Caste is the idea in Hinduism of a spiritual purity that determines one’s purpose in the world.

The basis to the caste system is the four varnas (categories) that Ancient Indian Society was divided
into. These were: Brahmins (priests/teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors/rulers), Vaishyas
(farmers/traders/merchants), Shudras (laborers), and Dalits (untouchables such as street
sweepers/latrine cleaners). An individual is born into their caste and remains there regardless of
wealth or power because it is based on religious ideas of spiritual purity and not on social class. In
modern India, measures have been taken to give individuals born into lower castes opportunities
despite inherent disadvantages. Affirmative action plans create quotas that require there to be a
certain number of lower caste members in government jobs and at universities. Additionally, the
constitution bans discrimination based on caste. Other elements of the modern world have
diminished the power of the caste system. In democracies, for instance, lower caste groups are
given a voice through sheer numbers since they make up such a large quantity of voters, therefore
politicians strive to please them in order to win support. Furthermore, urbanization has caused many
people of different castes to live next to one another contrary to ancient customs in which people of
different castes live in segregated communities.
Nonetheless, the caste system remains a strong influence in modern Indian Society. Many
Hindus still follow the religious laws of the caste system, such as refusing to come in contact with
the saliva (and henceforth wash the dish) of a member of a lower caste. Unfortunately, caste also
still is a large factor in one’s profession (and therefore financial situation). Aatish Taseer, author of
the opinion piece NY Times article “India’s Internal Inequality”, explains that “the spread of
modernity in India has certainly undermined caste, but it has also made the need to assert it more
vehement.” Ironically, just as much as affirmative action plans help diminish the effects of the
inequality of the caste system, they also perpetuate tensions created by this inequality. Many
communities protest to be included in certain caste quotas, such as the Jat community in Haryana,
India whose violent protests in late February 2016 resulted in the death of 18 individuals. In all,
features of modern society are beginning to challenge the caste system, yet are incapable of
completely eradicating this system which has existed at the roots of Indian society for thousands of