08/03/07 - untouchables

In today's excerpt - the origin of 'untouchables' and the Hindu caste system. The caste system was brought to India by Aryans, an Indo-European people who began to enter India in about 2,000 BC:

"Along with their religion and their language, Sanskrit (which is the basis of Indian languages still spoken today), the caste system is the legacy of Aryans to later India. Castes, as they evolved, became groups of people following the same occupation and alone entitled to do so. Membership of caste is hereditary and, ideally, caste members marry only with one another, share special ritual practices and obligatory acts, and if strict, will only eat food prepared by other members of the same caste. There eventually came to be hundreds of castes and sub-castes. ...

"The system had begun with a simple division of Aryan society into three classes: brahmans, warriors and farmers. These were not at first so closely defined nor so exclusive as they later became; for some centuries, it appears people could move from one caste to another. The only unleapable social barrier in early times seems to have been that between Aryans and non-Aryans. A fourth social class seems to have been singled out rigidly; this contained the original native population, darker-skinned than the invaders, who wanted to keep separate from them and therefore saw them as outside the three-class system altogether. The non-Aryans, members of the new fourth class, became the 'unclean'; because they were non-Aryans, they could not take part in religious sacrifices, or study or hear the Vedic hymns. In the end, these 'unclean', originally identified from a wish to preserve ethnic purity, became the 'untouchables' of modern India, a class to which is left the dirty work of cleaning and scavenging, so looked down upon that some brahmans still feel that the shadow of a sweeper falling across food pollutes it."


J.M. Roberts


A Short History of the World


Oxford University Press


Copyright 1993 by J.M. Roberts


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