‘Caste is a precious gift’

The caste system receives generous treatment in Indian textbooks. Even the section in the text book of the Gujarat state board that seeks to explain the constitutional policy of reservations makes remarks about the continued illiteracy of the ‘scheduled castes and tribes.’

So, for instance, the same textbook pays lip service to political correctness through a fleeting reference to the fact that the varna system later became hierarchical, but in the same chapter, a few paragraphs later, literally extols the virtues of the intent of the varna system itself.

There is also no attempt nor desire, either in this text or the ICSE texts to explain the inhuman concept of ‘untouchability’ (based on the notion, “so impure as to be untouchable”) that Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar made it their life’s mission to challenge, socially and politically. In understanding and teaching about caste, both this text and other ICSE texts display a marked reluctance to admit or link the ancient-day varna system to modern-day Indian social reality.

“The ‘Varna’ System: The Varna system was a precious gift of the Aryans to the mankind. It was a social and economic organisation of the society built on the basis of the principle of division of labour. Learning or education, defence, trade and agriculture and service of the community are inseparable organs of the social fabric. The Aryans divided the society into four classes or ‘varnas’. Those who were engaged in the pursuit of learning and imparted education were called ‘Brahmins or Purohits (the priestly classes). Those who defended the country against the enemy were called the Kshastriyas or the warrior class. Those who were engaged in trade agriculture were called the Vaishyas. And those who acted as servants or slave of the other three classes were called the Shudras. In the beginning, there were no distinction of ‘high’ and low. The varna or class of a person was decided not on the basis of birth but on the basis of his work or karma. Thus a person born of a Shudra father could become a Brahmin by acquiring learning or by joining the teaching profession…In course of time however, the varna system became corrupted and ‘birth’ rather than ‘vocation’ came to be accepted as the distinguishing feature of the varna system. Thus society was permanently divided into a hierarchy of classes. The Brahmins were regarded as the highest class while the Shudras were treated as the lowest. These distinctions have persisted in spite of the attempts made by reformers to remove them. Yet, the importance of the ‘Varna’ system as an ideal system of building the social and economic structure of a society cannot be overlooked”. (Emphasis added).

(Social Studies text, Gujarat State Board, Std. IX)
The only reference in this standard IX text to the indignities of the caste system as it exists today is through an attempt to blame the plight of the untouchables on their own illiteracy and blind faith.
“Problems of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes: Of course, their ignorance, illiteracy and blind faith are to be blamed for lack of progress because they still fail to realise importance of education in life. Therefore, there is large-scale illiteracy among them and female illiteracy is a most striking fact. (Emphasis added). ” 

(Social Studies text, Gujarat State Board, Std. IX)
The ICSE texts are similarly non-critical and evasive. 
The New ICSE History and Civics, edited by Hart and Barrow, Part 1 has this to say.
“The Caste System: The division of society into four varnas (classes) had its origin in the Rig Vedic period. Members of the priestly class were called brahmins; those of the warrior class, kshatriyas; agriculturists and traders, vaisyas; and the menials, sudras. It is said that the caste system in the Rig Vedic times was based on occupations of the people and not on birth. Change of caste was common. A Brahmin child could become a kshatriya or a vaisya according to his choice or ability…

“Varna in Sanskrit means the colour of skin and the caste system was probably used to distinguish the fair coloured Aryans from the dark coloured natives. The people of higher castes (brahmins, kshatriyas, and vaisyas) were Aryans. The dark skinned natives were the sudras, the lowest class in society, whose duty was to serve the high class. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 1999, Anniversary Issue (6th) Year 7  No. 52, Cover Story 2



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