The Old World Domain, Essay Example
The Caste system in India
It is considered that the caste (class) system in India was originated in the country some two thousand years ago. Each person born in India was essentially associated with one of four types of social classes. These being: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Shudra and Vaisya. The Brahmin was essentially the priest or religious figures; the Kshatriya was those figures in society more normally associated with nobility or the warrior class; the Shudra were farmers and servants and the Vaisya were mainly farmers, traders and artisans. In addition, certain people were considered to be born outside of the caste system and were referenced as ‘untouchables’.
The religious significance of the Caste system was mainly focused upon Hinduism and the concept of reincarnation. After death the soul would be reborn into another form. Those that led productive and virtuous lives might be rewarded by being reborn into a higher class. Those that had led sinful or unproductive lives might be reborn into a lower class or that of an animal. Many Indians are vegetarians because of the fear of eating meat which might be the reincarnation of one of their ancestors.
The social significances of the caste system mainly centered on that of marriage, meals and religion. It was forbidden to marry across or outside of your caste but possible to marry to a sub caste. With meals it was possible to accept food from the hands of a Brahmin but considered vile if you took food from a lower caste person. Equally, if untouchables drew water from a public well, then that well was deemed to have been polluted and nobody else could use it. Those in the Brahmin class were expected to perform the religious rituals within the community; this included such items as weddings, funerals, religious festivals and holidays. Only those in the castes of Kshatrya and Valsya were allowed to make offerings to the Gods. It was forbidden to those in the Shudras caste.
The untouchables had considerable restrictions placed upon them. They were barred from religious and temple ground. They were considered to be offensive to the Brahmin and as such must lay face down in the dirt whenever a Brahmin passed in fear of polluting them. A severe form of racial discrimination. Any person that violated what was deemed to be the social norms could be outcast and made an untouchable. This made the person and his descendants forever removed from the caste system. It was the worst form of insult as these people were considered to be so impure that any contact with them would pollute your soul. These people were given all of the unsavoury work chores to do and they were barred from being cremated when they died. This essentially removing their possibility of reincarnation in the afterlife.
It is estimated that the origins of the Caste system stem as far back as 1500 BCE and go back to the language texts of Sanskrit and early Hindu scriptures. Things did change somewhat when India was ruled by Muslims in the 12 century onwards. The Muslims reduced the power of the religious caste and virtually eradicated the warrior and nobility caste. Apart from this influence the Muslims actually strengthened the resolve of the Hindus and created a division and strong anti-Muslim feeling in the country.
When the British Raj came to India they saw the Caste system as something that could be exploited to their advantage. They used this to create social divisions and obtain control over the Indian people. It was Gandhi that hoped for a resolution to these divisions and longed for a united country. Instead upon the departure of British dominion the country split into two with the Muslims moving into what we now know as Pakistan and the Hindus taking control over India. The republic of India gained its formal independence in 1947 and has since moved towards creating more equity amongst the caste system. (Singh)
The native aboriginal people of Australia have been stereotyped as being amongst the most primitive people on the planet. This equally applying to the Native peoples on the neighboring island of New Guinea. The considerable isolation and geographical displacement of Australia, in historic terms, from that of Europe and the Americas, helped to build this stereotyped image. Despite this image the aboriginals are perhaps the oldest surviving human culture on Earth. Some evidence in dating their history projects them as far back as 40-60,000 years ago. They have led a nomadic lifestyle across the vast plains of Australia and have managed to create a harmonious life with nature in an extremely inhospitable environment.
The Aborigines managed to live in Caves and created tools that would enable them to live in their nomadic lifestyle. They lived by their own rules and were examples of a race of true survivors. They created many cave drawings that depicted the life of their ancestors and their harmony with nature. They led a fairly unobstructed life until they clashed with the arrival of the first European colonists at the end of the 18th Century. The Europeans wanted to own vast tracts of land and this was alien to the aborigines and their nomadic lifestyle. The early European colonists considered them to be a nuisance and this resulted in many of them being murdered and wiped out as a result of the introduction of new diseases from Europe which they had no immunity to. This caused the aborigines to disperse.
Within the context of British Imperialism the taking of Australian land was deemed to be admissible under British Law. This paved the way for outright land theft and putting land into private ownership. This then made aboriginal nomads as trespassers on that land and as such made them fair game to be removed or killed. Over a period of two centuries Australia continued to be settled by the Europeans and this created a legacy of racism against the aborigines. Although some settlers behaved in a responsible and decent ways towards the aborigines many embarked on programs of ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the 1950’s there came into effect the fostering of aboriginal children in an attempt to make them integrate into the European society. This resulted in a lost generation of aboriginal people. This plight was only really discovered in the 1990’s and the Australian government has refused to apologise or recognize this as a problem. (Tantiprasut)
The Aboriginals throughout the 1990’s continued to be displaced and removed from their lands in favour of large industrial mining and mineral plants and expansion of pastoral interests. This has somewhat tarnished Australia’s recent history from a human rights perspective in the supported eradication of the aboriginal peoples and culture. Considering the plight of the native North American Indians in Canada and the USA it does not hold much promise for the future longevity of the Aboriginal people in Australia.
The nearest modern day comparison is that with Canada where it to expands its extraction of mineral rights and natural resources including the acquisition of native land. Overall Canadians tend to be satisfied with the direction that the country is perusing, as indicated by the survey carried out by Focus Canada 2010. Aboriginals however still tend to complain about recognition of land rights, under the auspices of First Nations, but equally many have found it difficult to integrate into a modern Canada and have remained aloof working within the confines of their own land. It is this sense of isolation and working against the Government that alienates them from the mainstream population. Hence this similarity applies to Australia and as such gains wide support from the Europeans who suffered hardships to make the land prosperous.
Singh, Ekta. Caste System in India: A Historical Perspective. New Delhi: Kalpaz Publications, 2009.
Tantiprasut, Joanne Crawford/Lisa. Australian Aboriginal Culture. Sydney: RIC Publications, 2003.
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