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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Study of social stratification and hierarchies across the world

Social stratification is age old as well as global. In fact, studies show that social stratification existed in Europe as early as the Bronze Age.

One such study explains the causal factors that go into making a society stratified:

At first, farming communities remained small and the social structure relatively egalitarian, as it had been during the preceding hundreds of thousands of years when humans relied on hunting and gathering. However, over the next few thousand years, the economies of these societies changed—agriculture became more productive, technology more complex, interregional trade expanded, and populations grew in size. Some villages became towns, and some towns became cities.

As part of this process, the division of labour within society became more complex. Individuals could no longer undertake all of the productive and social tasks required to carry out normal life, as had been the case previously. Administrative control over land and productive forces gradually became alienated to a small segment of the population. And, due to this control, the elite was able to arrogate a disproportionate share of society’s wealth to itself. In short, classes with different roles and interests emerged.

Further the study also describes the type of inequalities that existed in Bronze Age Europe which refers to the period between 3200 and 600 BC. In Germany, for example, it was found that there were differences between how the wealthy had princely and lavish burials when compared to the peasant class. The elite had ‘near state-level social organization with established armies.’ Additionally, even among the peasantry, there was social differentiation.

A scientific study found the following:

A correlation in wealth and status was also seen in genetically identified parent/child relationships, indicating a pattern of inheritance. Perhaps most tellingly, this holds true for sub-adults, demonstrating that wealth and status were ascribed by inheritance rather than being achieved by the individual’s actions in life.

Many research studies have affirmed this finding for the Bronze Age.

Europe had professional guilds (and still does) and the feudal serf system. England and many other European countries still have the concept of “royalty” (kings/queens, nobles, Lords/Earls, Barons and other titles).

Europe’s serfdom was preceded by agricultural slavery in the Roman Empire. Although technically not slaves, serfs were bonded labor who worked on their lord’s land. If the land was sold they were sold with it. All land was owned by landowners – nobility, Church and monarchs. A serf had very little personal liberty – he could not move, marry or change his occupation without his lord’s permission. Serfs were often harshly treated and had little legal redress against the actions of their lords. In England, serfdom lasted up to the 1600s, in France until 1789. In most other European countries serfdom lasted until the early 19th century. It is interesting to note that serfdom ended within England, France and other European nations around the time they started acquiring colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas which they brutally exploited for both resources and manpower.

Classifying society on one basis or the other has been the norm rather than the exception and globally, from Plato’s concept of an ideal society, to the feudal structure laid down in the earlier Japanese society, to racist colonialism and slave trade, the world has witnessed stratification as well as exploitation and domination by some groups over other groups along with blatant and subtle discrimination.

Plato’s vision

This analysis of Varna describes Plato’s ideal society described in his ‘The Republic’. Like the Varna system, the classification is based on the principle of specialization. Plato’s contention is that each person has a single talent/interest and the manner in which that person contributes to society, hence s/he should carry out that specific function only and not pursue other interests. Suppressing one’s talent leads to an uncooperative society. A person that does not cooperate with other members of the society has to carry out several functions to fulfil his desires, which makes him a divided person and a divided person according to Plato is unhappy. The three classes he recognizes are:

    1. “Philosopher Kings” (as head of the community): Plato seems to have merged Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and made them as philosopher kings. (In Indian practice, a King always had councillors who were philosophers).
    2. “Auxiliaries” as the heart.
    3. “Workers” as the body and limbs.

Analyzing Plato’s vision of the ideal society, the author states that there is a common underlying basis between the Varna system and Plato’s vision:

For example, Plato’s instructions regarding the conduct of Philosopher Kings and Auxiliaries, prevent them from having possessions. This rule is similar to the prohibitions against holding wealth placed on Brahmanas under Varna system. Plato recognises that the class that a child belongs to need not be same as its parents, and hence should be determined by his/her talents/interests. This again is similar to determination of Varna by Svabhava. Further, in the Plato’s ideal society, once the class of a person was determined, there would be very little movement between the classes. This again matches well with the Varna system envisaged by Hindu ancestors.

Japan’s feudal stratification

One study analyzed Japan’s former system of social stratification vis-a-vis that of Bharat. It describes the Japanese system as follows:

Under the feudal Japanese system, the four classes were:

      • Samurai, the warriors
      • ​Farmers
      • Artisans
      • Merchants.

As with India’s untouchables, some Japanese people fell below the four-tier system. These were the burakumin and hinin. The burakumin served essentially the same purpose as untouchables in India; they did butchering, leather tanning, and other unclean jobs, but also prepared human burials. The hinin were actors, wandering musicians, and convicted criminals.

Due to harsh socio-religious conditions that existed over the last 1000 years as Bharat grappled with invasions and Abrahamic colonizers, the Varna-jati system became more rigid. Many started considering it hereditary and inflexible, based on the Hindu belief of the soul’s past karma leading to the current incarnation. Whereas, Japan’s system originated in Confucian philosophy:

According to Confucian principles, everyone in a well-ordered society knew their place and paid respect to those stationed above them. Men were higher than women; elders were higher than young people. Farmers ranked just after the ruling samurai class because they produced the food that everyone else depended upon.

Thus, though the two systems seem quite similar, the beliefs from which they arose were rather different.

…According to Confucius, farmers were far more important than merchants, because they produced food for everyone in society. Merchants, on the other hand, did not make anything – they simply profited off of trade in other people’s products. Thus, farmers were in the second tier of Japan’s four-tier system, while merchants were at the bottom. In the Indian caste system, however, merchants and land-holding farmers were lumped together in the Vaisya caste, which was the third of the four varnas or primary castes.

The imperial family and the Japanese military commanders (shoguns) were above the class system but none of the Varnas or jatis in Bharat are considered above the system. Even today in Japan, the Emperor is called Tennō  i.e. “Heavenly sovereign” and is considered head of the country’s native Shinto religion.

The four Varnas are divided into numerous sub-groups but this was not the case in the Japanese stratification system owing perhaps to the smaller size of the country and population. But like Shinto & Buddhist monks and nuns were considered to be outside the class system, the Sadhus are similarly considered to be outside of Bharat’s Varna-jati structure once they renounce the material world.

Similar to Bharat’s system, warrior classes in Japan were the same as ruling classes. Both systems also had ‘unclean’ people who were below the lowest rung on the social ladder.

The Bharatiya varna system, Japan’s four-tiered social structure and Plato’s social stratification served the same purpose: the creation of an orderly and cooperative society with well-defined duties for all. With time, as societies moved from agrarian to industrial age, these social systems adapted. Bharat, being a largely agrarian society, still suffers the feudal hangover in rural areas. Our secular, socialist state has also hardened Varna-jati identity consciousness in the Hindu mind through its never-ending, ever-expanding, birth-based quota/reservation system.

European Christian Multiple Genocides

White Christian nations have perpetrated multiple genocides that commenced from the murder of pagan Hypatia in 415, said to be the first pagan killed by Christians. This was followed by the first and second crusades, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Inquisition that started in 1100 (surprisingly, the office of the Inquisition still exists in Rome but is now renamed as the Congregation of the Doctrine of faith). Other Christian atrocities that followed include the Native American cultural cleansing, American slavery, the Pogroms, and the Holocaust which was the culmination of Christian Anti-semitism in Europe.

Apart from Christian crusades, European colonialism has had its own history of cultural genocide in the Americas, in Africa, and world over. European colonialism thus destroyed many civilizations and cultures. While apologists say that Europe brought modern civilization to ‘lesser developed’ societies, such modern ideas and thoughts could have been shared without conquest, genocide and loot as done by ancient Bharat when Dharma spread to South East Asia — natives of these lands adopted Dharma in their own context, evolved new traditions and deities, and their wealth was not siphoned off to Bharat.

Conversely, how USA, Australia, Africa, and South America were colonized by elimination of native populations is a blot on humanity.

Persecution of Roma

The Roma are said to be of Bharatiya origin and are descendants of those who were traded as slaves by the Muslim invaders. This group faces persecution and discrimination in Europe. An earlier ILO report described the situation as:

…Roma follow the traditional way of life, moving from place to place. They’re known by different names in different countries – Roma, Gypsies or gitanos – but their problems are the same poverty and racial discrimination.

More recent reports show that not just Eastern Europe, but even in Western Europe, the Roma face shocking hardships including hatred. A large proportion of Roma said they faced discrimination and hate-based harassment. At least 7% said they faced physical attacks but most did not report these attacks.

A previous survey conducted in nine eastern and southern member states – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain – showed that about a quarter (26%) of Romani experienced discrimination there, compared to almost a half (45%) in Western countries.

The Roma also said they faced ethnic profiling and harassment from the police. Other parameters like poverty levels, education and health status indicators also confirm that the Roma bear the brunt of inequality and discrimination.

Immigration to the US

To begin with, USA only permitted the English to immigrate. It later began to take in Italians in the 1920s. The Irish were allowed in after this and East Europeans were allowed next. Bharat’s highly educated residents were permitted to immigrate to the US only in the 1960s.


Philanthro-capitalistic organizations engaging in Neo-Colonialism is the reality of modern day dynamics between the developed and lesser developed countries.

Lesson for Bharat

Every culture and civilization works to protect itself and further its interests. As pointed out in a previous post, Malaysia blatantly follows majoritarian policies:

Poverty was very high and predominant among the bhumiputra vis-a-vis the Chinese migrants.  The bhumiputra are ethnic Malays who are mandated by the state to follow Islam: ‘All the Malaysian Malay people are Muslim by law.’ To reduce poverty among the bhumiputra, the government introduced an ‘affirmative action’ initiative for redistributing wealth and eliminating dominance of any one ethnic group in specific economic sectors.

The target was for 30% of GDP to be in the hands of the bhumiputra to be achieved through giving a discount price on 30% of initial public offerings on the stock exchange which were reserved for the bhumiputra. This exercise was carried out through Malaysia’s largest fund management company, the Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB). This policy was a part of the National Economic Policy (NEP) and continued until 1990.

…While Islamic Malaysia engages in excessive majoritarianism without any opprobrium from the international community and West, ‘secular’ Bharat doles out huge amounts for minority-only schemes yet gets vilified for ‘Hindu majoritarianism’! We also continue indefinitely with reservations for SCs and STs, which the prime architect of the Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar wanted to be phased out after a decade or so.  Worse, vote-bank politics has led to Hindus converted to Islam or Christianity availing of double benefits, those which are caste based as well as minority based. These policies in fact encourage conversion out of Hindu Dharma and deepen fault lines in society.

Apart from this, 80 countries recognize the majority religion as the state/preferred religion. So being majoritarian is normal, and is especially required for country like Bharat which is the homeland of Hindus, and one of only three countries with a majority Hindu population (the other two such countries being Nepal and Mauritius) and this makes a case for Bharat to do away with the minority ministry and reservations, and create a ministry for Dharmic Affairs instead which should be tasked with preservation and propagation of Dharmic religions, traditions and civilizational heritage.

(Featured Image Source: archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com)

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  1. An important article. India has to clarify its goal and work diligently towards it. Making such sociological and anthropological studies is an important tool to put forth the narrative.


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