Caste has been one of the most talked about and most controversial topics in Nepalese context in recent times
The caste system defines social classes by way of hierarchical endogamous groups often termed as Jaat. This custom was traditionally only prevalent in the three Indo-Aryan societies of the Khas, Madhesi, and Newars.
However, after the unification of Nepal in the 18th century, Nepal’s various non-Hindu ethnic nationalities and tribes, previously called “Matwalis” (alcohol-drinkers) and now termed as “Adivasi/Janajati” (indigenous/nationalities), have been incorporated within the hierarchy to varying degrees of success. The forceful integration by the state into the pan-Hindu social structure has occasionally led to disagreement and sometimes direct conflict with the state.
So let us know more about the system which has led to more division than unity in our society:
Table of Contents
What is the caste system?
A caste system is a class structure that is determined by birth. In simple terms, it means that in some societies, the opportunities you have access to depend on the family you happened to be born into. A sad reality of life we have to have even in this day and age.
Who started the caste system?
According to one long-held theory about the origins of the system is that Aryans from central Asia invaded South Asia and introduced the system as a means of controlling the local populations. The Aryans defined key roles in society, then assigned groups of people to them leading to the present-day system and conflict.
In Nepal, society was already divided into various caste according to the work done by people during the Lichhavi era but it got legally codified and entrenched in the society during the Malla period. King Jayasthiti Malla with the assistance of his five pandits who had run away from their homeland to survive against the Mughal attack in the 14th century introduced 4 Varnas and 36 Jaat. Jayasthiti Malla codified the system in his legal framework which was one of the oldest in the world and even made some mandatory prohibitions regarding some of them.
Why is the caste system important in Nepal?
It is considered important in Nepal and in Nepalese society because it basically determines their way of life. On the whole, the system has an important role in social stratification in Nepal. There are many castes in Nepal amongst various communities mainly in the hills, valleys, and plains. The communities living in the high mountains however do not follow the system.
What are the main features of the system?
The main features of the system are:
- Fixed Occupations:
- Restricted Food Habits:
- Absence of Vertical Mobility:
- Reinforcement by Religious Beliefs:
These are the main features of the system that we have to follow. Sadly!!!
How does the system affect society today?
Caste not only dictates one’s occupation but dietary habits and interaction with members of other castes as well. Members of a high caste enjoy more wealth and opportunities while members of a low caste perform menial jobs. Outside of the system are the Untouchables.
How has the system changed?
Industrialization has given rise to the emergence of new social classes along with skill and wealth. These social classes are replacing the traditional caste system. Trade Unions, Merchants’ Associations, and Political Parties are replacing the old loyalties which is a good thing. An increase in class consciousness leads to a decrease in discrimination and leads to a somewhat better society that before.
Is the caste system still in Nepal?
The Government of Nepal legally abolished the system and criminalized any caste-based discrimination, including “untouchability” (the ostracism of a specific caste) – in 1963.
What are the causes of discrimination?
The reason behind this seemingly senseless discrimination are:
1. Sense of Prestige
2. Caste Endogamy
3. Impact of Elders’ guidance
5. Belief in Religious Dogmas
6. Social Distance
These factors are what contribute to the discrimination and violence related to this archaic system that has sadly taken the lives of too many people.
Which religion has no caste system?
Abrahamic religions, including Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are egalitarian and do not advocate caste or any other form of stratification. One of the reasons that the so-called Dalits’ rapid conversion to Christianity in our country is occurring is because Christianity does not support or promote the system and discriminates in such a manner.
Is the caste system fair?
When the caste system first was introduced it was not discriminatory therefore the system itself is not discriminatory. In recent times people have become more and more interested in social class and are more willing to discriminate therefore if it was done correctly with true Hindu beliefs it would be fair.
Yep! That’s true. Few people have led us to believe what may not be even in our religious textbooks altogether.
It remains to the reader how he/she conducts with others regardless of his or her caste because it’s the character and moral judgment that makes a human being superior to others, not some system that is older and more of a relic of the past.
मानिस ठूलो दिलले हुन्छ, जातले हुदैन । लक्ष्मीप्रसाद देवकोटा