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The Indian CaSte System ---- Background

             T H E   I N D I A N   C A S T E   S Y S T E M
                                 Part 1
By Prof.  Koenraad Elst

	In an inter-faith debate, most Hindus can easily be put on the
	defensive with a single word-caste.  Any anti-Hindu polemist can
	be counted on to allege that "the typically Hindu caste system
	is the most cruel apartheid, imposed by the barbaric white Aryan
	invaders on the gentle dark-skinned natives." Here's a more
	balanced and historical account of this controversial

	Merits of the Caste System

	The caste system is often portrayed as the ultimate horror.
	Inborn inequality is indeed unacceptable to us moderns, but this
	does not preclude that the system has also had its merits.

	Caste is perceived as an "exclusion-from," but first of all it
	is a form of "belonging-to," a natural structure of solidarity.
	For this reason, Christian and Muslim missionaries found it very
	difficult to lure Hindus away from their communities.  Sometimes
	castes were collectively converted to Islam, and Pope Gregory XV
	(1621-23) decreed that the missionaries could tolerate caste
	distinction among Christian converts; but by and large, caste
	remained an effective hurdle to the destruction of Hinduism
	through conversion.  That is why the missionaries started
	attacking the institution of caste and in particular the brahmin
	caste.  This propaganda has bloomed into a full-fledged
	anti-brahminism, the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism.

	Every caste had a large measure of autonomy, with its own
	judiciary, duties and privileges, and often its own temples.
	Inter-caste affairs were settled at the village council by
	consensus; even the lowest caste had veto power.  This autonomy
	of intermediate levels of society is the antithesis of the
	totalitarian society in which the individual stands helpless
	before the all-powerful state.  This decentralized structure of
	civil society and of the Hindu religious commonwealth has been
	crucial to the survival of Hinduism under Muslim rule.  Whereas
	Buddhism was swept away as soon as its monasteries were
	destroyed, Hinduism retreated into its caste structure and
	weathered the storm.

	Caste also provided a framework for integrating immigrant
	communities: Jews, Zoroastrians and Syrian Christians.  They
	were not only tolerated, but assisted in efforts to preserve
	their distinctive traditions.

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