Caste in Transition

 by V. G. Julie Rajan

from April/May/June 2003 issue of Hinduism Today

Caste in Transition

Education, economics and protest drive changes and reform to India's ancient societal divisions

Caste is not a pleasant topic for Hindus, and in the international arena today, it has elicited a shame upon the Hindu religion. I have written this article to initiate dialogue within our community. The negative issues associated with caste will not go away, but will only tear at the credibility of the religion. I am not suggesting the abolishment of Hinduism or of Hindu texts or the defamation of those in the upper castes. Rather, I write out of reverence for Hinduism itself, to initiate change, to affirm the positive aspects of Hinduism and to bring a spiritual sense of unity to Hindu believers worldwide.

Origins: The standard explanations of India's caste system are based on the now discredited "Aryan Invasion" theory of ancient India. We await new speculations from the historians and anthropologists. Suffice it to say that many ancient societies had hereditary classes of people, eventually lost in social upheaval. The modern term caste is derived from the Portuguese casta, alluding to family, tribe or race, and was introduced into Indian society in the late 16th century.

The Hindu religious texts describe varna ashrama dharma, the religious/social law delineating duties of four castes. Gurudeva, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of Hinduism Today, wrote, "The original caste system had these four divisions. The divisions were all based on the ability of the individual to manage his body, his mind and his emotions properly. If he stopped fulfilling the dharma of his caste, society would recognize that he had moved from one caste and was now in another. The original caste system was based on self-discipline through education and through personal sadhana. The original caste system was based on the unfoldment of the consciousness within each individual through the chakras. People everywhere naturally divide themselves up into castes. We have the workers. You go to work, you work under somebody else


Posted January 26, 2004