There are a few reasons why I am writing about caste systems; I have encountered socio-economic classifications in the U.S. but the idea of caste systems in India fascinates me. Much of my thinking is related and the subjects do have intersections of similarity; much like the different dialects that I mentioned before, the caste systems vary depending on the region, religion, even neighborhood.
Wikipedia gives a short explanation of caste systems in India where there are four general classifications,
Brahmins: the teachers, scholars and priests,
Kshatriyas: Kings and warriors,
Vaishyas: Agriculturists and traders,
Shudras: Service providers, Artisans.
During the British Raj, the caste system was much more clearly defined and was used for a census. They believed the factors of your caste were occupation, social standing, and intellectual ability.
This week I read the book White Tiger, where the main character is constantly working to break out of his lower level caste. His personality is not considered, his skills, his interests- he is classified as a low level caste and is to remain there. In an underlined humorous manner, the book describes how caste systems work. Here is a good description of what I am talking about: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90452769
While sitting at lunch, my colleague Sharayu explained to me the flow of respect in India and how it works within the caste systems:
Shorter à Taller,Thinnerà Fatter, YoungeràOlder
This explanation would be more relevant for day-to-day interactions then an overall system. I have witnessed that respect is not generally a two way street: the giver of respect does not receive respect and this theory is not questioned. This is relevant in many of the school and family environments I work with. In addition to academics, kids are trained to be disciplined and respect their elders but these elders (teachers, administrators, parents, etc) are not expected to return the respect.
Caste systems are also important for arranged marriages. Modern marriage arrangements do exist these days but for those families that believe in traditional arranged marriages, factors may include being from the same community, the same caste system, and astrological signs that are aligned. It is brave to believe that your parents will pick the best partner for you but younger generations put full faith in their elders.
These are just a few thoughts- there will be more to come as I learn more about caste systems in India.