Why is that
humans were able to practically “take over” their environment and
leave all other animal species far behind in the race of survival?
Not many would argue that we were able to do so just because we can
walk upright and we have unspecialized teeth. In fact, humans are
capable of many things that separate us from the animals. Our far
most important trait is the ability to analyze and comprehend complex
subject matters. From that we can learn, understand and communicate
with one another so we could accomplish things as a group, a group
which one day became so complex that without structure and laws,
chaos would preside. In our times, we see many distinct cultures
where each has its own way of organizing and way of keeping its
people in harmony. Although most of the world is leaning towards
democracy, there are few nations who believe in the ancient ways. One
of the most controversial civilizations studied is the Indian
civilization, which developed and flourished as early as 7000 B.C.E.
The controversy rises from a harsh though well-thought classification
of people due to their skin color and other physical characteristics.
To democratic America this may sound a bit horrifying although some
even argue that the United States maintains some sort of a caste
system perhaps even as harsh as the one in India. This idea can
surely be proven wrong through a close comparison of the Indian
social structure and the American freedom. A false conclusion should
not be made that there is no sort of a caste system in America, but
one that is not as rigid nor providing social importance as the one
in Ancient Indian culture.
The way a
culture develops and evolves plays a major role of how the system
would stand. As explained later, there are few theories of how and
why a caste system is created, but all studied caste systems have
common foundations. One common issue is that there are physical
differences between each caste whether they associate with the way a
person can perform activities or not. However, a major difference is
how the separate classes serve and correlate with one another. Manu,
one of the earliest rulers of India, wrote a description of the
Indian social structure. The Law of Manu consists of a brief
explanation of what are the objectives and duties of each Indian
class, also know as Varna. Even though the lower castes were involved
in more physical obligations, it clearly shows that the upper classes
were also involved in someway of serving the lower classes:
studying performing sacrificial rites, so too making others perform
sacrificial rites, and giving away and receiving gifts- these he
assigned to the [Brahmins].
the people, giving away of wealth, performance of sacrificial rites,
study, and nonattachment to sensual pleasures- these are, in short,
are the duties of the kshatriya.
cattle, giving away of wealth, performance of sacrificial rites,
study, trade and commerce, usury, and agriculture- these are the
occupations of the Vaisya.
The lord has
prescribed only one occupation [karma] for a Sudra, namely, service
without malice of even these other three classes.
Indian culture, there is a great level of interaction between the
different classes, unlike in the early United States, where Americans
imported an entire society and forced them to serve as their lower
class. The slaves were treated with unbearable conditions, which made
them develop hate and the need to revolt. The aftermath of the civil
war included the abolishment of slavery though racism still plays a
major role. Just the fact that there was a need for a revolution
shows how negatively based the American system became. Lower classes
wanted to climb the social ladder and are now able to do so.
societies the movement up the hierarchy is not as simple as getting
your education and working a good job. In fact, the concept of
changing one’s Varna during his lifetime was unheard of. In order
to “get bumped up” the Indians had to follow the
Dharma which is
described as “a law regulating human behavior and imposes different
requirements on different individual depending on their status in
society.” Living by the Dharma creates good Kharma, which is
measured with death. Good Kharma could be vaguely compared to money,
not in a sense of buying materialistic objects, but in a sense of
gaining in order to have a better life. If the good Kharma had been
obtained through the person’s life, he would have the opportunity
to reincarnate and achieve higher status in the next lifetime. This
is also a reason why Indians seem to live and accept their status
since they have the constant belief that things would be better after
death. Revolting, would just create bad Kharma and “ruin” the
person’s future life. The degree of Social mobility, as Vijai Singh
points out, is inversely related to the extent of the association
between status of parents and status of children. Because of the
strong relation of one’s class to his parents, social mobility is
very difficult to achieve. In contrast, in the United States, there
are many institutions, which help lower class people (those with low
financial means) to break the patterns of their parents, receive an
education, and obtain a career, which would grant them a brighter
future. When comparing how rigid different social structures are, we
must examine how easy it is to achieve mobility between the classes.
There are two perspectives when examining social mobility; as a
society, the progress towards perfect social mobility, would
eventually eliminate the caste structure. As an individual, the
advance towards social mobility comes with the accepting of the
existence of the individual’s place in the caste system. Political
movements toward social mobility in the United States show how the
caste system is becoming more and more malleable as time goes by.
Unlike other ancient societies, India’s Caste System did not change
much through the years. A cause could be in the human’s nature of
the need for belonging to a whole.
There are two
main approaches that could break the firmness of a social structure.
One comes from outside the system by enculturation, and attacks the
un-fairness of the structure with compare to other ones. A second
approach could be made by the lower classes demanding for better
conditions. In India, there seems to be a form of harmony and peace
within the lower classes. The “Herd Theory” explains this
phenomenon by going back to the nature of human behavior. As other
animals, people seem to think that a great form of self-defense is
associating with ones who seem share common characteristics. By
belonging to a “herd” one’s opinion is backed up by others and
seem to have greater impact. If one were to leave the group, he would
feel lonely, powerless and more vulnerable. A caste system cannot be
more rigid than the one that its own people are happy with. In the
United States, which is also known as the “Salad Bowl”, there are
so many separate groups where one does not have much to loose when
trying to make a change. The more diverse a society is, the more
different opinions it contains, and the harder it is for people
relate to one main group. If a person steps out of his group to voice
his opinion, many others would follow him and create a new subgroup.
This new group would shake the structure by offsetting the position
on the ladder of other groups.
A lack of
diversity keeps a structure solid. Although there are differences
between the castes, there is still a sense of nationalism and
belonging to a culture, not just a caste. In the U.S., Non-Americans
have a hard time adapting a sense of belonging to a whole and
therefore feel insecure. Also lack of diversity creates less of a
difference between the body of religion and the body of law. In many
societies, there are times where the following of religion interferes
in with the way of the law. Perhaps a radical example, human
sacrifice is still practiced by few religions. If it were not for the
prohibition of performing such acts, maybe those religions would be
more accepted and popular within contemporary societies. The
incorporation of law and religion makes a system much less complex,
therefore more rigid. In India, there is a major integration of both
law and religion. However, it seems as though religion comes first,
in the supporting of the caste system. Louis Dumont suggests in his
book that the caste system was developed as a result of the
corruption of the Brahmins. He says that the “philosophy of
enlightenment, ‘superstition’ was an invention of the priests,
for their own benefit.” This theory supports their strong belief in
religion. The people of the lower castes were so ‘religiously
na?ve’ that thoughts of corruption in this religious class were
non-existent. This strong belief in religion is perhaps the backbone
of the strong Indian social structure.
similarities between the American and the Indian Caste systems exist,
an important difference emerges due to the antiquity of the system.
Because of how comparably new the American system is, it is therefore
more flexible and modern. The Indian structure is so old, that it’s
laws seem to be carved in stone. Movement from strict adherence of
religion towards objective thinking is directly caused by the
development of science and technology. However, emphasis on tradition
kept the Indian system in tact. From the American point of view, the
Indian caste system could serve as a goal to strive for, or something
it should avoid. Both views prove how rigid the Indian caste system
is. If seen as a goal, it would take many years, as it took for the
Indians, to develop such strict system. In contrast, if it were seen
as something to avoid, then the American system would surely stray
from such rigid laws and behaviors.
It is known to
be a part of human’s nature to strive for superiority and power.
But we should not think that this superiority would always lead to
greed and corruption. From the Indian system we learn that the direct
effects of outlining the requirements and power of people are peace,
order, and the triumph of a unique culture. What emerged from the
early Hinduism and Buddhism stays with us today. The way the Indians
accept the terms and conditions already given to them is remarkable
and perhaps the main reason why the Indian culture has been so
successful over thousands of years. Their wants needs, and duties are
outlined through a complex interaction of religion and law, but
ironically they just seem to be happy with whatever they have. In
America, the fact that there is such an option of creating a better
life already depicts a significant difference from the Indian social
structure. Freedom of making decisions is considered a basic need for
an individual, but it may promote the deterioration of a strong
structure. While racism still plays a major role in the American way,
many Americans are fighting in order to abolish it and many changes
have been introduced during that last century. Such movements are not
seen in India as often since the construction of its society has
little to do with money and power. It is strongly based on tradition,
religion and the aspiration of living a better life in the
J. and Jackson J. Spielvogel, World History Volume 1: To 1800,3rd Ed.
Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001
Homo Hierarchicus: An Essay On the Caste System. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 1970
Michael, Power and the Powerless. New York: St. Martin’s Press,
and Bernard S. Cohn, Structure and Change in Indian Society. Chicago:
Aldine Publishing Company, 1968
L. The Contexts of Social Mobility. Chicago: Aldine Publishing
Vijai P. Singh.
Caste, class and democracy: Changes in Stratification System.
Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1976
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