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< Back to question Did British colonial powers invent the Indian caste system? Show more Show less

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?

British colonial powers reshaped the caste system Show more Show less

British colonial powers did not invent the caste system, but manipulated it to serve their purposes.
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Regional differences over castes were eradicated under the British

The caste system existed prior to British rule, but the colonial powers created a uniform hierarchy.
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The Argument

Prior to the colonization of India by the British, the caste system varied from region to region. Different castes were superior and inferior depending on the region. The British reshaped the caste system to create a uniform hierarchy across the Indian sub-continent. They based this new uniform system on the Law Code of Manu, written in the second century and applied it much more literally than it was initially intended.

Counter arguments

The Law Code of Manu wasn’t translated into English until 1794, nearly half a century after the British had arrived in India. This means that if the British imposed the caste system as outlined in the Code, they were relying on Indian pandits for guidance and interpretation. In this context, it is clear that the British didn’t reshape the caste system. The Brahmins, the learned caste, used the British colonization of India to cement their dominance of Indian civil and social society.[1]


[P1] Prior to British rule, there was no uniformly accepted caste hierarchy. [P4] Following British rule, Hindus had a universally accepted, Brahmin-dominated caste system. [P3] Therefore, the British reshaped the Indian caste system.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P3] The legal system upon which the modern caste system is based wasn't available in English until after the caste system had been established. Therefore, the British could not have been the driving forces behind this change.



This page was last edited on Monday, 27 Apr 2020 at 12:49 UTC

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