The caste system is the most fundamental feature of the Hindu society. Looking back over the course of history since beginning, the system has exercised a very profound influence on our socio-economic life.
Originally, it was introduced on the basis of division of labour in the society, meant to promote economic strength and efficiency. The division was, to begin with, completely flexible format, which was possible for a member of one caste changing to another.
The caste system becomes a watertight social compartment, as times rolled by. The word caste owes to Portuguese word casta meaning the lineage. Many theories claim it as the shrewd trick of upper class society, i.e. Brahmins in India.
Some other theories trace back to the family’s occupation and races; it says races organize their own race to form a separate caste. Some say it as the creation of Gods. Some believe that Manu in his Mariu Smriti has divided the human society into four classes, viz., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras.
And last of all comes the Evolutionary Theory. This theory maintains that caste system as a social phenomenon, the origin of which lies in social evolution, through a long and slow evolutionary process. It is quite possible during such process some ugly things to have entered into the system. The one and probably the worst was the custom of ‘untouchability.’
It was claimed the caste system is not without its merits. It was based on the division of labour and thus enabled society to function efficiently. It has made labour more effective as the hereditary skill was transferred from father to sons. The caste system has solved the problem of choosing careers and the problem of unemployment did not arise.
The system provided united action against exploitation. Also by eliminating competition, it has protected the poor. However, the caste system has not only outlived in utility, it has been a positive evil, which must be thwarted away as soon as possible.
It is an obstacle to the social and national unity, which is essential economic regeneration. It kills the spirit of enterprise and initiative by making functions hereditary. By making change of occupation difficult, the system makes labour and capital immobile. The caste system has produced high level of contempt for manual labour. It retards the progress. It is gratifying to find that the shackles of the system are steadily breaking down.