Origin and Impact of the Indian Caste System

Quick note from Caroline: this is a great big-picture overview of the history of caste in India. I want to point out that the word “Aryan” as used here is not what the Nazis meant. The Nazis borrowed a lot of their language and symbols about race superiority from 19th-century pseudoscience about White northern Europeans moving across Eurasia and founding all the great civilizations. This is nonsense. The origin of the term Aryan in ancient Hindu texts (ca. 1500-500BCE) is uncertain, but in this context, it refers to the people who dominated what is now northern India and Pakistan. Ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences are also tied to caste in India historically and today…but not Nazis. Now, back to Xixiang’s summary.

The caste system (tied to Hinduism) has a long history and there has long been contentious in the origin of this system. In recent years, the most accepted explanation of the origin is related to the Aryans since many pieces of research support this hypothesis. For example, Dr. Sharma’s team proved that there exists a strong relationship between the status in the caste system and a special chromosome which is the trait of the Aryans (Sharma, et al. 50).

Following the hypothesis related to the Aryans, around 1500 BC, the Aryans arrived at the Indian subcontinent and they conquered the local Indian tribes with their advanced technology (Deshpande, 19). To classify their ruler’s status from those local people, the class division between the conqueror and the conquered has been created. That is the prototype of the caste system. Later, as the interaction between the Aryan conquerors and the indigenous people, the social hierarchy has developed from two to four. The Aryans were divided into three levels internally: the Hindu priestly aristocracy – Brahmins; the military chiefs – Kshatriyas; and the free civilians engaged in various productive labor – Vaishyas. On the other hand, most local people are classified into the lowest level, which is Shudras who need to subordinate to Vaishyas, Kshatriyas, and Brahmins. Besides, some of the local people have been excluded from this system, and they are called Dalits or Untouchables who are in the lowest social status and being most discriminated against (Deshpande, 22). The graph below is a general presentation of the caste system hierarchy.

The Caste System Explained

To secure their status, the Aryans dominator set up several restrictions. The most essential one is that your caste is only determined by your parents. Also, the marriage across the caste is prohibited. Besides, people from low status are prohibited to pursue a high-level career (Mason, 648). For example, if you are born as a Shudras or Dalits, you can only do some dirty physical work since decent jobs are reserved for Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas. Combining those restrictions, we can find that there doesn’t exist any chance for the people from Shudras and Dalits to gain a better life in such social hierarchy.

Nowadays, with the help of the Indian government, the effect of the caste system has already been much less than before. In the rural area, movement out of caste specializing occupations and access to resources is still difficult, but in urban areas, people can pursue their desired job without considering their caste (Deshpande, 31). As time goes by, I believe that the impact of caste would keep decreasing, and Indian society would become more equal.


Work Cited

Deshpande, Manali S. “History of the Indian Caste System and Its Impact on India Today.” DigitalCommons@CalPoly, Dec. 2010, digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/socssp/44/.

Joe, and Thomas DeMichele. “The Caste System Explained.” Fact/Myth, 27 Nov. 2018, factmyth.com/the-caste-system-explained/.

Mason Olcott. “The Caste System of India.” American Sociological Review, vol. 9, no. 6, 1944, pp. 648–657. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2085128. Accessed 16 Mar. 2020.

Sharma, S., Rai, E., Sharma, P. et al. The Indian origin of paternal haplogroup R1a1* substantiates the autochthonous origin of Brahmins and the caste system. J Hum Genet 5447–55 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/jhg.2008.2

History of Partition between India and Pakistan

1947, August 15th, British India was split into two different independent nation states. It consisted of Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. The main vehicle for the Partition was the Indian National Congress with the best-known leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Before the 1940s, it had long argued for a single state with a strong centre. Unfortunately, other organizations supporting minorities felt their plan seemed sketchy. Because of Hindus taking up 80% of the population, people believed it could protect the political dominance. The situation sparked one the biggest migrations in human history. Tons of people and families traveled, and some did not make it. On the India side, societies that had lived there for years were suddenly fighting each other due to the shocking new reality of local violence. It was a mutual massacre that was unique and new. Additionally, there became “massacres, arson, forced conversions, mass abductions, and savage sexual violence. Some seventy-five thousand women were raped, and many of them were then disfigured or dismembered” (Dalrymple 2015). Many British soldiers and journalists who had experience with the Nazi death camps explained that the partition was worse – including “pregnant women had their breasts cut off and babies hacked out of their bellies; infants were found literally roasted on spits” (Dalrymple 2015). However, there was no comparison in these two distinct events.

By 1948, the journey came to a termination. Ayesha Jalal writes that it was a “defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future” (Dalrymple 2015). This shows the suffering of so many people and families who have had to discover ways to understand background due to unforeseen acts by the partition. People are and were strong headed about their beliefs and would fight for that if they felt threatened and by any means necessary. “Many of the people concerned were very deeply attached not just to religious identity, but to territory” (The Conversation 2017). Additionally, both states had difficulty handling the needs and recovering post refugees from what had arisen. By the 1960s families were still migrating. Today, India and Pakistan are still trying to figure solutions out. This was by far one the most devastating times of history for South Asia.


William, Dalrymple. (2015, June 15). The violent legacy of Indian Partition. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalrymple

Pant, Harsh. M. (2016, September 26). Kashmir flare-up puts India under new pressure to deal with Pakistan. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/how-the-partition-of-india-happened-and-why-its-effects-are-still-felt-today-81766

The Effect of the Partition of Bengal

The partitioning of Bengal was brought about by Lord Curzon, who was the British viceroy as well as the Governor-General of British India in 1905 (Roy, 2014). Curzon argued that Bengal could not be governed effectively due to its large size and had to be divided into East Bengal and West Bengal. East Bengal was largely inhabited by Muslims whereas West Bengal was dominated by Hindus. The decision to divide India was an attempt to weaken the population by turning it against itself to minimize resistance. The Muslims in the western part supported the decision because it allowed them to do business without the interference of the Hindus who had dominated Bengal’s business environment. East Bengal was neglected and isolated due to the poor communication system in the area (Roy, 2014). However, the Hindus of West Bengal protested against the decision since it made them minorities in the East and regarded the division as an act of strangling Bengal’s nationalism. Protests escalated from mass meetings to boycotting of British goods.

The partition resulted in massive resettlement as Hindus moved to the East whereas Muslims moved to the West. The partition led to the death of many local people as the British officials took on protesters. The debate on the division of Bengal has never ended long after India got its independence. Refugees, infiltrators, and migrates continuously flow across the borders of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh which were formed from the partition (Sengupta, 2011). Both the Indian and Pakistan governments have tried to stop the influx of refugees across the borders of the two countries. Initially, the Hindus fled East Bengal for safety which had become part of Pakistan, which was dominated by Muslims. However, the poor populations in the two divides were unable to migrate and decided to stay in their original locations (Roy, 2014). Although the British colonists may not have managed to reap the benefits of the partition then, they managed to turn the local communities against one another leading to the formation of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.




Roy, K. (2014). Partition of British India: Causes and Consequences Revisited. India Review13(1), 78-86. doi:10.1080/14736489.2014.873681

Sengupta, D. (2011). From Dandakaranya to Marichjhapi: rehabilitation, representation and the partition of Bengal (1947). Social Semiotics21(1), 101-123. doi:10.1080/10350330.2011.535673