Exploring Cultures: The Indian Caste System

Abandoning my original planned topic, I feel compelled to refer you to this blog post about the Indian caste system.

Why?  Because I find it fascinating.  And because I couldn’t imagine our children being born into a system in which they would have absolutely no chance to become anything other than the most lowly members of their culture.

Just last night, I prepared a huge Indian feast for our family and Kate, our visiting teenage neighbor/friend who will be here with us from Montana for the summer.  This was Kate’s first Indian meal.  Her first taste of curries and dal and khorma and spicy paratha.  I dressed myself in scarves, toe ring, anklets, etc. to “play the part” of an Indian hostess, and Ellie helped out by retrieving red stick-on dots for us to wear on our foreheads–the stickers we used to label prices on garage sale items last year.

I was careful to look up the “red dot” before dinner, so I could explain to the family about its purpose and intent.  We weren’t making fun.  I made that clear to our children.  We were learning about one of the many other cultures we’re gladly being exposed to since our move to the SF Bay area.  Call it a cultural immersion lesson.

This morning, while preparing to write a post, I found this article about the Indian caste system–a system of delineating citizens into predetermined groups, ranging from priests to “untouchables.”

The thing I don’t understand about the Indian caste system is the idea that a person is born into a certain caste because of the degree to which he or she obeyed the laws of the dharma (righteous living) in his/her previous life.  At the same time, caste membership (probably not the right word, here) is passed down from one generation to the next.  So, if I understand correctly, an Untouchable woman–Untouchable being the lowest segment of the population, so low in fact, that it isn’t actually even considered part of the caste system– could spend her entire life being as pious as the greatest of saints, and still her child would be born an Untouchable–worthy only of growing up to become an agricultural field worker,  a toilet cleaner or dead animal retriever.  Perhaps, however, her spirit would be reincarnated into a higher group.

I’m hoping someone who knows far more about this system than I, will happen upon this post and shed some light for us all.

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4 Comments

Filed under cultures, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Religion

4 responses to “Exploring Cultures: The Indian Caste System

  1. Dear Madam, Let me introduce myself as a proud Hindu untouched by time and change, who has been in this land today called India, for the past 10000 yrs. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify your doubts and purge your thoughts about the misconceptions of caste system and untouchability seen in my country.
    First to start off, the hindu scriptures which talk about the esoteric nature of human mind and its relation to the beyond has no mention of caste system as you know it today. It was only a systematic division, a ranking for distribution of duties. The most important part of this philosophy is that no one is BORN into a caste. Its something you choose after you have grown. This is the basis of caste system and just like we have various ministerial and divisions of labor in a government, so was the caste system. In fact it was a class system which later got named as the Caste system after the advent of colonizers into India.
    If you find this interesting and have the intent to learn more, reply to this comment and I shall be be pleased to let you explore.
    P.S: Being a hindu I dont believe in converting any person nor is it possible for any soul to accept a single way of life. I am here to clarify your thoughts and misconceptions and nothing else.
    Jai Bharat Mata

  2. Jai Bharat Mata,

    I would definitely like to learn more about the caste system–both past and present. Perhaps you would entertain the idea of writing a guest post to submit to this blog? I would particularly be interested in understanding the caste system as it pertains to women and mothers.

    Thank you kindly for your comment. I look forward to hearing more.

    • Yes, I will explain the caste system as and when we move forward in understanding the hindu philosophy. But as per your request there is nothing that is specific for mothers and women. Instead I will give you interesting literature written thousands of years ago on motherhood and explain a few traditions passed on through generations that make a would-be mother complete. You will understand how a mother is projected as equivalent to god and how we take care of our mothers.

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