HANDOUT 8: Caste System A rigid social class system in
Hinduism, uses the idea of Karma and reincarnation to determine class.
Key Words: Caste System, Untouchables, Brahmin, Viasya, Sudra, Untouchables
1. Today we will be learning about a group of people called Aryans that had a great affect on
India. In about 1500 B.C.E. , the Aryans entered the Indus River Valley of India. When they
first arrived in India, Aryans were divided into three social classes: Brahmins (priests),
warriors, and peasants or traders. An Aryan’s class determined his or her role in society. At
first, the three classes mixed freely. Eventually, non-Aryan laborers or craftsmen called sudras
formed a fourth group. To stop Aryans from marrying outside of their groups, the Aryans made
made it harder to move from one class to another. Basically the top three classes were the
best, while Sudras and Untouchables did the hard work. As time went on and society had
more specialized jobs, the five basic castes gradually grew more complex with hundreds of
different jobs. One basic rule stayed the same people were born into their caste for life. Their
caste membership determined the work they did, the man or woman they could marry, and the
people with whom they could eat.
ASSIGNMENT: WHEN YOU FINISH THE READING ABOVE MAKE ONE
SENTENCE THAT DESCRIBES THE MAIN IDEA OF THE READING .
YOUR SENTENCE: _____________________________________________________
OR create a question about the reading, do both if you finish before everyone else!
2. KARMA AFFECTS ONES ROLE IN SOCIETY
PRESENT LIFE NEXT LIFE/ REINCARNATION
Rich but unhappy lives a bad life
Jack Upper Caste
Jack Lower Caste
Poor but happy lives a good life
Jill Lower Caste Queen Upper Caste
Based on the diagram above, how does Karma affect reincarnation and the caste system?
The Caste System In India: 1500 B.C.E. to 1949 C.E.
Outcast-Out of Caste, Untouchables
JOBS FOR EACH SECTION OF THE CASTE SYSTEM:
Brahmin: only class allowed to be priests, religious leaders of Hinduism, honored and
respected by those below them, can study the Vedas (Hindu holy book)
Kshatryia (KUH SHAT REE YUHZ): royalty, rulers, kings, queens, and warriors, expected to
protect the people, can study the Vedas (Hindu holy book)
Viasya (VEEZ YUHZ): merchant, peasant, farmers, trade, can study the Vedas (Hindu holy book)
Sudra: the working class, their duty (dharma) is to serve the top three castes, they were not
allowed to study the Vedas, or even hear the Vedas read out loud
Untouchables: butchers, gravediggers, collectors of trash, clean human waste ,they were seen
as unclean or dirty people, usually lived on the outside of a city, were not allowed to go near the
other castes, they were not allowed to study the Vedas, or even hear the Vedas read out loud
Answer at least three of the Discussion Questions in your notebook (don’t copy the question,
but write the number next to your answer):
1. What is the Caste System?
2. How can the Caste System be used to control society?
3. Is the Caste System a good way to control society?
4. Is the Caste System a bad way to control society?
5. Would you want to live under the Caste System?
6. What does a poor person have to do to move up the caste system?
7. Which members of the Caste System would you want to be? Why?
8. Which members of the Caste System wouldn’t you want to be? Why?
General Rules of the Caste System
- one can’t get married to someone outside of their own caste
- can only get a job related to your role in society, ex. Untouchables can only be butchers ,
- you have to do your job, ex. If you are a warrior you must protect the people in your society
- not a belief of Hinduism, but Dharma, Karma, and Reincarnation support the caste system
making people more likely to accept their role in society
- caste is determined by heredity (birth)
- people cannot change their social class
- Kshatryia and Brahmin castes held political power
The Caste System
Below showing the two extremes of the
caste system a Brahmin priest and an
untouchable street sweeper
Kshatryia (rulers/ warrior)
Vaisya (merchants/ farmers /traders)
Sudra (,peasant, servant)
Floor Untouchables (street sweepers, latrine cleaners)
2. A CONVERSATION BETWEEN A YOUNG HINDU GIRL AND HER MOTHER ABOUT
THE IR ROLE IN THE HINDU CASTE SYSTEM:
Chandra: Mother, I don’t understand why I am not permitted to talk to young people from other castes.
Mother: You are a Brahmin; you must stay away from people of the lower castes.
Chandra: Mother, I should have a right to talk to anyone I please. If I can’t I don’t want to be a Brahmin.
Mother: Brahmins are granted the opportunity to study and learn many things. We are better educated.
Chandra: Why can’t a others be as educated as we are?
Mother: Members of each caste must work at the same jobs as their parents. If a man or woman’s
parents are lawyers, he or she must be a lawyer. If their parents are farmers, the children must be
farmers too. This way, the social order is preserved. Everyone knows his rightful place in society.
Chandra: I understand. But what if one day I meet a man that I want to marry who is not a Brahman?
Can’t I make my own decision?
Mother: No, you can’t! If you marry a man from a lower caste then you will join his caste and so will
your parents. Your father and I will never let that happen. Besides, your parents choose your husband.
You don’t have that choice.
Chandra: But why is everything this way?
Mother: It is the way of the world. You were not born as a Brahmin by accident. It was because of the
way you lived and performed your duties in past lives. You earned your place here. Now you must try
to live the best life you can, Listen carefully to the priest’s teachings and observe all the rules of our caste.
Chandra: But mother, if I am a Brahman now, a member of the highest caste, what is there for me to
look forward to in the next life?
Mother: If you fulfill your duties as a Brahman and live without desires you will be released from the
wheel of life. Your soul will join with the Brahman and never return to Earth.
3. NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FROM THE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH:
Despite the fact that “untouchability” was abolished under India’s law in 1950, the practice of
“untouchability” … remains very much a part of rural India. “untouchables” may not cross the
line dividing their part of the village from that occupied by higher castes. They may not use the
same wells, visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land
that is legally theirs. Dallit children are frequently made to sit in the back of classrooms, and
communities as a whole are made to perform degrading rituals in the name of caste. Most Dalits
continue to live in extreme poverty, without land or opportunities for better employment or
education. With the exception of a minority who have benefited from India’s policy of quotas in
education and government jobs, Dalits are relegated to the most menial of tasks… removers of
human waste and dead animals, leather workers, street sweepers, and cobblers. Dalit children
make up the majority of those sold into bondage to pay off debts to upper-caste creditors.
-Adapted from BROKEN PEOPLE: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables” a
Human Rights Watch Report:www.hrw.org/reports/1999/India/
I. CASTE SYSTEM AND
a. Born into class
b. Belief in Karma and Dharma
support the idea of caste system
c. No longer in effect in India
d. Still used in other countries
e. A FORM OF GOVERNMENT
“Caste System” New York Times: October 20, 1996
Nearly a quarter of a billion human beings in Hindu-dominated South Asia most of
them in India and Nepal are born and die as untouchables, inheritors of an ancient
system that divided people according to tasks they performed, literate Brahmins for
intellectual and ritual (religious) functions, Kshatriyas as warriors, Vaishays to farm
and conduct business and Shudras to swell the ranks of servants. Outside all of this
were, literally, the out-castes, the untouchables who still sweep the floors, wash the
latrines and haul away buckets of human waste. For a traditional Hindu of the upper
castes, untouchables pollute everything they touch. Most live out their lives in
terrible poverty humiliation.
The Caste System
Sudra (commoner, peasant, servant)
Floor Untouchables (street sweepers, latrine cleaners)
1. What do you see?
2. How would you describe the Caste System?
3. Is this system fair? Why? Why not?
BRAHMIN: BOX OF MARKERS, POSTER
KYSHATRYIAS: 4 MARKERS, POSTER,
VAISYAS: POSTER PAPER, TAPE,
SUDRAS: 8 ½ BY 14 PAPER,
ONE PIECE OF TAPE, ONE MARKER
UNTOUCHABLES: 8 ½ BY 11 PAPER, USE PEN
ALL POSTERS MUST HAVE: A DRAWING
RELATED TO YOUR CASTE, A TITLE (YOUR
CASTE), A CAPTION EXPLAINING THE
A. each group will share their poster with the
B. all group must be listening during
C. after each group presents anyone may raise
their hand to ask a question or make a comment
about a poster
Caste System : A rigid social class system in
Hinduism, uses the idea of Karma and reincarnation
to determine class in the next life.
A girl form India wrote to her American friend
about her marriage and the caste system:
“While many of my girlfriends have un-
chaperoned meetings with male friends, I do
not approve. I will marry from my caste, and
a man that my father selects.”
1. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS QUOTE?
2. HOW WOULD KARMA DETERMINE ONE’S
CLASS IN THE NEXT LIFE?
3. SHOULD A PERSON’S ROLE IN SOCIETY BE
BASED ON KARMA AND THE CASTE SYSTEM?