In the Vedic times there were no caste barriers.
Caste was initially dependent on your action / job / profession.
People were judged to be of a particular "caste" because of their innate nature or their job / function in the society. Gurus in gurukuls decided who learned what depending on what the childs aptitude. This decided their "job" in later life, and hence their caste.
In Mahabharat,Yudhisthir clearly states that only ones karma decides ones caste.
Countless other verses state the same truth across all the scriptures.
In Puranic times, birth became the main basis for predicting caste, it was still possible to migrate between castes, but, it was getting more difficult. As society developed, people increasingly learned their trade from their father / family and hence it was easy to assume you will be of the same mind set and skill set as your father / family. Education was no longer Gurukul based, and was more taught at home hence rigidity started to set in the society and castes became more static.
Later still, as rigidity in the caste system became more difficult to get out of, many converted to Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism and even Christianity to escape caste restriction. However, often these "caste" rules followed them in the new religion in one way or the other. Politics has played its role in this too and many are now asking for "reservation" for those converted from lowest stratas of Hinduism into these other religions.
All new sects - Hindu and non-Hindu - that came thereafter, claimed to be casteless everyone in the sect was suppose to be equal though reality was often not so.
After the invasion and subsequent rule of muslims, life became more difficult and castes became more rigid to stop conversion by stealth so no one was allowed to eat out of caste, just in case the interloper was a muslim trying to convert them with beef or other forbidden foods. This sometimes played in to the hands of the muslims, all they had to do is feed or give drink to someone and than claim they were now converted. In turn, this made the intercaste and interreligious mixing even more difficult and rigid.
Fear of conversion is the cause of many of our caste rules - no inter-caste marriage, restriction on eating together etc.
Caste does not equal Class
One thing to remember is, caste was never related to class.
You could be of the highest caste, but be poorest of the poor.
Muslims and Christians who first came to India, could not (and many still can't) understand this enigma ! They came to India to get rich quickly. They could not understand how a social system could be built without laying prime importance on money.
Indeed, most high caste Brahmins were / are dirt poor, poverty being their badge of financial independance and reliance on God alone to conduct their life. Amongst Brahmins, education and intelligence as considered as the true measure of status.
Warrior controlled lands and secured people , but not like in the modern way and often, lands they controlled were wooded and hence produced little or no revenue. Warriors considered valour and chivalry as their true measure of status.
Vaishyas were traders, farmers and entrepaneures. Their considered monetary wealth to be their measure of status. Amongst the four castes, they were the only ones who actually ran after money !
Shudras were also into "getting rich". But to them, experience was just as important, if not more, than money. The service industry they headed did everything from making bricks and dyes to dealing with the dead. Money was the only way they could show their importance in society.
Often shudras and vaishya were rich due to trade and business.
Even now, there are dalit Christians and dalit Muslims how comes ?
If they converted out of the Hindu fold, there can not be the dalit appendage any more !! Yet, they still suffer it no longer by the Hindus, but by their new religious leaders they have separate churches and mosques for them and they are still badly discriminated against in their new institutions.
Conversion has not helped many and most are still in the same financial and social plight as before. The only difference is, now they can eat beef without feeling guilty !
Deeply influenced by socialist ideals, and totally educated in the western systems, political leaders of India during and after the struggle for independence, tried hard to promote the cause of the "dalits" - the down trodden of India. What they forgot to see is, that caste was no protection against poverty and exploitation by the British Raj. Hindu Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra were equally discriminated against. Those who could learn English, came up in the Raj, irrespective of their caste or creed. Sadly, influenced by the communist ideals, some of the most influential leaders could not see this obvious fact.
Since independance, appeasing the minorities, has become the mantra of successive governments of India. Merit has been abandoned for "reservation quota" and everything, from education to employment is ruled by buracrates who decide how many people of the lower castes should be there in any given organisation.
Nothing seems to have changed from the medieval times.
If than, people were given jobs according to their birth, same is happening now !
Only difference is, than you had to be intelligent and had to prove your intelligence.
Now, you simply have to prove your low birth and you can stay in that school / college / university / job regardless of your ability !
Things need to change.
Merit needs to reassert itself if India is to progress properly and become the real powerhouse of the world !
© Bhagwat Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com
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