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An Overview of the Hindu Caste System

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The Hindu Caste System At first appearance, the Hindu class structure and the social laws pertaining to religious rights based on one's class seem to be prejudicial, demeaning and exclusive to the point of abuse

The lowest Varna, the Shudra, is not even allowed to hear or study the Vedas based solely on their inescapable station in life as servants to the higher three classes. However, when one looks at their class system from a purely religious standpoint, you discover that the class system is not abusive in itself, and that the abuse that may take place comes from aspects of humanity outside their religious practices. Sanatanadharma breaks down society into four classes (Varnas), and the untouchables.

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The caste system in India is primarily associated with Hinduism but also exists among other Indian religious groups. Castes are ranked and named. Membership is achieved by birth. Castes are also endogamous groups. Marriages and relationships between members of different castes, while not actually prohibited, face strong social disapproval and the threat of ostracism or even violence. To illustrate, in a notorious case in August 2001, a Brahmin boy and a lower-caste girl were publicly hanged by members of their families in Uttar Pradesh, India for refusing to end their inter-caste relationship. The first of the four basic Vedic books, which are considered the source of Indian wisdom, is the Rig Veda- a collection of over 1,000 hymns containing the basic mythology of the Aryan gods. The Rig Veda contains one of the most famous sections in ancient Indian literature in which the first man created, Purusa, is sacrificed in order to give rise to the four varnas. The varna of Brahmans emerged from the mouth. They are the priests and teachers, and look after the intellectual and spiritual needs of the community. They preside over knowledge and education. The varna of Kshatriyas emerged from the arms. Their responsibility is to rule and to protect members of the community. They are associated with rulers and warriors including property owners. The varna of Vaishyas emerged from the thighs. They are the merchants and traders and those who look after commerce and agriculture. The varna of Sudras emerged from the feet. They are the laborers.

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The caste system is the division of the society into social and economic classes in terms of occupation and family lineage. According to the Jayaram (2010) there are four main classes of people in the Hindu caste system, namely Priestly class (Brahmins), Warrior class (Kshatriyas), Merchant and peasant class (Vaishyas), Labor class (Shudras), and impure class (Chandalas) which is the minor class within the Shudras. The caste system is based on the rigid code of conduct in the law book called Manusmriti and is enforced successful by the religious and political authorities coupled with the fear of punishment, religious beliefs and traditions (Jayaram, 2010)

The caste system originated from the Vedic society where there was flexibility of changing the class but with the increasing pressure from the foreigners, Vedic scholars created a strict and rigid caste system that do not allow anyone to shift classes. The Hindu believed that it is the will of God to separate people into their respective classes. The caste system leads to the isolation and exploitation of the weak classes of the society by the upper privileged classes, since the Hindu religion and traditions view poverty and their respective social classes as the will of God.

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In summary, as the most influential Indian leader in the 20th Century, Gandhi opposed the caste system in favor of a more universal version of Hinduism in which all men and women were considered equal

After independence in 1948, the Untouchable caste was abolished by law although not in custom and actual social practice, while all persons were declared equal citizens before the law regardless of caste. To be sure, the caste system continues to exist in reality, especially in rural India, and influences many areas of social and economic life, although it remains incompatible with the ideas of a modern, democratic society.

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Guner, O. (2005). Poverty in Traditional Islamic Thought: Is it Virtue or Captivity? Studies in Islam and the Middle East journal 2(1) Web.

Jayaram, V. (2010). The Hindu Caste System. Hindu Website. Web.

Siddiqui, S. (2010). Islam Solves World Poverty and Hunger. Al-Islami. Web.

Zial, I. (2010). Zakat – A solution for Muslim Poverty. Contact Pakistan. Web.

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