Caste and Social Consequences
One of the most common social problems of the caste system was the discrimination of low caste members as explained earlier. In 1950, independent India’s constitution banned caste-based discrimination and in order to compensate for historical injustices, the authorities introduced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions to improve the quality of life of low castes.
A reservation system was introduced wherein a certain number of seats were reserved for members of the lower castes at places of higher education and government jobs. However, this legislation was soon met with a lot of resistance from the high caste community who felt that the system was not meritocratic, and provided an unjust advantage to the low caste members.
We believe that the reservation system is one of the most important social consequences of the caste system in modern times, and attitudes toward the system would have to be a reflection of one’s caste identity.
Q,3 How far do you think Hinduism as a body of ideas allows contacting with members of other faiths? Discuss the ideas which describe the Hindu social system even more important than the system itself.
Hinduism is a religion with various Gods and Goddesses. According to Hinduism, three Gods rule the world. Brahma: the creator; Vishnu: the preserver and Shiva: the destroyer. Lord Vishnu did his job of preserving the world by incarnating himself in different forms at times of crisis.
The three Lords that rule the world have consorts and they are goddesses too. The consort of Brahma is Sarasvati; goddess of learning. Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi; goddess of wealth and prosperity. Shiva’s consort is Parvati who is worshipped as Kali or Durga.
Besides these Gods and Goddesses, there are a number of other Gods and Goddesses. To name a few of them, there is Ganesh; who has an elephant’s head and he is also a son of Shiva and Parvati, Hanuman; who is an ape, Surya; Lord of sun, Ganga Ma; Goddess of river Ganges; Samundra; Lord of the sea, Indra; the king of the Gods ( but he isn’t an important God), Prithvi; Goddess of earth, Shakti; Goddess of strength. The Hindus call their Goddesses ‘Ma’ meaning mother.
Some gods have more than one name. Shiva is also known as Shankar, Mahadev, Natraj, Mahesh, and many other names. Ganesh is also called Ganpati. God Vishnu incarnated 9 times to do his job and in his every appearance he had a different form which is also worshipped as Gods.
Among his appearances, he appeared as Rama, Krishna, Narsimha, Parsuram, and Buddha. Krishna also has different names, Gopal; Kishan; Shyam, and other names. He also has other titles with meanings like ‘Basuri Wala’ which means the flute musician and ‘Makhan Chor’ which means the butter stealer.
There are also Gods who can change their forms, for example, Parvati can change into Kali or Durga. Not all of these Gods are worshiped by all Hindus. Some Hindus worship only Vishnu. Others worship only Shiva.
Others worship only the Goddesses and call these Goddesses collectively Shakti meaning strength. Many of these Goddess worshipers worship Parvati in her images as Kali or Durga. People who worship Shiva or Vishnu also worship characters and images connected with these Gods. Vishnu worshipers (Vaishnaites) also worship his appearances.
Shiva’s worshipers (Shaivites) also worship images of a bull called Nandi, who was Shiva’s carrier, and a unique stone design connected to Shiva.
There are also Hindus who worship all the Gods. There are some Gods who are worshiped all over India like Rama and Krishna and other Gods who are worshiped more in one region than the other like Ganesh who is worshiped mainly in west India.
Hindus also worship Gods according to their personal needs. People who engage in wrestling, bodybuilding and other physical sports worship Hanuman, who in Hindu legends was an ape with a lot of physical strength. Businessmen worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth.
Though these Hindus worship different idols, there are many Hindus who believe in one God and perceive these different Gods and Goddesses as different images of the same one God. According to their beliefs, idolatry is the wrong interpretation of Hinduism.
Hindus believe in reincarnation. The basic belief is that a person’s fate is determined according to his deeds. These deeds in Hinduism are called ‘Karma’. A soul who does good Karma in this life will be awarded a better life in the next incarnation.
Souls who do bad Karma will be punished for their sins, if not in this incarnation then in the next incarnation and will continue to be born in this world again and again. The good souls will be liberated from the circle of rebirth and get redemption which is called ‘Moksha’ meaning freedom.
Hindus normally cremate their dead ones, so that the soul of the dead would go to heaven, except in a few cases of Hindu saints, who are believed to have attained ‘Moksha’.
The main Hindu books are the four Vedas. They are Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The concluding portions of the Vedas are called Upanisads.
There are also other holy books like Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharta, etc. The different Gods and Goddesses in Hindu mythology are derived from these books. Ramayana and Mahabharta are the most popular Hindu books.
The main story of Ramayana is the story of Lord Rama. Rama was born in a royal family and was suppose to be the king, but because of his step-mother, he was forced to exile from his kingdom for fourteen years.
During this period his consort Sita was kidnapped by a demon called Ravan, who was king of Lanka. Rama with the help of his brother, Lakshman, and an army of monkeys under the leadership of Hanuman, rescued Sita. Many Indians believe that present-day Sri Lanka was then the kingdom of Lanka.
Mahabharta is a family epic. In this epic the Pandava family and the Kaurav family who are cousins fight with each other for control over a kingdom. Kaurav family, which consisted of 100 brothers rule an empire. The five Pandava brothers ask for a small kingdom that belongs to them.
The Kauravs refuse to give the Pandavas the kingdom so there is a war between the Pandavas and the Kauravs in which it is believed that all the kingdoms of that period in India took part. In this war, the Pandavas, with the help of Lord Krishna win the war.
Before the commencement of the war, while the two armies are facing each other, one of the Pandava brothers Arjun gets depressed. Arjun is depressed because he has to fight against people whom he knows, loves, and respects.
At this point, Krishna, (who was also a king of a kingdom, and participated in this war only as of the chariot driver for Arjun) convinces Arjun to fight. Krishna lectures Arjun about life, human beings, and their religious duties.
He explains to Arjun that he belongs to a warrior caste and he has to fight for that’s his destination in this incarnation. Those chapters in the Mahabharta which are Krishna’s discourses on religious philosophy are called Bhagavad Gita. Because of its importance, the Bhagavad Gita is considered a separate holy book. Another Hindu holy book that deals with religious duties are ‘Law of Manu’ or the ‘Dharma Shastra’.
In the wars that occur in the holy books, as in Mahabharta, the different sides had different war weapons which had characters similar to modern-day war weapons. In some stories, the traveling vehicles were normally birds and animals. But these animals and birds had features similar to modern-day aircraft.
There were even aircraft with over velocity of light. The main war weapons were bows and arrows. But these arrows were more like modern missiles than simple arrows. These arrows were capable of carrying bombs with destructive power similar to modern-day chemical, biological or even atom bombs.
Other arrows could be targeted at specific human beings. There were even arrows capable of neutralizing other arrows, similar to modern-day anti-missiles.
Hindus have many holy places. Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka, and Rameshwaram are the four holiest places for the Hindus. Other holy places are Varanasi, Rishikesh, Nasik, Pushkar, Ujjain, and other places. Some rivers are also holy to them.
Among them are Godavari, Yamuna, and above all Ganges which the Indians call Ganga. Another holy river is Sarasvati and it is invisible. Hindus also worship and respect some animals and birds like cobra, apes, peacocks, and cows. Hindus also respect some trees and bush trees. The famous and the most respected bush tree is Tulsi.
Some of the Hindu customs, which exist or existed, do not have their bearing in Hindu scriptures but became part of Hinduism in different ways and fashions. For example, the Hindus see in cows a sacred animal.
Religiously there is no reason to see cows as sacred and it is believed that cows were made ‘sacred’ to prevent their slaughter during periods of droughts and hunger. Cobra worship also is not found in Hindu scripts.
This custom became part of Hinduism when some Indian tribes who use to worship cobra adopted Hinduism. The burning of the widow on the dead husband’s pyre also has no religious justification. This custom, outlawed in 1829, was probably brought to India by the Scythians invaders of India.
Among the Scythians, it was a custom to bury the dead king with his mistresses or wives, servants, and other things so that they could continue to serve him in the next world. When these Scythians arrived in India, they adopted the Indian system of funeral, which was cremating the dead.
And so instead of burying their kings and his servers, they started cremating their dead with his surviving lovers. The Scythians were warrior tribes and they were given the status of warrior castes in the Hindu religious hierarchy. The different castes who claimed warrior status or higher also adopted this custom.
There are four castes in the Hindu religion arranged in a hierarchy. The highest caste is Brahman, and they are the priest caste of Hinduism. After they are the Kshatriya, who are the warrior castes. After they are the Vaishya caste, who are business people.
And after they are the Sudra, who are the common peasants and workers. Below these four castes, there are casteless, the untouchables. The four castes were not allowed to have any physical contact with the untouchables.
Each caste is divided into many sub-castes. The religious word for caste is Varna and for sub-caste Jat or Jati. But sometimes in English, the term caste is used in both cases. Religiously, people are born in a caste and it cannot be changed.
Each caste has some compulsory duties, which its members must do. Each caste has professional limits which decide what profession each caste can follow. Each caste member can have social relations only with its cast members.
Religiously this includes marriage and even eating only with caste members. Please note that socially the caste system is different from the religious form of the caste system.
How did Hinduism originated is a difficult question. The accepted theory is that Hinduism was evolved after the historical meeting between the Aryans and Dravidians. Some claim that Hinduism is mainly an Aryan culture whereas others claim that it is mainly a Dravidian culture. Religiously the Vedas were given by Brahma.
Before Hinduism, there existed another religion in India called Brahmanism and its followers were called Brahmans. The Brahmans were the spiritual and moral guides of Indian society. The members of this religion were a close sect and others could not join it.
The Brahmans slowly started accepting others into their religion and so was created Hinduism which included in it the customs which aren’t part of the Vedas. One of the reasons the Brahmans accepted others to their religion was the fear to lose their status as moral guides to priests of a new religion that started in India, namely Buddhism.
The Brahmans even accepted Buddha as a Hindu God and part of his teachings and philosophy like nonviolence into their religion.
- 4 Critically examine that the Muslim community is different in texture and outlook from the Hindu community. Discuss in the light of Percival Spear’s observation in the prescribed study material.
Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religions and over the centuries have both peacefully coexisted and violently clashed. In this lesson, we’ll examine the origins of this conflict and see what it means to the world today.
Religious Conflicts of India
We tend to think of the United States as a pretty diverse place, and it is, but it’s nothing compared to the nation of India. With dozens of ethnic groups, roughly 15 commonly spoken languages, and 8 substantially practiced religions, India is a diverse place.
However, this diversity can often turn into conflict, particularly between clashing religious groups. In particular, the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus have been a defining feature of India’s history, even to the point of influencing the very shape and size of the nation today.
The Muslim-Hindu Conflict Origin
Muslims and Hindus have very different religious beliefs. Muslims follow a monotheistic religion called Islam, which worships a single God, called Allah in this context, as interpreted through the prophet Muhammad.
Hindus, on the other hand, adhere to polytheistic Hinduism, one of the oldest religions in the world, with several deities and a complex cosmological framework featuring cycles of death and rebirth. So, they’re different religions, but why don’t they get along?
The origins of the conflict between these groups date back to the 7th and 8th centuries CE when Islam was first introduced into the kingdoms of India from the Middle East. At this time, many of the world’s most prominent traders were Arabic Muslims, and Islamic trade networks stretched across Eurasia.
As Muslim merchants established trade centers in India, religion came with them and grew rapidly in several areas, seen by many Hindus as threatening their way of life. With the rise of Islamic caliphates, essentially meaning Islamic empires, Indian kingdoms were subject to military invasion by Islamic forces for centuries.
In fact, in the early 13th century, an Islamic kingdom called the Delhi Sultanate was founded in modern-day India as a result of Islamic imperial expansion into the subcontinent. While Muslims and Hindus did peacefully coexist in many parts of India for a long time, the two groups could, and did, turn against each other as a result of the economic, social, and military conflicts of the age.
Conflict Since the 20th Century
Now, unfortunately, this conflict didn’t go away with the end of the medieval world. In fact, it reached some of its most extreme heights in the 20th century, when the Indian subcontinent was part of the British Empire.
At this time, most Hindu Indians lived in the central and eastern parts of the colony and were largely peasants and laborers. Muslim Indians lived predominantly in the West, and a great number belonged to the upper class.
In 1906, they formed the Muslim League, a political organization to protect their rights as Muslims against the growing power of the Hindu working class. However, as more and more Hindus began pushing for independence from the British Empire, they joined another political organization called the Indian National Congress, which became essentially Hindu-controlled by 1930.
Moving into WWII, British imperial control was quickly failing, and despite the promise of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi that India would be a place of religious tolerance, the Muslim League was getting very nervous.
So, they started demanding that the colony be divided and partly given to the Muslims to form their own country. That’s exactly what happened. After WWII, Britain accepted Indian independence, but partitioned off a piece of the subcontinent and gave it to the Muslim nationalists of India to form their own country, a country called Pakistan.
The stark difference is in the matrix in which these two religions arose.
Islam arose in the deserts of Arabia and Hinduism in the jungles of India. The concepts, teachings, and practices of both reflect their environmental origins.
Both Islam and Hinduism teach the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Both have common moral teachings on compassion, generosity, honesty, living healthy lives in moderation, care for the poor, kindness, charity, truth, etc., etc.
But the philosophical and theological differences are vast.
A comparison is extremely difficult because Islam, like the desert, is rather simplistic whereas Hinduism like the jungle is extremely complex.
Islam is Theo-centric – i.e. God is at the center of Islamic theology.
Hinduism is Anthropo-centric i.e. Human beings are at the center of Hindu philosophy.
Islam has two major sects Sunni and Shia and the minor Sufi sect. Hinduism has hundreds. So one can affirm certain basic principles of Islam in general but it is hard to affirm corresponding simplicities in respect of Hinduism.
The major similarity is that both religions have a complex code of Law covering every aspect of one’s daily life from rising to sleeping. For Muslims, it is the Sharia which is the consensus of scholars based on the Quran and Hadith — deriving from Allah and imperatively applicable to every Muslim. For Hindus, it is Dharma Shastra derived remotely from the Veda with no consensus and applicable to whoever accepts it as a guide.
Theology is a more complex subject. Muslims are strict Monotheists (tawhid) and Hindus are essentially Monists (wand-el-would).
In Islam God creates the world from nothing, in Hinduism God becomes the world of quantum matter.
In Islam God creates souls, Hinduism rejects the concept of created souls in favor of a doctrine of rays or emanations of consciousness from God (like rays of light from the Sun).
Islam is a duality – God i.e. the world and souls are all separate. In Hinduism, there are three variations:– Duality, Non-duality, and Qualified non-duality.
Islam is based on linear time:– creation, existence, destruction, judgment day then bifurcation into heaven for believers and hell for unbelievers for the rest of linear eternity.
Hinduism is based on circular time:– no beginning no end, episodes of involution punctuated by periods of rest/latency. Nothing eternal everything temporary even heaven and hell.
The ultimate goal of Islam is to attain association with God in heaven (Jannat) which is described in the Quran in very material and sensual terms: rivers, gardens, luxurious couches, sherbet, the meat of birds, sex with beautiful houris, etc.