Division of the Caste

India, a country with a lot of traditions, culture and beauty, has a unwanted, ugly and inhuman structure called ' CASTE SYSTEM .' One cannot but feel ashamed of the caste system in India. The caste system discriminates the human persons and stratifies them into different groups. According to Manu Dharma , the Hindu religious code of conduct, divides human persons into four Varnas (Varna means color, the Caste).

In Hindu society, caste is still the most powerful factor in determining a person's dignity. The caste system is the result of the Hindu belief in 'Reincarnation and Karma'. The four castes eventually developed into a social mosaic of 3000 sub-castes, with the Untouchables at the bottom of the list and actually outside the list.  Such a rigid caste system is not found anywhere in the world outside India. A person is born into a caste. Once born in that caste, his status is predetermined and immutable. Birth decides one's status and this cannot be altered by any talent the person may develop or wealth the person may accumulate. Similarly, the caste in which a person is born predetermines what vocation the person will pursue. One has no choice. Birth decides the occupation of the person in question. Here are the four major castes:

1.BRAHMINS (the Priestly Class)
2.KSHATRIYAS (the Warrior Class)
3.VAISYAS (the Trading Class)
4.SUDRAS (the Servants)


1. The BRAHMINS, the priestly class came from the head of God. They are eligible for learning and teaching and perform sacrifices. The others cannot teach and perform sacrifice.
2. The KSHATRIAS, the warrior class came from the shoulder of God. They are eligible for learning. Their work is to protect the people by waging war against the enemies.
3. The VYSIAS, the trading class came from the thigh of God. Their work is to trade and feed the above two classes.
4. The SUDRAS, the servants came from the feet of God and their work is to do all menial works to the above three classes. They are not entitled to learn anything.

Other sub-castes are more than 3000 in number, with the "Untouchables"  or  "Dalits" at the bottom and outside. They are the slaves of the above groups and they are absolutely forbidden to learn and teach.


The Dalits are deprived of: 1) Education 2) Right to possess assets 3) Right to posses weapons to protect themselves. Therefore they are owned as the property of the caste people. The code of conduct that deprives them of these rights was written three thousand years back. One may wonder why this is still in practice. The tragedy is that although untouchablity was abolished by law 1950 in India, yet the dalits experience the agony of untouchability very deeply in all walks of life: Social, Economical and Political. One cannot understand the pain of being a dalit unless he experiences it.


There is also other category of people who don't come under any of these above caste groups, since they are not considered as human beings. They are called the "the Outcaste or the "Untouchables," or the Unseeables. There are hundreds of codes of conduct written for them. Now these people call themselves as ' DALITS.' The word ' Dalit' means  'broken, torn, scattered and crushed.' M.Gandhi called them as ' Harijans' which means God' s Children. But the word ' Harijans' does not describe their condition adequately. Therefore, the Outcaste preferred to call themselves as ' Dalits.' The word ' Dalit' is an expression of hope to recover their self-identity.


As we have already seen,  Dalit means 'broken, scattered and oppressed'.  So the Dalits are the broken and scattered people,  the oppressed masses. This implies that they were of one community before they were broken; they were together before they were scattered; they were free people before they were oppressed. It also implies that there must have been an agent and an instrument by whom and by which this free people were subjugated and oppressed. So the starting point of  Dalit history is the moment when  this 'breaking', 'scattering' and  'oppression' of the Dalits began, when exactly the Dalits began to be treated as degraded human beings  and when exactly the Dalits lost their identity. To understand the Dalits as an indigenous people, we need to go to their historical roots.

Archaeological Evidence

Prehistoric India was inhabited first by the Negritos.  The second group that migrated in was the Australoids.  The Santals and Bhils belong to the Australoids.  The third group that inhabited India was the Mongoloid family.   To the present time the Mongoloid have maintained their distinct cultural, racial and religious identities.

The fourth and   largest group that inhabited ancient India was the Dravidian. Most scholars agree that the Dravidians came into India from the Eastern Mediterranean in the third millennium B.C.   By 1400 B.C., the Dravidian civilisation in India extended across the entire land.

Munshi says : "The Early Dravidians, who arrived in India prior to 2000 B.C., possessed a highly developed material culture as would appear from their early speech forms and the findings in Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and Lothal".   Goetz speaks of the Indus Valley Civilization as ranging from Lothal to Mohenjo-daro and from 3000 to 1400 B.C.,  and having cultural connections with Sumer, the earliest known cradle of human civilisation.

The Indo-Aryans in the 2nd millennium B.C. migrated from their homeland of Eranvej (the present Russian Turkestan) via Afghanistan into India. Thus the Aryans moved eastwards, fighting the indigenous Dravidians whom they exterminated or enslaved. They overran the open country, stormed the fortified towns (pur) of the Indus Valley  and slowly migrated eastwards, conquering the whole of Northern India around 1400-1000 B.C.

Mishra, the archaeologist endorses this view. This coincides with the records of Wheeler, the original authority on the Indus Valley civilisation. These conquests are described in numerous verses of the Rig Veda.

In the Rig Veda, the natives are described  as dark-skinned,  snub-nosed enemies  of alien language and religion. Marshall and Cunningham who did the original archaeological excavation on Indus civilisation,  Yuria Knorozov who did the deciphering of the Indus pictographic writings and authorities such as Madho Sarup Vats,  Dikshit, N.C. Majumdar, Rapson, Wheeler, R.D. Banerjee, B.B. Lal point to the fact that the native black Dravidians   were largely exterminated by the light-coloured Aryan invaders, their 'Puram'  (meaning fort or town) civilisation  was destroyed and those who were not killed were made slaves.

When the Aryans began to spread eastward and southward from  Punjab,  they spread too thin. Therefore the policy of total annihilation of the Dasyus was found unnecessary as well as impossible. Instead the Dravidians were made domestic and village slaves.   In earlier civilisations, slavery or extermination were the only two methods used  by most of the conquering races.

Therefore the Dasyus (slaves, now known to us as the Scheduled caste) of the Rig Veda were the Dravidians living north of the Vindhya Satpura range and now enslaved  by the invading Aryans.  The distinguished indologist Basham says: "In the reduction to bondage of the many dasas captured in the battle, we find the origin of Indian slavery."

Literary Evidence

Here are a few of the earliest literary sources available to us. In all these sources, we find the Dalits,  Das, Chandala, Avarna, Panchama  were reduced by their oppressors to a non-human  level, with no  identity or dignity.

(a)  Rigvedas : (1500-1000 B.C. ) The earliest available literary source is the Rigveda.    Its Purusa sukta hymn talks about the origin of the four Varnas, Brahmanas, Kashartries, Vaisias and Sutras. The Dalits find no place in it under this name : they are referred as Avarna, Dasa and Dasyus. (6th and 10th Mandala)

(b) Upanishads : (800-600 B.C)  By the time the Upanishad  texts came into existence, the problem of the Dalits was becoming deeper and clearer.  For example,  the famous Chandogys  Upanishad not only refers to the first three upper castes, but also compares Chandala (Outcaste) with a dog and a  swine. (ref. Chandogya Upanisad.   Khanda 10, verse 7)

(c) Ramayana : In the time of Lord Rama's rule, only the  upper three castes were allowed to do 'tapasya' (penance and meditation).  Now it so happened that one of low caste, a Sudhra,  undertook penance in order to attain divinity (dignity). As soon as Lord Rama heard this, he killed the Sudhra for such presumption.  If this happened to a Sudhra, we can imagine what would have happend to a Dalit , so much lower in status.

(d) Mahabharata : It describes the  degraded state of the Dalits. It is the story of Ekalabya, an indigenous boy, who has to lose the thumb of his right hand  because he has learnt archery and has come to be no less skilled than Arjuna in this art.

Survival of the Caste System

The caste system survived for centuries because the religious leaders transmitted  the Hindu Scriptures to the common people and attributed the caste system to divine ordinance.  Any breaking of this system,  individually or collectively, was tantamount to breaking the divine law. Painstakingly, every dimension of the divine ordinance of caste was included in the Scriptures.  We see this, for example, in the  Bhagavad Gita, which is regarded as the noblest of all the Scriptures.  The caste system having  thus become sanctioned  by Scripture, it came to be accepted even by the outcastes themselves. 

In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, another ploy to make caste acceptable to all was the strategy of introducing an extensive system of  'graded inferiority', providing everyone with an inferior grade immediately beneath him.       Thus, so long as   the Brahmin was at the top, with no other caste above him, his superiority over all was secured. Below him the Brahmin had the Kshathriya  -  and below him was the Vaisya and below him the Sudra  -  and the Sudras had the untouchables beneath them. Thus each caste had at least one group beneath them.  This  compensated  for the humiliation of having someone above them.   This   'graded inferiority'  made the entire system tolerable.


India’s caste system is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. A defining feature of Hinduism, caste encompasses a complex ordering of social groups on the basis of ritual purity. A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death, although the particular ranking of that caste may vary among regions and over time. Differences in status are traditionally justified by the religious doctrine of karma, a belief that one’s place in life is determined by one’s deeds in previous lifetimes. Traditional scholarship has described this more than 2,000-year-old system within the context of the four principal varnas, or large caste categories.

In order of precedence these are the Brahmins (priests and teachers), the Ksyatriyas (rulers and soldiers), the Vaisyas (merchants and traders), and the Shudras (laborers and artisans). A fifth category falls outside the varna system and consists of those known as "untouchables" or Dalits; they are often assigned tasks too ritually polluting to merit inclusion within the traditional varna system. Within the four principal castes, there are thousands of sub-castes, also called jatis, endogamous groups that are further divided along occupational, sectarian, regional and linguistic lines. Collectively all of these are sometimes referred to as "caste Hindus" or those falling within the caste system. 

The Dalits are described as varna-sankara: they are "outside the system"—so inferior to other castes that they are deemed polluting and therefore "untouchable." Even as outcasts, they themselves are divided into further sub-castes. Although "untouchability" was abolished under Article 17 of the Indian constitution, the practice continues to determine the socio-economic and religious standing of those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Whereas the first four varnas are free to choose and change their occupation, Dalits have generally been confined to the occupational structures into which they are born.