Two fundamental signs mark the conformity of castes, and separate from all the others the persons belonging to them.
Continuing How the Indian Caste System Began,
our selection from Brief History of the Indian People by William W. Hunter published in 1880. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
William W. Hunter (1840-1900) was a Scottish historian, statistician, a compiler and a member of the Indian Civil Service.
First we conclude Le Bon.
Previously in How the Indian Caste System Began.
Time: around 1200 BC
Among the causes which have perpetuated the system of castes, the law of heredity has furthermore continued to play a fundamental part. Aptness is inevitably hereditary among the Hindus, and, also inevitably, the son follows the profession of the father. The principle of heredity of the professions being universally admitted, there has resulted the formation of castes as numerous as the professions themselves, and today in India castes are numbered by the thousand. Each new profession has for an immediate consequence the formation of a new caste.
The European who comes to India to live soon perceives to what an extent the castes have multiplied in observing the number of different persons whom he is obliged to hire to wait on him. To the two preceding causes of the formations of castes, the ethnological cause, now very weak, and the professional, which is still very strong, are added political office, and the heterogeneity of religious beliefs.
The castes springing from political office might, strictly speaking, be placed in the category of professional castes, but those produced by diversity of religious beliefs should be attached to none of the preceding causes. In theory, that is, only judged by the reading of books, all India would be divided into two or three great religions only. But practically these religions are very numerous. New gods, considered as simple incarnations of ancient ones, are born and die every day, and their votaries soon form a new caste as rigid in its exclusions as the others.
Two fundamental signs mark the conformity of castes, and separate from all the others the persons belonging to them. The first is that the individuals of the same caste cannot eat except among themselves. The second is that they can only marry among themselves.
These two proscriptions are quite fundamental, and the first not less than the second. You may meet by the hundreds in India Brahmans who are employed by the government in the post-office and railway service, or even Brahmans who are beggars. But the humble functionary or wretched mendicant would rather die than sit at table with the viceroy of India.
The quality of Brahmans is hereditary, like a title of nobility in Europe. It is not a synonym of priest, as is generally believed, because it is from this caste that priests are recruited. This caste was formerly so exalted that the rank of royalty was not sufficient to enable one to aspire to the hand of a Brahman’s daughter.
The Hindu would rather die than violate the laws of his caste. Nothing is more terrible than for him to lose it. Such loss may be compared to excommunication in the middle ages, or to a condemnation for an infamous crime in modern Europe. To lose his caste is to lose everything at one blow, parents, relations, and fortune. Every one turns his back upon the culprit and refuses to have any dealings with him. He must enter the casteless category, which is employed only for the most abject functions.
As to the social and political consequences of such a system, the only social bond among the Hindus is caste. Outside of caste the world does not exist for him. He is separated from persons of another caste by an abyss much deeper than that which separates Europeans of the most different nationalities. The latter may intermarry, but persons of different castes cannot. The result is that every village possesses as many groups as there are castes represented.
With such a system union against a master is impossible. This system of caste explains the phenomenon of two hundred and fifty millions of men obeying, without a murmur, sixty or seventy thousand strangers whom they detest. The only fatherland of the Hindu is his caste. He has never had another. His country is not a fatherland to him, and he has never dreamed of its unity.
At a very early period we catch sight of a nobler race from the northwest, forcing its way in among the primitive peoples of India. This race belonged to the splendid Aryan or Indo-Germanic stock from which the Brahman, the Rajput, and the Englishman alike descend. Its earliest home seems to have been in Western Asia. From that common camping-ground certain branches of the race started for the east, others for the farther west. One of the western offshoots built Athens and Sparta, and became the Greek nation; another went on to Italy, and reared the city on the Seven Hills, which grew into Imperial Rome. A distant colony of the same race excavated the silver ores of prehistoric Spain; and when we first catch a sight of ancient England, we see an Aryan settlement fishing in wattle canoes, and working the tin mines of Cornwall. Meanwhile other branches of the Aryan stock had gone forth from the primitive Asiatic home to the east. Powerful bands found their way through the passes of the Himalayas into the Punjab, and spread themselves, chiefly as Brahmans and Rajputs, over India.
The Aryan offshoots, alike to the east and to the west, asserted their superiority over the earlier peoples whom they found in possession of the soil. The history of ancient Europe is the story of the Aryan settlements around the shores of the Mediterranean; and that wide term, modern civilization, merely means the civilization of the western branches of the same race. The history of India consists in like manner of the history of the eastern offshoots of the Aryan stock who settled in that land.
We know little regarding these noble Aryan tribes in their early camping-ground in Western Asia. From words preserved in the languages of their long-separated descendants in Europe and India, scholars infer that they roamed over the grassy steppes with their cattle, making long halts to raise crops of grain. They had tamed most of the domestic animals; were acquainted with iron; understood the arts of weaving and sewing; wore clothes, and ate cooked food. They lived the hardy life of the comparatively temperate zone; and the feeling of cold seems to be one of the earliest common remembrances of the eastern and the western branches of the race.
The forefathers of the Greek and the Roman, of the English and the Hindu, dwelt together in Western Asia, spoke the same tongue, worshipped the same gods. The languages of Europe and India, although at first sight they seem wide apart, are merely different growths from the original Aryan speech. This is especially true of the common words of family life. The names for father, mother, brother, sister, and widow are the same in most of the Aryan languages, whether spoken on the banks of the Ganges, of the Tiber, or of the Thames. Thus the word daughter, which occurs in nearly all of them, has been derived from the Aryan root dugh, which in Sanscrit has the form of duh, to milk; and perhaps preserves the memory of the time when the daughter was the little milkmaid in the primitive Aryan household.
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