One of the first references to the caste system in India may have happened in one of the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, the Vedas. It is then a very old tradition, being around 3000 years old.

A caste can be defined as a hereditary social group, which passes from father to son, in which it is only possible (or acceptable) to marry someone who belongs to the same group.

It’s a social function determined by the very own nature of each human being.

In the sacred texts, the Vedas, the Varna caste system (in the sense of the individual essence) is mentioned, in which each caste is ordered according to each element of the Brahma Body that originated them:

  • The mouth – Brahmin: it is the highest caste and it widely revered. They are priests, teachers and intellectuals and they can study the scriptures and conduct religious rituals.
  • The arms – Kshatriya: they are the warriors and they assume positions in politics and in the defense of national territory. They may have access to religious teachings.
  • The legs – Vaishas: they carry out commercial and agricultural activities and they may participate in rituals and learn religious teachings.
  • The feet – Shudra: they are the peasants, factory workers and craftsmen.

In addition to the Varna castes, you have the Harijan categories: they are untouchable. They are deemed as impure, because they carry out activities despised by others, in which they have direct contact with polluted materials. They are the ones that must perform the most degrading jobs with the lowest wages. A wide distance is kept between the untouchable and the ones that belong to the Varna castes.

In India, throughout the years, the Varna castes and the Harijan categories gave birth to thousands of subdivisions within their communities.

The jatis were born that way.

These are hereditary social groups, whose members marry each other, who have a specific surname, they speak the same language, they have the same religious beliefs and do the same job.

For instance, do you know that Gandhi means perfume and Gandhi is the one who sells perfume? The origin of that name was the profession itself.

With the 1st Constitution of India in 19502, the caste system was officially abolished. However, this social organization is still very rooted in the life of the Indians, particularly of those who live in rural areas. Thus, there are still many social inequalities and lots of prejudice.

The right to equality was enshrined in 1989. If an Indian discriminates based on caste, that person has to serve time in prison.