When one hears the term caste, images of Hindu
discrimination are conjured up in the mind. This imagery
has been constructed over the centuries, thanks to an
ill-informed media with a decidedly Christian bias.
Although India is often now associated with the word caste,
it was first used by the Christian Portuguese invaders
to describe inherited class status in their own European
Caste is derived from the Portuguese casta
which is derived from the Latin word meaning chaste
or pure. There is absolutely no equivalent
term in Hinduism. There are the terms gotra,
varna and jati, which are entirely
different concepts of social arrangements.
In the book The Hindu Tradition edited by Ainslie T Embree,
it is written:
Hindu tradition is rooted in the Vedic age, the period
of Indian history that extends from about 1500 BC to 600
BC. Although this long expanse of time was marked by great
religious and social changes, and conditions differed
widely throughout the subcontinent, the age had a unity
and style that sets it apart.
The Indian system is difficult to define. The various
classes of human beings are created by Bhagawan (God)
who declared in the yajur Veda at verse 11:
my mouth I have created the Brahmins, from my arms the
kshatryas, from my abdominal region the vashya, and from
my legs the sudra.
It is a combination of faith, our ancient social traditions
and Hindu Dharmic law. While caste is now only spoken
about in connection with India, caste can also be found
in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan, China,
Korea, Yemen, Africa, Europe, and the United States.
Caste is not an Indian word but a derogatory epithet introduced
in India by Portuguese Christian missionaries in the 16th
century to describe the Hindu society. They assumed that
the Brahmins commanded the same authority and power as
the Christian clergy did in their own time in Europe.
The reality is that the Brahmins who provided the religious
leadership in Hinduism never commanded the authority and
power of the Christian clergy. They controlled neither
the economy nor the army, both of which the clergy did
in medieval Europe.
Countries in Africa who have societies with caste systems
within their borders include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon,
Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia,
Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone,
In Rwanda Hutu and Tutsi may have
changed through European Christian invaders. Societal
structures were not identical throughout Rwanda. There
was clearly a Tutsi aristocracy that was distinguished
from Tutsi commoners, and wealthy Hutu were often indistinguishable
from upper class Tutsi.
When the Christian German colonists conducted their censuses,
they desired to classify the people throughout Rwanda-Urundi
with a single classification scheme. They merely defined
Tutsi as anyone who owned more than ten cows
or a long nose.
It is serious mistake to view caste from the European
Christian and imperialistic viewpoints. These were hostile
to Hindu civilisation and society which they were trying
to undermine to serve their own interests. They also lacked
the historical perspective necessary to understand it.
To properly study the role of caste, we must look at it
from the prospective of Indian history and culture. The
Indian word for what is called caste is varna.
The clearest definition of varnashrama or duties by different
sections of society was given by Lord Krishna in the Bhagvadgita.
He says: caturvarnyam maya srishtam guna-karma vibhagashah.
This simply means: The four varnas (castes) were
created by me based on guna (character) and karma (duty).
It was a social order meant to ensure stability and proper
functioning of society.
A Brahmin was needed for education and cultivation of
scholarship. But he could not exist without the support
of kshatriya, the vaishya or the shudra. The kshatriya
was the political leader and warrior.
In the Indian state of Orissa, large contingents of non-Indian
Christian missionaries have been spreading false anti
Hindu propaganda to win converts.
Hindus have responded by sending hundreds of Hindu swamis,
sages and teachers to counter falsehoods. The return to
Hinduism has caused these new types of invaders to resort
Swami Laxmanaada Saraswati and four other Hindu teachers
were murdered while asleep in their ashram.
Christian gunmen killed the 84-year-old monk to stop the
tribes people from reconverting to their original religionHinduism.
A Christian-inspired caste system has led to the creation
of untouchables in every nation that Christianity
invaded. In recent times many leaders in country after
country are apologising for the atrocities caused by the
Invariably the untouchables created were the natives of
the invaded land.
To be continued
n Satnarayan Maharaj is the
secretary general of the
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha