Class V. Caste System Essay, Research Paper
A Class vs. a Caste System
In any country’s history, a high stage of social development is reached only when the main social divisions are formed. “The caste system penetrates the Hindu society to a level unknown elsewhere. It plays some part in other civilizations but in India it has invaded the whole. It is in this sense that we may speak of the caste system as a phenomenon peculiar to India” (Pocock 27). The class system of the United States and the caste system of India share common characteristics but, at the same time, they different in many ways.
A caste system rigidly restricted occupationally, socially, members may not marry outside the caste. Caste system devalues and discriminates people according to their genetic and/or social background. There are said to be four major traits typical of caste systems. Included are the following: membership into the caste is hereditary; marriage within the caste is mandatory; mobility is nearly impossible; occupation is strongly related to caste (Hurst, 1998).
Conversely, a class system is a society based upon different groups. These groups are composed of people whose strata’s are often related to occupational or property divisions. They are composed of a set of consistent and stable patterns that persist through time.
In the United States it is based upon a classification of individuals who are grouped into power levels which “represent the structural inequality in the allocation of rewards, privileges, and resources.” These levels are often referred to as the “upper,” “middle.” And “lower” classes. They largely determine life chances in relating directly to the incomes and educational composition of each individual class (Davis 65-72).
One of the strongest and most complex examples of the caste system can be found in Hindu India, where a hierarchy of thousands of distinct castes reflect religious practice, occupation, locale, culture status, or tribal affiliation. In addition, their society is divided into four social classes: -the Brahmans, priests and scholars; Kshatriyas, the military and rulers; Vaisyas, farmers and merchants; and Sudras, peasants and laborers. Below the Sudras were the untouchables, who performed the most menial tasks. The Untouchables are often regarded as the “polluters” include peoples whose occupations are those such as hairdressers, janitors, tanners, butchers, and undertakers. They were given this title because they make contact with such “pollutants” as blood, dirt, dung, hair, leather, menstrual flow, saliva etc. Popularly known in the past as “pariahs”, the politically correct terms now used are Dalits (“the oppressed”) and/or Harijans (“Children of God”), a term introduced by Mahatma Gandhi. Although caste segregation is officially illegal, it is very prevalent in India (Singh 9-19).
An open system is a society in which people can change their economic, prestigious and power status easily. In contrast, a closed system is society in which people face great difficulty in changing these statuses. One should keep in mind that no society is completely open or closed, in fact, all societies have at least one or more characteristics of both closed and open systems.
The United States is a good example of a relatively open system. This is because the US is founded upon the assumption that each person is given the equal opportunity to achieve that maximum level of success at the highest level of the class system. America is based on the belief that this achievement can be reached through competence, contribution to the community and society and through diligence and hard work. Unfortunately, this ideal is often discounted when stereotypes assigned to people on the basis of gender, age, and race come into play. In lieu of this many sociologists often view the United States’ society as a very closed system because of the high degree racial inequality.
Similarly, a Hindu caste system is a good example of a closed system. Although the caste system in India was far more closed before 1900, India still suffers similarly in rural areas. People in India have traditionally inherited their status at birth from their parents. As a matter of course, it is uncommon for this status to change through the course of their life. Unlike in the United States, personal merit and diligence go without reward. It seems that no matter how hard or how much this sector of the lower caste strives they can never reach the prestige and status of those who inherit their high status. Fortunately, through the aid of social variables such as, varying birth and death rate in caste level, discontent among the repressed and exploited, competition between the different castes, and introduction of modern technologies and religious conversions, India’s caste system has begun to allow greater mobility its social stratum.
Many similarities exist when comparing the Indian caste system to the class system of the United States. One similarity is that “each caste plays important roles in society and benefits from the roles performed by others (Hurst, 1998).” The caste system is one of interdependence. Similarly, the United States class system is a one of co-dependence because each member of society plays a pivotal role in sustain the preservation of our culture. Another similarity focuses on the four basic characteristics of a caste structure and the U.S. system in terms of racial inequality. The first parallelism is that India’s caste is determined largely by who you parents are and likewise the United States follows that “the class that a parent(s) is a reliable predictor of what class their child will become a part of later on” (O’Hanlon 199). Both systems have social ideas that consist of two contradictory positions: different social groups are not equal, both for the well being of the state they’re equally important. Likewise, the United States developed what is now known as the middle-working class, in the United States, in contrast, the racial status of biracial children born of black and white parents is governed by what is often referred to as the “one drop rule” (Davis, 1991): In the South during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow laws, a person with “one drop of black blood” was black. This idea translated into the practice of classifying a person as black if he or she had any known black ancestors (Davis, 1991). The “one drop” rule still holds true in today’s society, though not as rigid. Professional golfer Tiger Woods describes himself as “Cablinasian”, because his mother is from Thailand and his father has African, European, and Native American ancestors. Because his main sponsor, Nike Company, has labeled him as black, he is now regarded as such in the press.
The second basic characteristic, that marriage within one’s caste is mandatory, is not true in the legal sense. In the United States, there is no longer any laws forbidding interracial marriages. But, instead, it is a “rule” that is practiced by many. “Marriage statistics show that there are certain professions which inter-marry freely while there are many others which do so very rarely. A number of customs show that the different ‘worlds’ do not like to mix and thus certain quarters of the city, certain cafes and certain schools are frequented exclusively by certain categories of the population (Singh 111). So, therefore, this characteristic of the caste system is not necessarily as strict in the United States, but it is one that is followed by the majority of those living in the U.S.
The third characteristic of the caste system, that mobility is virtually impossible, is clearly true of the black-white distinction that exists in the United States. There is essentially no mobility from black to white or from white to black for typical white and black people in the United States. “Passing” from one race to another has been known to happen, but it is something that occurs only in a closed system, such as the Indian caste system. This characteristic also contrasts with the U.S. class system. Mobility is possible in the class system. Upward mobility is somewhat higher in the United States than most other countries.
The fourth characteristic, that occupation is strongly related to caste, also describes American society to a substantial degree. Law does not dictate occupations that can be held by blacks or whites. Throughout the nineteenth century, many African Americans did not hold high status jobs such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Nearly all African Americans were slaves during this time. By now, there has been substantial occupational mobility for African Americans, just as there has been for lower-caste persons in India in the late twentieth century. But the occupational distribution in the United States retains significant caste-like properties. “For example, in 1995 African Americans comprised 10.6 percent of the employed civilian labor force, but they were only 1.9 percent of the dentists, 1.5 percent of the aerospace engineers, and 2.5 percent of the architects. At the same time African Americans made up 30.4 percent of the nursing aides and orderlies, 20.1 percent of the janitors, and 20 percent of the textile machine operators” (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996). Though race does not determine occupation, it is clear that African Americans are substantially over represented in low status service and manufacturing jobs and underrepresented in highly paid, high-status professional jobs – just as the caste model predicts. The southern United States before the civil rights movement clearly operated under a caste-like system based on race. African Americans rode on the back of the bus, drank from “colored” water fountains, and used “colored” restrooms. The racial caste system in the United States today may be less rigid than this, but nonetheless it has yet to completely disappear.
Both systems, the class system and the caste system, are models of social hierarchies. In India, the second place in the caste system was allotted to craftsmen and merchants, and this signifies an elevation that took in society due to the development of trade industry. Likewise, the United States developed what is now known as the middle-working class, also due to the development of modern trade industry (Vanina 35-36).
Both systems are affected by life chances, the likelihood that individuals and groups will enjoy desired goods and services, fulfilling experiences, and opportunities for living healthy and long lives. Life chances have to do with people’s level of living and their options for choice. The members of the higher classes, in both types of societies, benefit in nonmaterial ways. Their children are more likely to go further in school and perform better than the children of parents who occupy lower socioeconomic positions. Class and caste systems also affect health and life expectancy. The infants of parents of the higher classes, in both systems, are more likely to survive than infants of parents of the lower classes. Among the elderly, the average life expectancy is greater for the nonpoor than for the poor, in both types of cultural.
The class system of the United States and the caste system of India differ also. Certainly the number of differentiated occupations in India is less than in our own contemporary society. The class system of the United States contains many occupations accompanied by many roles. “A great distance separates the feudal system from the caste system proper. First of all to the extent that the former followed the principle that ‘the status of the land determines that of the landholder’, it contradicts a principle of the caste system” (Pocock 12). Moreover, American society has a much greater degree of opportunity towards upward mobility in society. The Indian culture restricts people on the basis of a culture that was developed hundreds of years ago. Based solely on heritage and lineage, their culture is unlike the United States. It does not consider the social problems and the psychological problems nearly as much when considering what has brought about such a distinction between the groups.
The twenty-first century will surely be one of continuing social, economic, and political turmoil and challenge, at least in its early decades. The heart of the problem is one of gaining equality for the groups of those who are oppressed and discriminated against. These issues should not just be economic ones but should be ones of dignity and honor. The United States has developed an economic theory appropriate to a world economy in which knowledge has become the key economic resource and the dominant, if not the only, source of comparative advantage. Therefore it is imperative for the U.S. to continue to place an increasing importance on the education of Americans. Clark D. Cunningham, an expert on the legal system in India, has closely followed the country’s creation of the affirmative action program. Says Cunningham, “One country which offers striking comparisons and contrasts with American affirmative action is India, which actually developed a basis for assessing the relative need for affirmative action among various disadvantaged ethnic groups in its population.” The United States has no principled basis for deciding which groups really need preferential treatment and which do not. However, India did just that when it commissioned a study in 1979 that attempted to measure the extent of prejudice and degree of societal injury suffered by different groups, ranging from the untouchables and tribal groups to low-caste Hindus and religious minorities (Vanina 147). India’s bold experiments should challenge us to conduct more scientific and systematic studies of how past and present discrimination disadvantage various groups in the U.S. But there is also society’s need for these organizations to take social responsibility – to work on the problems and challenges of the community.
Foreign investors can eliminate slave labor and the Indian caste system. Any foreign companies investing in India should check carefully that the Indian companies they do business with are not profiting directly, or indirectly, from slavery; for instance, through the raw materials they buy. Slaves could be freed through the persistent use of direct action and legal intervention. The Hindu caste system lies at the heart of the injustice. The caste system must be abolished, for as long as we justify the religious and social grounds that the caste hierarchies are based upon there will be forms of bonded labor and servitude. Another solution would be to maintain economic growth in India. The notion of the wealth “trickling downwards” offers hope to the lower groups of the caste system (Singh 173). This idea is founded upon the assumption that as long as the purchasing power and numbers of the wealthy people of India continue to increase dramatically (as it is presently) there are indications that the number of poor will be lowered as the income level increases. The opening of the Indian economy to globalization and foreign investment is believed to shrink the huge gap that separates the incomes of the wealthy from the impoverished.
One can hold different opinions about the caste system being totally alien to the system of estates, which existed in other feudal societies. But it seems clear that the caste system, adopted in India by a considerable part of the population, was inimical to the development to social groups which would have distinctive attitudes to property, means of production, social status, etc. and, what is more important, common interests in economy, politics and culture. India is the favored land of the caste system: for this reason the history of India is, in a way, a crucial experience for anyone who wishes to submit that system to a sociological study (Pocock 28). The United States class system and India’s caste system are similar and different in many ways. Both deal with the way in which live people throughout society and with the roles in which people accompany in their given societies.