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.