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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?

Yes, British colonial powers invented the Indian caste system Show more Show less

Pre-colonial documents make almost no reference to the caste system. It was a British invention as a method of classifying and controlling the vast Indian population.
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Pre-colonial documents indicate a more socially mobile society.

Documents indicate that caste oppression was not a major prohibiter of social mobility prior to British rule.

Context

In the pre-colonial era, social identities were more malleable. This indicates that the caste system was a colonial construct.

The Argument

Pre-colonial documents indicate that prior to the arrival of the British, social identities were far more fluid. Moving towns allowed families to achieve significant social mobility, with farmers becoming soldiers, merchants, or laborers without facing any caste oppression.[1]

Counter arguments

Relative social mobility prior to British rule does not prove that the British created the caste system. It is possible that the caste system was already in place prior to the British arrival, but had a lesser impact on social mobility. In this case, the British could not be attributed with inventing the caste system but may have played a role in rolling it out across the country or manipulating it to suit their purposes.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] The caste system restricts social mobility. [P2] Prior to the colonial period, India enjoyed far more social mobility. [P3] Therefore, the British created the social barriers that came to define Indian society. [P4] Therefore, the British colonial powers invented the caste system.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P4] The British didn't invent the caste system, they merely modified the existing caste system.

References

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-48619734

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This page was last edited on Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 11:53 UTC

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