What nurtured the caste system in ancient India?
I am sharing my answer to a Quora question. Casteism is a sensitive topic for many human beings. Please feel free to put your views in the comments section.
- In ancient India, caste system became a social problem when members of the Indian society lost freedom in selecting their professions. Downward mobility was allowed; you could not move upwards. As an example, a priest or ruler could become an employee in a bookstore, but a bookstore employee could not become a ruler if he or she wanted to. The ancient hierarchy is as follows: Educators and Priests (Class I; Brahmin) → Rulers and Defence Professionals (Class II; Kshatriya) → Entrepreneurs (Class III; Vaishya) → Employees (Class IV; Shudra)
- Casteism was not a problem created by the so-called higher caste individuals; it was more about people in political power misusing their power. However, in earlier times, unlike today, most people in power came from the higher castes (mainly Brahmins and Kshatriyas). Accordingly, Brahmins and Kshatriyas, in general, can’t be held responsible for casteism; only the individuals who misused power in ancient times can be partly blamed for it.
- If we look at ancient World History, selected people in political power have misused power even in Europe. Misuse of power is always immoral, even when the phenomena involved is not labelled as casteism by historians.
- Today’s India has been facing a faculty shortage for a while, maybe due to lesser perks. This indicates that people are not that interested in teaching — a job that Brahmins used to do in the past. People in ancient times were more interested in the privileges that came with it, say the permission to ride palanquins and elephants.
- Casteism has been a social-political problem of the Indian subcontinent; it is not a problem of Hinduism, which is a global democratic religion. The saints of the Bhakti Movement, most of whom were from the so-called higher castes, ensured that casteism remains eliminated from true Hindu spirituality.
- It appears that many ancient scholars may have even altered some of the scriptures to suit their needs. Many passages in Hindu scriptures are unnecessarily Brahmin-centric and appear out of context; they may be later additions. Because internal inconsistencies and interpolations may be present in scriptures of every world religion, we need to avoid the My scripture is perfect paradigm while reading scriptures and read them selectively.
- We must understand that God does not discriminate on the basis of caste. At the same time, Brahmin-bashing is immoral.
- We should remember that many of the devotional saints who handed over spiritual knowledge to society, like Sri Ramananda, Saints Tulasidasa, St. Thyagaraja, Sri Ramanujacharya, Sri Adi Shankarahcarya, St. Gyaneshwar and others were all born in Brahmin families. (Saints were considered beyond caste, but that is a different issue.) In North India, Sri Ramananda had the biggest role in opposing casteism. This shows that many people from the higher castes did think differently and supported goodness as opposed to casteism.
- Many human beings from the so-called higher castes sacrificed their lives between 1200-1947 to free India from foreign rule. The period between 1200-1850 could have been politically and economically the worst for India, and foreign rule was unfortunate for everyone in India, irrespective of their castes.