The caste system in India has developed over many generations. Even today, the caste systems are strongly held. There are five main caste systems in India: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, and Harijans. With in these caste systems, there are also many subgroups. In the olden days, people would not talk to another person from a different caste system. They lived in their own little groups and would not let others enter. The Brahmin caste is in the first group and they are treated as gurus with a lot of respect because everybody believed that they came from one of the Gods. The Kshatriya caste is made up of people who rule the country like rajas, otherwise known as presidents or kings. The Vaishya caste is famous for their merchants. The people of the Shudra caste are famous for cultivating the fields and are like farmers. The final caste is Harijans and they are called the untouchables or Dalits. Even though the government is trying to get rid of and help the lower caste systems, they still exist in India.
The Shudras and Harijans are in the lower level group and they were treated as slaves for the other upper three castes. The untouchables were also considered as almost nonexistent. Even though they were Hindus, no one gave priority to them and they were assigned to do all kind of dirty work, they were not allowed to public places like Temples(churches). They did not have right to vote or even study in schools. However, there have been freedom fighters that helped the lower castes with education and other equal rights. In 1947 Mahatma Gandhi one of the freedom fighters, fought for the rights for Harijans gave them the same rights as the other caste systems. Even though they officially have equal rights, no one wants to be around them. Gandhi’s efforts finally influenced the nation and today even a lot of Harijans are getting a higher education. The government is also providing them with all kinds of facilities; thirty percent of admissions from the lower caste are guaranteed to a higher education. After their completion of education, the government is also offering them state government jobs. Therefore, the lower classes like the Shudras, Harijans and untouchables have seen their standing in the caste system improve in the last 60 years.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in India the ethnic groups divide as: Indo-Aryan 72%, Dravidian 25%, others 3%. Religions: Hindu 81.4%, Muslim 12.4%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi within 1%. Again, Hindus are divided into different castes. There are also different languages in India. The top most languages are Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%. Different state speaks different languages. I grew up in Andhara Pradesh and I speak Telugu.
When I was in high school, I couldn’t understand all of these caste systems. My mother was somewhat educated and she understood that there are no differences in people. However, my grandparents strictly believed in the caste system and they won’t let my friends to enter into my house if they were from a different caste. I always felt very ashamed to invite them to my house. But when I went to their house, their families treated me as their family member and would even offer me dinner sometimes. I used to fight with my grand parents almost every day to ask them not to treat other people impolitely just because they are part of a different caste system, but they would not listen to me. I liked one of my friends more than other students in my class because she was nice and we always used to study together and did our school work together. There were some children of my caste that I would spend time at school but I liked my friend because she was more intelligent than the others and could explain all the questions that I did not understand in the class. I could understand better when my friend explains after the class. We had less time at school and I wanted to study for few hours after school but it wasn’t possible because she was a Harijan girl who was untouchable for my grandparents.
When I moved to America in 2000, I was surprised that there is no caste system in here. After a while, I noticed that there are several religions like Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and other sects of Christianity as well as agnostics and atheists. But there are no differences in their personal prestige’s or status depending on their religions as in India. Even though there are Brahmins who are poor, they are still considered as high class people. Where as Harijans are considered as low class people even if they are rich. I also noticed there are different types of classes depending upon their wealth like upper, middle and lower classes. Another difference is that marriages in India are arranged by their family members in their own caste system.
India has changed dramatically in their social and cultural systems during the past ten years; however it was not enough for so many of people who differentiate others by caste systems. The government is taking a lot of steps to improve lower class people like Harijans. Even Harijans are becoming more educated and competing with others in all aspects. The Indian government has also generated many incentive programs for Harijans and all of the other lower caste people. Kumari Mayawati, who is Harijan, was elected as prime minister of Utter Pradesh since 1995 even though she was from such a lower class; she was also elected for four straight years, which shows that with some governmental aid or even from the aid of certain people, the populations that belong to the lower class in India can have a lot more opportunities. Because of these opportunities, the huge gap between the rich and the poor and can come a little closer and this can have benefits on the caste systems as well, once people realize that it does not matter what caste some one is from and that it is how much work he or she has put in that matters. However, there are still some tensions between the upper and lower classes and the tensions have to change so that everyone is treated with the respect that they deserve, no matter what caste system or a class.
Ninian, Alex. “INDIA’S UNTOUCHABLES: THE DALITS.” Contemporary Review 290.1689 (Summer2008 2008): 186-192. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. TRCC Community College, Norwich, CT. 15 Mar. 2009 <http://plp.trcc.commnet.edu:6008/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=36857974&site=ehost-live>.
Loynd, Maxine. “Born an “untouchable”, she is emerging as one of the most powerful politicians in India. Nobody, she says, “can stop me becoming prime minister”.” New Statesman 138.4939 (09 Mar. 2009): 40-41. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. TRCC Community College, Norwich, CT. 15 Mar. 2009 <http://plp.trcc.commnet.edu:6008/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=36857974&site=ehost-live>.
Central Intelligence Agency The World Factbook – India March 2009