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COTY #3 -From the Cutting Floor - The Caste System

  This is the 3rd  in a series of posts written originally as part of 'Curse of the Yaksha' but that were dropped from the final version. This piece is about the caste system in India.

The Caste system is a social hierarchy that has been prevalent in India since ancient times (2500 -3000 years), according to some sources.

For context, particularly non-Hindu readers, there were four broad categories in the caste system: 

o Brahmans - Scholars /Sages

o Kshatriyas - Warriors

o Vaishyas - Farmers, Traders, Merchants

o Shudras - Manual Labour

Although there are four main castes, thousands of sub-castes further divide India's people. Additionally, there is a separate caste who aren't considered part of the system at all – the Untouchables or Dalits. They are shunned by society and forbidden to live amongst those of high castes. They handle the jobs the rest of the castes refuse to do, such as cleaning latrines, manual scavenging, prostitution, animal slaughter, leather crafting etc.

(The Caste system was officially abolished in India in 1950. Discrimination based on caste is banned by law, but it unoficially still exists in India today.)

During the Pandavas' exile in the forest, they encounter a giant snake that traps Yudhishthir's brothers. The snake is Nahusha, an ancestor of the Pandavas. He was cursed to remain in that form until he got satisfactory answers to his questions.

Here is the most important part of that conversation (as mentioned in the Vana parva in a section called Yaksha Prashna)

Nahusha: ’Who is a brahmin?’

Yudhishthir: ’One who possesses the qualities of truthfulness, charity, forgiveness, good conduct, mercy, and who observes the duties of the brahmins is a brahmin.’

Nahusha: A Shudra, too, can possess these qualities.

Yudhishthir: If these qualities are found in a Shudra, he should be considered a brahmin. The actual possession of these qualities makes a person a brahmin, and the lack of them makes the person a Shudra.

Nahusha: If a person's caste is determined by qualities alone and not by birth, then how can the caste of a child be determined?

Yudhishthir: One does not belong to any caste by birth. Everyone is a Shudra at the time of birth. Only after the appearance of these qualities can the determination be made if a person is a brahmin or not. 'Thus, it is solely by qualities and not birth that one should be considered a brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra.

TL DR: Your caste is determined by your actions, not your birth. This is one of the most fundamentally misunderstood ideas today since most people continue to believe that their family line and genealogy determine their caste. 


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