I recently blogged about how the caste system was being lived out on the streets of India in the life of one very poor dalit woman.
About a month ago, (yes, I’m behind on blogging) the Wall Street Journal wrote a front-page weekend edition piece called “Caste Away” about a dalit (aka an Untouchable) who has attempted to break into the fast-growing, professional IT business in India. The article tells the story of how Mr. Thoti was been discriminated against throughout his attempt to build a career. There are moments of hope when he finds hiring managers who are color-blind to the caste system, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Even the chief economist of the Royal Bank of India (equivalent to USA central bank), another rare dalit success story, still faces discrimination.
If you are interested in further reading, there is a book written over a century ago by Mahatma Phule called Slavery which argues that India’s caste system is similar to the slavery issue faced by the USA.
The India Caste System Overview
At the top of the caste system are the brahmins … historically the priests and by far are the current ruling class (almost every institution) in India today. Then their nearest high-caste cohorts are the kshatriyas (warrior caste) and vaishyas (merchant caste). The vaishyas overwhelming oversee the banking and financial systems in India. The Sudras are the low-caste peoples … numbering over 500 million in India! … who are identified with a particular occupation (e.g. potter’s caste, shepherd’s caste, buthcher’s caste, etc.) And then below the caste system are the dalits or untouchables.
Here is a picture of the caste hierarchy.
What is interesting is that the dalits, while still overwhelmingly extremely poor, are often better off than the low-caste peoples. Part of this is due to the affirmative action setup for dalits.
Have you experienced the caste system? Please post a comment (and please include your caste name in your comment!)