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India on the road, bricks, revisiting the caste system, New Delhi, 2001

CASTE SYSTEM: It is another brick in the wall of discrimination based on the colour of the skin. The word caste originates from the Portuguese language. Such odd occurrence is because Portuguese sailors who visited India used the word caste to describe the “Varna” or labour separation based on the colour of the skin. The invading Aryans established the caste system in India. They used their genesis lore in the Vedas to outline and legitimize the caste system. According to the Vedas, a giant called Purusha was the original being from where all humans came about. From his head sprang the fair-skinned Brahmans or Hindu Priest – who think and speak Sanskrit. From his mighty and strong arms came the Kings and warriors. Business people and farmers originated in his stomach and tights. Moreover, from his feet came the darkest skinned people – original inhabitants of India or Dravidians – to do menial work. Thus, the darker the colour, the lower the position a person has in the caste system. Then, Aryans and British colonialists used a code called “Laws of Manu” to regulate all possible exchanges and roles among castes. The outcaste or pariahs are those who infringed the code or whose caste origin – usually mixed marriages -could no fit into the system or subject to rejection. As one is born into a family belonging to a specific caste and job, it is not possible to escape such fate but by turning to another religion. Many Hindu Indians converted into Buddhism or Islam in the past to escape their caste fate. During Independence, Caste abolition was a prominent concern for the father of the Indian nation: Mahatma Gandhi. The current Indian Constitution prohibited caste. However, it still prevails in Indian society to a sometimes alarming extent.

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Taken on February 5, 2008