Dr. Rajkumar SinghWith the coming of the Aryans into India, caste system began with a hard and fast division between Aryans and non-Aryans. The Aryans to begin with, formed one class and there was hardly any specialisation. They conquered the Dravidians and raised new problems relating to race and politics. Although the Dravidians too had a long background of civilisation, Aryans considered themselves vastly superior and a wide gulf separated the two races. The caste divisions, originally intended to separate the Aryans from non-Aryans, reacted on Aryans themselves, and as division of functions and specialisation increased, the new classes took the form of castes. Then there were also the backward aboriginal tribes, nomads or forest-dwellers. Out of this conflict and interaction of races gradually arose the caste system, which, in course of succeeding centuries, was to affect Indian life so profoundly. Probably caste was neither Aryan nor Dravidian. It was an attempt at the social organisation of different races, a rationalisation of the facts as they existed at the time.The Aryans divided the caste system as four-fold Varna system-the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, meant to correspond to the four functions of knowledge, defence, wealth and labour respectively. The Indo-Aryans developed a special organisation that answered to the several needs of the people. The caste was a group system based on services and functions. It was meant to be an all-inclusive order without any common dogma and allowing the fullest latitude to each group. Apart from this, there was always a continuous process of new castes being formed as new occupations developed, and for other reasons the older castes were always trying to get up in the social scale. The Aryans like society, also divided the individual’s life in four parts: the first part consisted of growth and adolescence, the student period of life; the second was that of the householder and man of the world; the third was that of the elder statesman, and the last stage was that of the recluse, who lived a life largely cut-off from the world’s activities. All the ancient law books stress that the main function of the head of the state is its maintenance. The Shanti Parva declares that people can perform the duties pertaining to their castes and social order only if the state power backs them.However, the position of the individuals in this caste-ridden social order was far from satisfactory. An individual was only considered as a member of a group; he could do anything he liked so long as he did not interfere with the functioning of the group. It was not conducive to any development of individual initiative, adventure or striking out of new paths. He had no right to upset that functioning, it was open to him to form another group. In general, a villager considered the caste system as divinely ordained, docilely submitted to all its bans and taboos and passively accepted whatever status and function the ‘God created’ caste system assigned to him in the social and economic structure of the village life. In fact, his isolated social existence in the village, frequent frustration of his efforts by forces of nature such as floods and droughts, reinforced by the grip of the caste system and of the authoritarian joint-family and by the religion-mystical philosophy drummed into his mind from childhood, smothered the mental initiative, the experimenting impulse, the investigating urge and the rebellious mood of the villager for ages. Notwithstanding its merits and demerits, the caste system stood on certain social formalities. It was a ladder from the highest to the lowest. While the highest caste contained God’s men and claimed the utmost reverence, the members of the lowest groups were so inferior as to remain secluded. Between the highest and the lowest, there existed numberous grades depending on the nature of caste profession. In such a system, the individual’s life and occupation were determined by his birth irrespective of his inborn qualities.The third special feature of the old Indian social structure was the joint family where all the members were joint sharers in the common property and inheritance. The father or some other elder was the head but he functioned as a manager. A division of property was permitted under certain circumstances and if the parties concerned so desired. In it the joint property was supposed to provide for the needs of all the members of the family, workers or non-workers. It was a kind of guarantee for the livelihood of all including even the sub-normal and physically or mentally deficient. Emphasis was not laid on personal advantage or ambition but on that of the group, called family. The fact of growing up and living in a large family minimised the ego-centric attitude of the child and tended to develop an aptitude for socialisation. It has two important consequences. Lacking the frustrations of early deprivation there is a weak development of inward aggression, a low compulsion to channelize aggressive energies with reference to symbols of authority and hence a weak superego. On the other hand, there develops in the Indian child a strong tendency for inward-directed motivations, an urge for ‘self-development’ and thus a strong ego ideal. Another positive effect of it is that moral energy does not come from the pressure of guilt feelings arising from a failure to live up to the superego, and depends crucially on a self-cultivated ego ideal. Thus, all the three pillars of the Indian social structure were based on the group and not on the individual. The aim was social security, stability and continuance of the group, that is of society. Within each group, whether this was the village community, the particular caste, or the large joint family, there was a communal life shared together, a sense of equality, and democratic methods.Political order as we know it today was not even a remote possibility for the social structure we are discussing. Village community, caste and joint family, being the basic units of society present before us a very loose picture of the then political set up. Economy remained a deciding factor for centuries and further differentiation in caste and community was made on its basis. Two crucial social formations, the class and the state, were not well-established in the later Vedic age. Each one of them need solid material support and universal social recognition. The Vedic communities had neither a regular taxation system nor a regular standing army. The tribal militia of the pastoral society was replaced by the peasant militia of agricultural society, for without a well-established taxation system it was not possible to maintain a professional army. The latter Vedic period witnessed the existence of territorial kingdoms, but these kingdoms may be viewed as chiefdoms, enjoying control over several tribal chiefs and collecting occasional tributes from them. The kin-based institutions were still strong, and the peasants were not completely alienated from the princes and priests who differentiated out of the tribal communities. All the battles, the different tribes of the Aryans waged, whether among themselves or against the non-Aryans, were under their Chief term ‘Rajan’. The word is almost automatically translated as ‘King’ but we must remember that at this period the word signified a tribal chief rather than a king for there were no kingdoms as such. Nor did the ‘Rajan’ exercise unfettered power which we normally associate with a king.
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