Brahmins can have black skin
Jati, Varna and Caste
From birth, every Indian belongs to a certain social group, a so-called Jati. This group can often be read from the name. The name "Dhobi" for example means washer, "Gandhi" means perfume seller.
It is estimated that there are around 2000 such Jatis in India. Depending on the Jati, a person is assigned to a Varna, i.e. a caste, at birth.
Varna: The color caste
The classic order of the caste system is divided into four "main boxes", so-called varnas. A color is assigned to each of these four main boxes. The caste affiliation can often already be recognized by the personal name.
The Brahmins as the uppermost caste are particularly highly regarded and are white in color. Below this is the Kshatriyas (red) warrior caste. This is followed by the Vaishyas (yellow), traditional farmers and merchants. At the bottom of the four Varnas are the Shudras (black), which are mostly servants, servants or day laborers.
Outside these varnas stand the "untouchables", also called pariah and harijans. Many people who are counted among the untouchables reject this designation. They call themselves "Dalits" and consider themselves to be descendants of the indigenous people of India.
Dalits are often referred to as "casteless" in the West, which is not exactly the case. The Dalits or Untouchables are a caste that is not one of the varnas in the pyramid.
The Dalits - outside the Varna castes
More than 240 million people in India belong to the Dalit caste. According to the religious distinction in Hinduism, the Dalits are still considered "untouchable" and "impure".
As a result, they are still excluded from social life in many areas and pursue "unclean" jobs - such as washer, hairdresser and garbage collector. Most of them still live in poverty to this day.
Discrimination against Dalits is still very widespread, especially in rural regions. They are harassed, attacked and even killed. The Dalits often have to live in settlements that are separate from the other residential areas. They are also forbidden to enter temples or use fountains. Getting married across the board is an absolute taboo, especially in rural areas.
Since the Dalits have become more resistant to their discrimination, they are also more frequently victims of violence.
Where does the caste system come from?
The exact origin of the caste system in India is not clear. There are views that the castes developed through the division of people according to their skin color: the lighter the skin, the higher the caste.
Other opinions assume that the Varna refers to a "spiritual" color scheme. The colors should describe the qualities and characteristics of the person.
The religion of Hinduism, which originated in India and which over 80 percent of the Indian population belongs to, relates heavily to the varnas and the ritual purity assigned to individual castes. The Hindus also classify people of other religions into this system.
Is there any chance of escaping the caste system?
The caste system is becoming less important in the cities. Thinking in boxes, for example when choosing a partner, is still very widespread in the city, but the system is becoming more permeable.
In the meantime, instead of the castes, there are social differences. Those who have a good income feel connected to the corresponding social group and less to their caste.
Since the 1930s, public institutions have granted the Dalits a certain number of mandates and positions. Places at universities are also allocated to Dalits according to a certain key. Such privileges usually lead to disputes with members of the higher, "pure" castes.
Nevertheless, some Dalits have made it to high offices: With Meira Kumar, an "ex-untouchable" has held the office of Speaker of Parliament since 2009. The incumbent President Ram Nath Kovind is after K.R. Narayanan is the second Dalit to become head of state of India.
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