Curious Case of Indic Caste System

Reeshabh Choudhary
6 min readDec 12, 2022

Indians have been pondering over the delicate question of Caste System in Indian Society from the times of early 1900s, and the issue became more prevalent after gaining Independence from Colonial rule in 1947. Various opinions have been given and twisted as per the agenda to explain the so-called Indian Caste System and yet, a defined notion has not yet been formulized till date. So, how complex is this system which has kept India divided for decades and dismantled the social fabric of this diversified country. However, there are some interesting angles which one must entertain before digging deeper into this system.

Indian Civilization is one of the oldest living civilizations which has kept a close knot to its roots, culture, and tradition across the globe. If this supposed Caste based system was so evil, then how did this civilization survive in harmony across centuries. It was only when Britishers and other colonial forces invaded the land of Indus, the system started to expose its evils. How did the practitioners of so-called doctrine have no issues in accordance with this system yet the outsiders who were not native to this doctrine were so easily convinced of its demonic and oppressive features?

Now, let us try to understand this system in layman’s term from Indic viewpoint as per scriptures and sacred texts of Indian origin.

Let us first dissect into the word Caste itself. Caste is an English word which is translated as ‘Jaati’ in Hindi. Origins of word ‘Jaati’ is mostly inferred from a Vedic word ‘Gyaati’, which means ‘born in same family or lineage’. On the contrary, the word caste has its origin rooted in a Spanish and Portuguese word ‘casta’ which means race, lineage or tribe. So, it basically implied racial classification as per European social fabric.

Indians indeed had a system placed in their society which was play a key role in to their day to day functioning and kept the socio-economic fabric intact, and this system was interestingly not caste based but ‘Varna’ based. In a comedy of errors, European historians read and interpreted Indic history from imperialistic view angle and resembled ‘Varna’ with caste and their literary lens was polished by the evident fact of practice of Slavery in their own society, a system where dark skinned people were treated as subpar and hereby enforced to wills of white skinned lords. Europeans have this tendency to understand everything from biblical perspective and not divulge into the indigenous aspects of the respective society. History must be studied based upon the past chronology and practices of land leading to current doctrines rather than foreign terminology. The translation of Indic texts and terms into English diverted from the original context in most of the cases, as per the convenience of understanding by European lens.

So, the question which remains is what is ‘Varna’ and how it functioned as key to Indic socio-economic fabric for centuries. To understand ‘Varna’, one must first understand the Indic school of thoughts prevalent in the society during ancient times. As per Indic literary evidence, a human soul if entangled between the cycle of Life and Death. Birth has two primal reasons which are deeds of previous birth and stored accounts of good deeds, which is instrumental for a soul to be assigned a human life form out of millions of species on the planet. A human life form is considered as the most superior life form due to the nature of human consciousness. The sages and scientists of early Vedic period firmly believed that birth is the root cause of all the sorrow and birth is caused by Ignorance of Knowledge. Hence, through out the lifespan a human must strive forward to uplift his/her consciousness and fulfil the quest of true knowledge which is the ultimate connection with its soul. Based upon the actions of previous birth, ‘Varna’ of the current birth is decided and based upon the actions of current birth the ‘Varna’ of next birth would be decided and the cycle goes on until and unless the soul (which is termed as a constant) gets enlightened by true knowledge.

Hence, as per the given doctrine in Indic society, there were four ‘Varna’. First being the ‘Brahman’, which was designated as the superior amongst all. Duty of a ‘Brahman’ is to be indulged in the services of teaching and studies and imparting the knowledge in the society. A ‘Brahman’ is not supposed to enjoy the materialistic pleasures of the world but to dedicate the life in the pursuit of knowledge. Second category of ‘Varna’ was designated as ‘Kshatriya’. Primal role of a Kshatriya is to protect the society from evil. A ‘Kshatriya’ is supposed to be a noble being who would protect the land of farmers, help the weaker section of society. A ‘Kshatriya’ is allowed the pursuit of knowledge but can not act as the preacher of knowledge. The role is reserved for Brahman and Brahman only. Third category of ‘Varna’ is ‘Vaishya’, which would indulge in duties of farming, animal husbandry or any kind of business. A ‘Vaishya’ is among the productive entity of society and allowed the pursuit of knowledge as a student. The last category of ‘Varna’ is called as ‘Shudra’. ‘Shudra’ has a primal role of assisting the above three ‘Varnas’ in their respective assigned endeavors. A Shudra is not entitled the study of texts but to learn about them from ‘Brahman’. The responsibility of looking after the needs of ‘Shudra’ is on the shoulders of ‘Vaishya’ and ‘Kshatriya’. A very important point which must be noted here is that a ‘Shudra’ is not signified as Slaves but as ‘Helpers’ in the deeds of other three ‘Varna’ in Vedic hymns (e.g. Yajurveda, Chapter 30). References of above defined actions of respective Varna can be easily found in many notable scriptures, Mahabharata being the most important one.

‘Varna’ hierarchy

The basic analogy of above described Varna system can be interpreted in terms of modern-day corporate system. A person must qualify for the role of RBI (Reserve Bank of India) governor and then only he/she has the authority to issue the orders to print currency. It can not be the other way round. A person can not claim to the post of RBI governor after printing currency. A person must qualify for the post of higher order, earn it via clearance of many levels of examination and then only gets the authority to issue order to print currency. Likewise, it is also the role of person in the highest order of hierarchy to lead the subordinates in the chain towards the greater good and based upon their action and performance, their next appraisal is decided. A fresher is never allowed to check in codes into production directly or even assigned the work of an architect. He/she must go through cycles of hard work and pursuit of knowledge to get to the post of architect.

However, during the phase of colonization of Indian population, ‘Varna’ system was officially adapted and interpreted as Caste system by foreign lawmakers. ‘Shudra’ was equated as Slave based upon the experience of European social scenario. Other three ‘Varna’ were interpreted as Lords willing to prosecute and exploit the ‘Shudra’. And the interpretation was not changed in the borrowed constitution of India after independence for electoral gains and no efforts were made to restore the definition of ‘Varna’ system for literary purpose even. It must be the irony of all the misfortunes which Indic civilization had to go through. In spite of evident material in ancient texts and scriptures, the original definition of socio economic system of Indic society is twisted till date to extract political gains and create divide amongst the population, which has already been deprived of correct study of their civilization as per Macaulay’s introduced education system, which continues till date.



Reeshabh Choudhary

Software Architect and Developer | Author : Objects, Data & AI.