The caste system in Indian society has been targeted by many for the division and inequalities created by it. In fact most Indians find it regressive and blame it for the backwardness of their society. However despite of several weaknesses the caste system did have a special contribution to Indian society.

Well to know about this lets first talk about caste.

What does a caste means and how is it different from Varna of vedic period?

As per rigveda there were four varnas in vedic period .

The Brahmanas i.e Learned class
The Kshatriyas i.e Warrior class
The Vaishyas i.e Merchant class
The Shudras i.e Service class .

The origin of Varnas is explained in the 90th hymn of 10th book of Rigveda i.e Purusha Sukta.
brahmanosya mukhamasit
bahu rajanyah kritaha
uru tadasya yadvaishyaha
padhyagam shudro ajayata.

Which translates as

From His face (or the mouth) came the brahmanas. From His two arms came the rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two thighs came the vaishyas. From His two feet came the shudras.

Thus the varna system was an essential part of ancient vedic society where first a class was decided on the basis of the abilities and inclination and later it was given a sanction of religious decree. Earlier this system was flexible and the orders were interchangeable but during later vedic period it became hereditary.

However varna system was not caste system and a caste or a jati was different from a Varna. What we are trying to show here is that a basic framework was laid during the vedic age and broadly the hindu society used to  work under these four categories. But still there was nothing like jati in the vedic age.

What was need of caste system
Family of Potters or 'Kumbhar' caste

Now let's see what is the meaning of caste(jati) and how it is different from a Varna.

According to Ancient India's legislater Manu the various castes that appeared were the result of mixed marriages between the four varnas.

However the system of caste or jati became more prevalent during early medieval period when more and more castes emerged in the the hindu society. The reason for their growth was a massive change in the composition of hindu society.

In fact after the Gupta period the composition of Hindu society became more diverse due to three reasons:-
  1. Due to the outside invasions and adoption of Hinduism by foreigners. 
  2. Inclusion of aborigin people in hindu society. When brahmans were awarded land grants in remote areas they started awarding jatis to local aborigin people there. 
  3. Of course the intermixing of four varnas resulted in birth of new set of people who were not assigned varna of neither their mother's nor of their father's. Instead they were awarded a special jati for eg. Chandalas who were product of Shudra father and Brahmin mother. 

If we look closely, we shall find that most of these mixed castes are in reality the professions, trades and guilds that worked in a society and the major difference between varna and caste was of the hereditary profession.

A caste(jati) was characterized by its profession which was hereditary while a varna was just a constitutional framework for a tribal society to work and was not hereditary when first incorporated.

An Indian Iron Smith of Lohar caste at work. 

The division of labour exists in all civilised countries. Priests, Soldiers, merchants, farmers, mechanics and servants are found in every one of them. Hindu caste system was also similarly divided in many castes each pursueing a different profession for several generations.

But this was not a mere work division. These castes were if not enimity with one another, cherished mutual distrust and antipathy to such a degree that they remained socially seperated from one another ,as far as possible for them to be, neither eating not drinking together, nor intermarrying, and only agreed in matters of religion and in the determination to maintain the pride and secular dominancy of their order.

Arab travellers in Medieval india
Source- The Ancient Accounts of India and China by two arab travellers. 

The caste seperated with each other in such a way that every caste managed it's own affairs, held Panchayats or Councils, and maintained a distant and independent existence.

What was need of caste system
A tanner of 'Charmakar' caste

Centuries of isolation  from each other developed a feeling of exclusiveness among these castes. Under such exclusive circumstances developed a self sustaining economic model which remained the pillar of India's economy for more than 1000 years and this was economic model based on Caste system.

Caste system as Economic Model   

Even though many people acknowledge the village based economic Model of early Medieval and Medieval India very few give it's credit to the caste system.

In most villages of Early Medieval India there were several castes indulged in numerous professions for eg. Most villages had a Lohar(Iron Smith) , sunar (gold Smith), thathera(copper Smith), Julaha( weaver), Nishad ( hunter) , dom (basket makers as well as drummers) ,dhobi(washerman), nai (Barber), badhai (Carpenter), Chamar (tanner) etc.

What was need of caste system
A basket maker of 'Dom' caste

The goods that were not available in villages were often brought from haats or mandis of towns/cities by the Banjaras and were sold in exchange of the surplus produce by these villages which was later sold in mandis and haats.

Thus every village itself had several household industries. Every village had a self sustained economic model which generally worked on barter system

There was caste based social hierarchy but there was no financial disparity as very few people had money most transaction was done through barter. 

Nobody was jobless in a village, and most people took their profession quite seriouly. In fact for many communities it was a matter of pride to continue the legacy of their ancestors . 

Centuries of dedication towards a special kind of profession refined their skills and resulted in mastery and fineness. 

When Mughal emperor babur came to India he wasn't much impressed with the country overall but he was highly impressed with the skills of Indian masons and artisans. Babur mentions in his memoirs to the unnumbered and endless workemen of various kinds, infinite number of artisan in different crafts and industries as one of the advantages of Hindustan. 

Similarly the Indian business men were known for their business ethics all over in medieval world. A hundi with the seal of an Indian merchants could be cashed without any hassles even in the far away markets of middle east and central asia. Centuries of dedication for business, cultivated these business ethics.

Delhi's Iron pillar an example of finest metallurgy skills of Indians. 

The world famous Indian wootz steel prepared in the local workshops of southern India was known for its high carbon content and was commonly used in making the deadly damascus swords. How would Indians of medieval times excelled in several kinds metal sciences.
Were these exceptional skills of metallurgy taught to medieval Indians in their colleges ? 

The Indian textiles were popular among westerners such as muslin and calico also the printed cotton like chintz, cossaes and bandanna. The popularity was achieved due to the centuries of dedication and hardwork that was put by several generations of textile workers. Even today in Gujarat the world famous patola saree is weaved by a few families of weavers near Patan, who are indulged in this profession since several generations. 

What was need of caste system
A family of Textile workers in Gujaraat

At last, the breathtaking beauty of Temples, monuments of ancient as well as medieval India were all became possible due to the centuries old traditions followed by several generation brought specialization and mastery in the chisel of Indian artisans. 

What was need of caste system
Numerous such marvels were carved out of stone by the chisels of hindu artisans. 

Thus caste system emerged as a self sustained economic model that helped in making India a rich and prosperous country. This was the reason that why even after centuries of invasions India never lost its money and wealth and its wealth kept multiplying with time only coming to a halt when britishers broke the caste based economic model by introducing modern education and machine based industrial system.

The modern education though looked progressive hurt the core of Indian caste based system. It introduced a new class of Indians called middle class whose only talent was knowledge of english language and ability to translate vernacular texts into english .More and more Indians joined govt. run schools and colleges
as having educational degree was made prerequisite to get a clerical job under britishers. People started enrolling into english schools to get job under britishers and their inclination towards their ancestral profession declined. 

In urban set up when such western educated Indians who worked as govt. officials started earning money, they developed certain standards as they could afford any service with their money. This lured many other Indians to give away their ancestral profession.

For eg. a carpenter's son who earlier worked dilligently and took it as pride to continue the work of his ancestors started seeing his father's profession as some kind of menial job. Instead he was much impressed by the clerks who would roam around the city wearing shirt,trousers and would pay for any kind of service that they required. 

The other factor which led to decline of caste based economic model was introduction of machine based industrial system which started bulk manufacturing. Due to this the skill based work lost it's significance the reason was days and months of hardwork it required and also it was costly. Markets soon became dominated by machine made products which were cheap and affordable and were preffered by the customers .

This made Indian artisans and handicrafts workers go jobless. Forced by circumstances they adopted farming and agriculture as their main profession thus abandoning the centuries old tradition of their family. 

The modern educated middle class also started seeing caste system as an evil and gradually with time the economic system which India had preserved for centuries and which grew as a response to diverse Indian conditions finally died under British rule.

Most historians talks about the  GDP of India under Aurangjeb but they never talk about the real reason behind it. If India's GDP was growing with a rate of 27% under Mughals what was the reason that led to such growth.

  1. Was it due to the economic policies of Aurangjeb? 
  2. Did Mughals introduced skill Based training Centers for Indian workers? 
  3. Were their any monetary packages provided by Mughals to Industries? 
  4. How many Industries Mughal emperors established in villages and towns? 
  5. What kind of security did Mughal emperors provided to Indian traders against portuguese Pirates in Arabian sea and Indian ocean? 
Well you won't find answer to that as Indian Industries under Mughals were mostly village based and were self reliant. Their functioning for a long time remained uneffected by the ruler of the time. 

Today most Indian youth aspire for a govt. Job as the only thing they have achieved in their 25-30 years of life is education or degree which is a requirement for applying in a government job. They have been taught no skills to earn livelihood. Thus most of them are unemployed and have kept their hopes on Govt. Jobs but Govt Jobs are limited while the candidates applying are in millions.

Govt has started skills Development mission to provide skills to students but very few show their inclination towards learning skills also the question is, even after enrolling into a 2-3 month long course can they learn enough to compete with their counterparts in china, taiwan, South korea and other South East nations.

There is no doubt about the differences and untouchability caste system created among the people of different castes but it was a system which somehow emerged amid the circumstances that were prevailing in contemporary India .

The caste rules were regressive and restricted social mobility among Indian people. Under these circumstances people started focussing on the works entrusted upon them by the society, generations after generations they worked with such dedication that in every Indian village there remained none without a job and none without a living.

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