The Leader of the country today is known as the “Head of State”. One who leads an organization or a function is said to be “Heading” that area. A Peon on the other hand, is one who was and is still in many countries the lowest in an organization. The word Peon comes from the Medieval Latin word Pedonem which means “Foot Soldier”. This is the world of today – in Modern India and around the world, each and every organization has these two positions (or their equivalent) in some form or the other. In US, the lowest rung of the workers – who do work by hand – are known as the “Blue Collared Workers”. Such people do the manual jobs, often dirty jobs. They contrast with the “White Collared Workers” who work in office environs and work on desk and chairs.
The villain of Caste System in India is said to be Manu. Why? Because he said that Brahmins (the educated and leaders of the society) were the Heads of the Society, and Shudras (the working class – or Blue Collared or Peons) were the Feet. And, rest of the folks were something in-between.
Cutting through the rhetoric of the self-congratulatory “reformers”, is there any difference between the lingo of a Modern Organization / Society and Manusmriti? So, lets just cut the proverbial crap and ask the real question – What is Caste System and and Why did it become so retrograde.
World is divided into 4 types of people-
No matter where you go, which time you live in and which geography you are in; you will always find 4 types of people with inherent skill-sets to match. One, the Educated. Second, the Warriors. Third, the Traders and Businessmen. Fourth, the Manual labor. This is an observation and not a normative statement (this is how it should be) so any notions of its prescriptive interpretation should be out of the discussion right away.
No society can escape that.
So, in every society you have “Heads” and you have “Foots .. ooops.. Foot Soldiers”. And the rest of them.
Then, What is the problem?
The issue with Caste or this inherent skillset division is not that it is there. But the issue occurs when there is No Mobility! If, one profession or Skill becomes a hereditary gift, then it shuts the society down.
Why would such a scenario happen? What would create the Barriers of Entry, as Michael Porter may call it?
Access to Freely and fairly available Education.
If Obama did not have access to Harvard Law School, then no matter how good he was, it would have been extremely tough for him to get where he did in the US. In a country like US, of free enterprise and unlimited opportunities, it is a fact that political careers are settled by your lineage as opposed to your greatness. If you are a Bush or a Kennedy or a Clinton now, you will have their political careers on a silver platter for most part. And, these families – specially the newer ones – once established in the highest political echelons, make sure that their progeny get the front row seats of the next political system somehow. These families even have an unfair access to the highest of schools. That’s what the Old Boys network is for. Isn’t it?
The desire to extend your power to your progeny was not the sole preserve of the Medieval Indians. It is present everywhere.
What mitigates such usurping of power by Nepotism is Access to Freely and Fairly available Education at the highest level. In a society where the Higher Education has either been destroyed, destabilized or simply been hijacked by the wealthy, such mitigation is not possible. The Love of the Progeny rules supreme. As is the case in most of the US politics and certainly in Indian politics.
Its the lack of Mobility, Stupid!
That a society has differentiation in skills and specialization is not what is bad. The bad thing is lack of mobility. When, anyone from any background with any level of resources at his/her hand in a society has the ability to reach the top, then the scourge like that of the Caste System cannot happen.
In India most of the Sages, the Highest of Gurus and Teachers of Spiritual sciences were not from any one caste. Valmiki or Ratnakar was a dacoit, Vyasa from a fisherman’s family, Vishwamitra a soldier et al were all great and venerated Sages. The Brahmins of the highest order. Yet, no one received their status as Brahmarishis or Highest Sages in heredity. They all strove and got the necessary realization.
Just because a society has Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, doesn’t make it a retrograde Caste society. A Retrograde Caste society is one where a person from any caste does not have the opportunity to do what s/he likes and is capable of despite the abilities.
Moreover, Spiritual Sciences were never strictly scriptural in nature. In fact, Gurus would create their own independent concoction of their learning methods. And, some were such intense beings, that they really did not need any Guru. So, if there was any science or knowledge that didn’t strictly need education – it was Spiritual sciences of India. For, it involved Inner Realization. Not outward scholarship!