This month National Geographic has an incredibe article on the Hindu caste system. I can remember learning about the caste system in India as a junior high student, but it wasn’t until I read the article that I had a fuller realization of what its implications are for Indian society. In some ways, the Hindu caste system is the reductio ad absurdum case of discrimination. Discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, or religion is stupid, but at least there are generally obvious physical or cultural differences that the small minded can fixate upon to rationalize their bigotry. In the caste system, it’s as though the members of various castes are randomly selected, or were randomly selected centuries ago, anyway.
I don’t know what the origins of the caste system are, but if I had to guess I’d say that Hindu culture evolved to dictate that members of a certain economic class were impure and thus were never to rise above that class in the future. It’s a form of economic discrimination that provides for a permanent labor supply to do the jobs that most people don’t want. The full article isn’t available online, but I’d strongly suggest that people pick up a physical copy and read the article. The lessons about human nature, religion, and the willingness of people to simply do as they’re told are not to be missed. I can’t wait to see the reader letters about the article in a couple of months.