The standard model of the caste system, as developed by Western “scholars” over the last two hundred years, seems to have been accepted as a settled fact. This article will critique and refute some of these claims and conclude with an assessment of the current state of affairs.
[Editor: “Hinduism” (i.e., with the quotation marks) is meant to signify the distorted and defamatory version of Hinduism proclaimed by Western authors and institutions]
The standard model of the caste system, part of “Hinduism”, is accepted in the West as a settled fact. This is unfortunate, for many of its foundational claims are fallacious. This article will critique and refute some of these claims and conclude with an assessment of the current state of affairs.
Fallacy 1: The “caste system” hasn’t changed in 3000 years
The caste “system” is claimed to be a divine edict (see Fallacy 2). But no shruti lists the “castes”, and the four varnas are not hierarchical. More importantly, many momentous changes have occurred in these 3,000 years; for example:
- Buddhism arose, reigned, grew, shrank, and disappeared from Bharat
- Vedic religion gave way to new myths, rituals, and idol worship and reappeared
- Islam massacred, terrorized, and tried to eliminate Hindus from Bharat
- Sikhism was born as a military arm of Bharat to fight Islamists
- Bhakti, offering a direct line to God, revolutionized Hindu worship
- Many other Hindu and colonially inspired reform movements took hold
- Hindus started to excel at British rational education and forgot religion
- Over half the Hindu population was guaranteed college admissions and jobs
- Brahmin priests joined the ranks of subsistence-level occasional workers
- Consumerism, the Internet, social media, etc., diverted the youth from religion
- Caste discrimination is history in urban bharat and is retreating elsewhere
How is it possible for Hindu Dharma to have remained frozen when Hindus have no organized religion in the Western sense and no enforcement? Unlike Catholicism, say, where a vast bureaucracy preaches a canonical dogma controlled by the Pope, Hindu dharma believes in individual freedom of worship and decentralized decision-making.
A number of modern writers  realize that jatis were fluid communities without fixed membership. Legendary writers of mammoth epics like Mahabharata were Shudra by birth. According to Nicholas Dirks , no evidence of jati barriers is found before 1100 CE. In addition, the caste pyramid forcibly built by the British was a 19th-century creation.
Thus, a fossilized caste system is an unfounded fallacy without any proof.
Fallacy 2: The “caste system” is mandated by the Hindu dharma
In the first place, there cannot be any mandate because Hindu Dharma is not a single-text orthodoxy. There is a massive library of texts containing many different and even conflicting ideas. Only the shrutis are supposed to be divinely revealed.
The myth of divine sanction tries to tunnel through this singular opening by harping on the Purush Sukta in the 10th mandala of Rigveda, which allegedly mandates the hierarchical order of Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra varnas. Incidentally, this mandala is the last to be composed, and this sukta is likely an interpolation.
The claimed hierarchy is prima facie nonsense since all the organs are necessary for the purush to function. Their differences are functional: Brahmins recite the mantras, like the mouth; Kshatriyas wield weapons using their arms; Vaishyas make everything in society move, like the thighs; Shudras support the entire purush, like the feet. No part of the text indicates a hierarchy. If the divine intent were a hierarchy, the sukta would have said so. For a more detailed refutation, see Arvind Sharma .
Some of the dharma shastras do read a hierarchy into this sukta and imagine more details, but they are just personal opinions of the writers and commentators, without any divine sanction or means of enforcement. In particular, this is true of the Manusmriti, which the British erroneously took to be The Law Book of the Hindus. The Brahmin-supremacist society that it appears to canonize is countered by other smritis, shastras, and the Bhagavad Gita. There is no shortage of learned opinions in Hindu Dharma.
Moreover, the very first verse of Chapter 2 in the Manusmriti says : “Know that to be true dharma, which the wise and the good and those who are free from passion and hatred follow and which appeals to the heart.” According to this, portions of the Manusmriti (or any other text) considered oppressive by modern thinkers may be disregarded. This sort of interpretive freedom is the genius of the Hindus.
In summary, the shrutis do not mandate a hierarchy, and the hierarchy described in portions of certain smritis is not canonical or binding. The claim is rejected.
Fallacy 3: The caste theories that depend on an Aryan invasion
The Aryan invasion theory (AIT) was originated by Max Muller and still is referred to in modern books and research. It was also a founding tenet of Bharatiya reformers (except Vivekananda and Gandhi) and anti-Brahmin crusaders like Jyotiba Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar, and EVR “Periyar.” But their theories no longer make sense.
Most scholars now agree that there is no evidence of an Aryan invasion [5,6]. At most, there were small-scale migrations. So any idea that Brahmins were Aryans, or brought their ritual privilege with them, or cruelly conquered Southern Bharat, or even that the Dravidians were the invaders can no longer be sustained.
The Indus Valley civilization was undoubtedly indigenous. Artifacts at Bhirana dated 10 KYA (thousand years ago), cave art at the Bhimbetka rock shelters dated 30 KYA, evidence of human occupation at Bhimbetka 100 kya, primitive tools dated 300 KYA, and stone age tools dated 1500 KYA leave no doubt that foreign invasions were a colonial fantasy. Some of these discoveries are less than 50 years old; more results are certain.
The AIT is the basis of leading anti-Brahmin and anti-caste movements, some violent and separatist. Their anger is abetted by anti-national forces and ideologies, including distortions of the AIT. It is necessary to defuse the anger through education and to focus their reform agenda and egalitarian spirit on constructive projects. The chief obstacles to this are caste-based politics and the agenda of “Hinduism.”
The obvious logical flaw in any invasion theory is that it had to be established across thousands of miles and years. There’s no way a tiny sliver of Brahmins, with nothing but intellectual power, could have pulled it off. The Hindu spiritual and social system thrived from Afghanistan to Cambodia because of decentralization, local adaptability, and varnas that provided built-in checks and balances. Westerners miss this fact due to their own violent and centralized traditions.
The Aryan invasion is also blamed for an alleged skin color bias in Bharat, even though deities such as Rama, Krishna, Shiva, the goddess Kali, and Sita are dark-skinned. The fairness bias in Bharat cannot be of Hindu origin. It comes from the rule of Turks- Arabs, and Europeans and the natural human desire to look up to rulers.
In summary, the AIT was the foundation of many theories about caste in Bharat. As long as they require an Aryan invasion, they must be considered fallacious.
Fallacy 4: The caste system is more oppressive than slavery
This provocative claim is made routinely, without serious challenge, by Americans as well as militant Dalit writers. But again, it doesn’t make sense.
First, it is insulting to slaves, who were trapped like animals, shipped like cargo, chained for weeks without a bathroom, bought and sold like animals, and denied family rights. And kept in terror and controlled with the cruelty that makes you shudder.
Second, it is founded on the “Hinduism” theory that the caste system is an inviolable religious mandate enforced for 3,000 years which locks individuals in an escape-proof lifelong prison at birth. We have seen that these ideas are imperial dogma designed to demean, berate and sap the self-worth of Hindus.
There are plenty of counter-examples. Exalted sages like Valmiki and Ved Vyas were born Shudras, and there have been Shudra dynasties. Celebrated avatar Shri Ram met a tribal woman without regard to status. Adi Shankara, who put Hindu dharma on a sound footing, bowed to a Chandala (untouchable), and Satyakama Jabala, a prostitute’s son, was accepted as a disciple by a great rishi. Dr. B R Ambedkar, a Dalit, obtained a Ph.D. from Columbia and chaired the drafting committee for the Indian constitution. The current President of Bharat is a tribal woman; her predecessor was Dalit.
The imperialists latched on to certain passages in Manusmriti which prescribe cruel punishments for Sudras and claimed, contrary to Hindu ideals, that they were a textual edict. But the same Manusmriti contains lofty principles such as “women are to be worshiped.” The disconnect can be explained by later interpolations in the medieval era. The severest punishments (e.g. pouring hot oil) are decidedly medieval.
Hindus (but not Muslims) in modern Bharat live by modern laws, with equality of rights regardless of gender, caste, region, language, and so on. Decentralized decisions at the family level, innate respect for education, and the film industry have modernized urban life and the trend is spreading rapidly to towns and villages. All this change is lost on Western writers who live in the fossilized world of “Hinduism”.
Fallacy 5: Any Critic of “Hinduism” is a Hindutva Fanatic
There are two parts to this claim and one doubly unfortunate consequence.
Part 1 is the demonization and false hysteria surrounding the term Hindutva, a nation-building movement to establish a basis for the Bharatiya nation. As intended by the founder, V D Savarkar, and defined and implemented by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hindutva means Indian identity. Regardless of caste, gender, region, language and religion, if a person is of Indian ancestry and swears allegiance to Bharat, he/she possesses Bharatiya (geographically, Hindu) identity, i.e., Hindutva.
“Hinduism” claims that Savarkar excluded Muslims from Hindutva due to religious hatred and xenophobia. The fact is that it was the Muslims who refused to live under kafirs and forced the British to create Pakistan. The hell of partition, which killed 1.5 million and displaced, is blamed not on the Muslims who insisted on it but on Hindus.
Part 2 of this claim is the denial of any criticism of “Hinduism” by any outsider, especially by a Hindu believer, no matter how qualified. In his 2004 paper Rama’s Realm , Michael Witzel, dean of “Hinduism”, mocks all Hindu researchers he is aware of. His critique is based on credentials, though ironically, his own mastery of Vedic Sanskrit has been questioned . On the other hand, impeccable credentials did not protect the so-called Ghent School  from a 2018 charge of Hindu chauvinism.
Non-institutional independent Hindu thinkers fare much worse. Rajeev Malhotra has been physically heckled, although he held his own. Popular media are gutted with reams of defamatory attacks – on Hindus. A google search brings up ONLY articles that accuse Hindu nationalists and “Hindutva forces” of death threats against professors. Anti- Hindus like Prof. Truschke or Pieter Friedrich are protected, but ordinary Hindus face hate crimes and cooked-up charges of Islamophobia every day.
Now about the consequences. The “Hinduism” establishment shuns contact with Hindus and, if pressed, accuses them of genocide mania. This attitude prevents any dialog or joint review of the evidence. Given the famine of academic research into Hindu society in Bharat, collaboration through academic fora is also unlikely.
The second consequence is that refutation of this claim must come from non-Hindu academics. A few anti-colonial and post-colonial researchers like Nicholas Dirks  are working on it, and the results are visible on Wikipedia. Over time, as more common references are corrected, so will the opinions and positions expressed by decision-makers, thought leaders, and public influencers. At least, that’s the hope.
Fallacy 6: Nothing Good Ever Happens in Bharat
Bharat had several strikes against it. Its people are idolaters destined for hell according to both Islam and Christianity. Its many contributions to humanity were appropriated without credit. It became known, thanks to missionaries and colonialists, only by its exaggerated flaws. A millennium of alien domination turned its fabled riches into poverty and famine. And yet, independent Bharat would not kowtow to the West.
With five strikes, it is no surprise that Bharat received only occasional but highly negative press coverage. Shut out of the Communist world, Western journalists zoomed in on open India, happily dug up dirt, and threw it sky high. American media, which fed the rest of the world, could not say anything good, and it became a habit.
That’s why this fallacy exists. It is false, but the general Western and Westernized public, including many Indians, are led to believe that it’s true.
For example, early in the Covid-19 pandemic, an automated ranking of government interventions was published online. The software placed India at the top! Since the usual opinion-based rankings snicker at Bharat, this could not stand. Within ten days, that entire ranking software had been pulled from the Web.
But a picture of crowded cremation pyres sold like hotcakes and got a Pulitzer prize! The image turned out to be staged for a price, but its impact on burial-addicted people was worth a Pulitzer. Other stories had laborers walking home, although buses were provided later on, or people abusing a Muslim fundamentalist group when they spat at police and refused to mask. It didn’t matter that they were banned in Pakistan.
It also didn’t matter that Bharat produced billions of vaccines, millions of smartphones, or found water on the Moon. Nothing good ever happens in Bharat.
Hundreds of examples can be given, but the point is that negative prejudice sabotages any chance of neutral and factual reporting of Bharat. Hindu Indians run the world’s largest corporations but dare not advertise their religion. If they did, their competence would turn into condemnation. They’d be called upper-caste misogynist hegemons and casteist Islamophobes, and bigots on the board would throw them out.
One-sidedness plays havoc with Bharatiya families. Their children are taught only “Hinduism,” which leads them to hate their parents’ old country and trust anti-Hindu jokesters more than their grandparents. They don’t identify or empathize with the Hindus attacked on social media or in public. And the attacks continue to grow.
Bharatiya’s have given America a lot, but it has been pirated. The public is unaware of it. What they read are the prejudiced lies put out by “Hinduism.” Identifying someone as Hindu in public (e.g. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) is a death knell. Even the label on my towel says “Made in Green” … with India in small letters.
Why Do These Fallacies Persist?
The primary reason is the absence of dialog. The Western information industry refuses to entertain Hindu voices. Contrary opinions are blocked.
Hindus remain the only group that has not been rehabilitated in postcolonial and subaltern studies – in contrast to blacks, natives, women, Muslims, Latinos, tribals, the disabled, LGBTQ+, and so on – because “Hinduism” has made the suffering of Hindus at the hands of fanatical invaders magically disappear. “Hinduism” preaches the gospel that only Dalits and Shudras suffered, and only at the hands of Brahmins. When Hindus suffer, even today, the “Hinduism” media pretend that it didn’t happen.
There has to be a general, widespread Hindu awakening before these issues can be addressed. As of now, Hindus, in general, are ignorant of dharma, stingy in giving to the community, and blind-deaf-mute when it comes to “Hinduism”.
 Caste System in India, Wikipedia, “Origins” section https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India#Origins
 Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, by Nicholas Dirks, Princeton University Press, 2001. Part III. https://redox-college.s3.ap-south1.amazonaws.com/kmc/2020/Mar/28/jjkdW2d8uHCwZt6a5UhB.pdf
 “The Purush Sukta and its Relation to the Caste System” by Arvind Sharma, J. Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. XXI, Part III. https://archive.org/details/ThePurushaSuktaItsRelationToTheCasteSystem
 “Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism? Demolishing a Myth” by M. V. Nadkarni, Economic and Political Weekly, November 8, 2003, page 4786
 “Indo-Aryan Migrations,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Aryan_migrations
 Aryan Invasion Theory: Why it Must be Purged from School Textbooks — Explore and Expose Hindudvesha
 “Rama’s Realm” by Michael Witzel https://www.academia.edu/19380740/Ramas_realm
 “Rigveda: A Still Undeciphered Text” by Karen Thompson, J. Indo-European Studies, Spring/summer 2009, pp. 26-29
 “So-called Caste… the Politics of Grievance” by D. R. Sutton, Contemporary South Asia, V. 26 Issue 3; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09584935.2018.1498453
 Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, by Nicholas Dirks, Princeton University Press, 2001. Part III. https://redox-college.s3.ap-south-1.amazonaws.com/kmc/2020/Mar/28/jjkdW2d8uHCwZt6a5UhB.pdf
(This article was first published on hindudvesha.org on November 19, 2022 and has been republished with minor edits to conform to HinduPost style guide)
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