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Did British colonial powers invent the Indian caste system? Show more Show less
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The four-tiered caste system gives Hindu society a strict hierarchical structure, with teachers and religious leaders at the top, and the fifth "undesirable" category performing "unclean" work. Where did it come from? Was it a colonial invention? Or are its roots embedded in ancient Indian culture?

No, British colonial powers did not invent the Indian caste system Show more Show less

The idea of caste can be found in Indian scripture dating back two millennia.
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The caste system is present in Hinduism

The caste system is visible in Hindu society prior to the arrival of the British in India.

The Argument

The Indian caste system can be traced back 2,500 years, long before the British arrived in India.[1] The caste system is a uniquely Indian phenomenon that has been in place in parts of the country for over two millennia. Caste is mentioned in the Rigveda, one of the founding texts of multiple Indian religions. It is also visible in texts dating as far back as 1700 BC.[2] The text describes the division of Purusha into four castes “for the protection of the whole creation”. The Brahmins were created from the mouth, while the Sudras were born from the feet.[3]

Counter arguments

There is evidence to suggest that the addition of the caste system in the Rigveda was made retroactively only after the scriptures were translated into English. The caste system that was present in the “Hindu” religion before the colonial era was likely a variant of “Brahmanism”, rather than a fully-fledged social hierarchy.[4]

Proponents

Premises

[P1] The caste system is mentioned in texts as far back as 1700 BC. [P2] This pre-dates the British colonial powers. [P3] Therefore, the caste system cannot be a British colonial invention.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The texts were amended when the documents were translated into English.

References

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1862285?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  2. http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/rigveda/
  3. https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=phr
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48619734
This page was last edited on Wednesday, 18 Nov 2020 at 22:55 UTC