Justice Katju: Who created the caste system?

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Speaking on the occasion of the 647th birth anniversary of Saint Ravidas in Mumbai on Sunday, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said that the caste system was created by the Pandits.

This statement has angered the Brahmins in India, but the RSS later clarified that by Pandits Bhagwat meant intellectuals, not Brahmins. 

However, assuming that by Pandits, Bhagwat meant intellectuals, is it correct that intellectuals created the caste system?

I submit it is totally incorrect, and the idea is unscientific. I have explained the origin and growth of the caste system in great detail in this article

As explained in this article, caste developed into the feudal occupational division of labour in society, that is, each vocation became a caste, for example. badhai (carpenter), lohar (smith), kumbhaar (potter), bunkar (cotton spinner), sonaar (goldsmith), chamaar (leather worker), dhobi (washerman), nai (barber), etc.

This was not unique to India.

For instance, even today in England there are people with surnames like Baker, Butcher, Taylor, Gardener, Mason, Potter, Barber, Smith, Goldsmith, Waterman, etc, which indicates that the ancestors of these people were in these vocations in feudal times.

Regarding Brahmins, their role has been explained in this article.

As the great British economist Adam Smith explained in his famous book The Wealth of Nations, division of labor leads to great progress. Hence, in feudal times, the caste system was a progressive institution, as it introduced a rudimentary kind of division of labor in society.

However, something which may be good and progressive at one stage of a society’s historical development may become bad and reactionary at a later stage. Today, division of labor cannot be on the basis of birth but on the basis of one’s technical skills.

Therefore, today, the caste system is totally outmoded and reactionary, and has become a curse on our society, which has to be destroyed if our country is to progress.

In fact, it has been already partially destroyed in India with the advent of technology. Today a young man of badhai, lohar, chamaar or any other caste comes from his village to a city and becomes an electrician, motorcar mechanic, taxi driver, etc, and does not follow his traditional caste vocation.

The caste system would have been totally destroyed in India with the further advancement of technology, but is being artificially propped up and kept alive today by politicians for vote bank politics. However, it will be gradually destroyed by (1) the people’s struggles (2) industrialization, and (3) intercaste marriages. That, however, will take time.

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