the village council, a stone was used to smash in the boy?s head, while the girl was branded with a burning log and then whipped repeatedly, acts that seem unreal to be occurring in the 1990?s.(Casting 17) The separation of the castes based on occupation proves to be another source of strict ruling. The Brahmins consist of the priests and the scholars who must establish and preserve the ideals of the nation. The Kshatriyas are the rulers and warriors of their country, while the Vaisyas are merchants and professionals and the Sudras serve as servants and laborers.(Mayhew 208) Finally, there are the Untouchables who wander the streets, for they belong to no caste and are therefore refused work that would in turn bring them a source of income. They resort to labors such as street sweeping and toilet cleaning.(Under Attack 54) The Hindus believe in reincarnation, the process by which people's souls return to the living world again in another form. A Hindu?s goal is to fulfill his dharma, the destiny a person must fulfill in his lifetime, so that when reincarnated his soul may return as something better. Therefore, the punishment for disregarding the rules of the caste system do not necessarily occur in the lifetime in which the crime was committed but rather in the person?s next life. Spiritual punishment would occur for example, if an Untouchable were dissatisfied by his life and attempted to better himself by obtaining a job as a merchant. He would not have fulfilled his dharma (to live his life as an Untouchable) and thus, he would return in his next life as an Untouchable or an animal. The devotion with which the Hindus follow their religion obviously makes it difficult for people to better their lives and their jobs by moving through the restraints the caste system has placed on occupation. Hindus feel that their souls can advance if their lives are lived without complaint or disgrace. The previously listed rules and regulations that the caste system has placed upon its members have caused much concern throughout different groups and organizations in the world. Both the Indian government and the Buddhist religion have tried to uproot this system which still has a firm grip on many Indians. The Indian government outlawed the practice of the caste system in 1950 when India established its first constitution (Mayhew 208) and set up a system of reservations, similar to Affirmative Action, to ensure the fair treatment of ex- Untouchables.(Rudolph 20) The "reservations" require that some political offices in both parliament and state assemblies be held by ex-Untouchables as well as require that many educational scholarships be given to these individuals.(Rudolph 20) These reservations have brought with them both positive and negative changes. The percentage of educated Untouchables has increased due to the growth in open government jobs, schools, and universities.(Under Attack 54-55) However, with administration and education positions being held for ex- Untouchables, Indians who are possibly more qualified but of a higher caste are finding they can not get the jobs that they deserve. This is due to the fact that many jobs are open only to Untouchables because of the reservations.(Rudolph 20) Buddhism, though similar to Hinduism, disagrees with the caste system. The following quote from Buddha explains this belief: " In this sangha (religious order) all are equal. It is impossible to know Ganga water from Mahanadi Water after both have merged in the sea. In that way, after coming into the Buddhist sangha your caste goes, and all people are equal."(Hay 348) Despite these strong feelings of the Buddhists, they have been unable to impact a change on the strict caste system, for they are a minority population to the dominant Hindus. The Indian government continues to take measures to rid the country of the caste system and its discriminatory placements of people into a society where a person?s only way to really define himself is through his caste. The system is becoming a less important part of Indian culture as the status and influence of Untouchables grows. However, the caste system is deeply rooted within the culture of the Indian people and has been for thousands of years. "Like other new Western borrowings, concepts of equality in some ways seem to float on the surface of Indian life like leaves on the surface of a river which has existed years before the leaves were even buds." (Lamb 135) Time is needed to determine whether or not the changes made today will actually have an effect on the caste system of tomorrow. Changes that are imposed upon the caste system may take as long to up root it as has it has taken the caste system to grow the strong roots that it possesses. One chop of the farmer?s axe is hardly enough to even break t he bark of this deep-rooted tree. Bibliography NA. "Casting the First Stone." Economist 8 Oct. 1994: 17-18. NA. "The Four Orders of Human Beings." Hinduism. 21 pars. Online. Internet. 8 January 1999. Available: http.//www.hinduism.co.za/caste.htm Hay, Stephen. Modern India and Pakistan. Vol. 2 of Sources of Indian Tradition. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. NA. "India: Caste System Under Attack As Human Rights Violation." Women?s International Network News Winter 1997: 54-55. Lamb, Beatrice Pitney. India A World in Transition. New York: Frederick A Praeger,Inc., 1965. Mayhew, George Noel. "Caste." World Book Encyclopedia. 1987 ed. Rudolph, Lloyd I, and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. "Organized Chaos." New Republic16 March. 1998: 19-21.