Q: Where could India be if there were no castes?
It is generally assumed that India would be much better off without castes. The caste system takes a lot of blame for bringing India to “where it is” — whatever that means.
I am not too convinced.
Humans are social beings. They naturally form tribes consisting of “people like themselves.” Entry into these tribes has many criteria — birth, profession, belief in a type of God, and so on. Such tribes are not unique to Hinduism or India. The various Churches are also an example of such a tribe. People differ in their opinions and form groups based on their viewpoint and interpretation. Differing opinions from the agreed viewpoint of the group are discouraged and can result in ostracism in extreme cases.
One or the other way, humans will form tribes of their own based on various factors. The caste system originated from the profession people followed. The Varna system consisted of:
- the intellectual or scholarly class of Brahmins,
- the warrior or protector class of Kshatriyas,
- the business or merchant class of Vaishyas, and
- the service or labour class of Shudras.
But it brings an interesting perspective to what we think of our own lives today. We are looking for work-life balance, whatever that means. But if in the olden days, people had their identities created on the basis of their work or role in society, it meant their work was their life. There was no such thing as work-life balance. Their work was their life and identity.
Today, young Indians are still identifying themselves socially from castes i.e. the jobs their ancestors did. But there is a disconnect somewhere because the present generation is doing things totally unrelated to their “ancestral caste” and also refusing to accept a new, modern day “caste” based on what they're doing today. The pride that people show or feel in their castes today is baseless. The caste is just something that their forefathers did! What does it mean to most of us today if we're working in software, or medicine, or teaching, or law, or totally different businesses than the traditional ones?!
It is ironic and tragic that today we’re struggling to strike a work-life balance, when our ancestors were so proud of and connected to what they did that they BASED THEIR ENTIRE IDENTITY around their work! OUR WORK SEEMS TO HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH OUR LIFE and many of us are mostly waiting for weekends to connect to their “life”!
It's something to really think about, and spend some non-trivial amount of time on self-introspection!
So, tribes are the very fundamental and instinctual part of what makes us human. Call them tribes, or castes, or by any other name. Humans. Will. Form. Groups.
However, work and careers chosen today with care, with passion, with pride, will eliminate the concept of work-life balance problem like it did many many years ago for our ancestors. Then India will be back on track to its former glory.
This post came about as a Quora answer. I put in some thoughts that have been on my mind for quite some time there, so should become a blog post as always! ;-)