Casteism is often regard as a religious matter of the Hindus. However in India other religions too are equally caste riddled.  Sikhism,  Islam and Christianity formally do not sanction caste since the varna-dharma concept do not exist in their founding ideology. Nevertheless, in reality members of all three replicate the Hindu caste pattern including untouchability.

          Sikhism was begun by Guru Nanak in Punjab in sixteenth century who invited all irrespective of caste to join him as equals.  He was followed by nine gurus who kept up the tradition. Respect for manual labour is enjoined on Sikhs so that no one is held to be high or low because of his occupation. Sikh commitment to equality is demonstrated by the institutions of 'sangat' (gathering) and 'langar' (dining).  It is a religious requirement for  Sikhs to socialize in the gurudwara (temple) and take food together in the community dining hall.  Since commsensality is the most important element of caste, such practices break down caste -barriers.  Priesthood was open to all. The new religion was naturally attractive to low castes and  many joined. However, gradually, social forces came into play and inevitably all kinds of distinctions came in. 
        Sikhism does not have any Brahmin as such, but the equivalent position is occupied by Jats, a land-owning and soldiering caste. Belonging to the peasant caste, which is a low caste, they had converted to Sikhism : there they found mobility and soon established themselves at the top by virtue of their wealth and political power. By the  seventeenth century a great  Sikh empire had been established. But Sikh society had also become split into several castes like Jats, Arora, Ramdasias, Khatris etc., with them further subdivided and it was hierarchical. The various castes were strictly ranked, and commsensality and connubium was adhered to rigidly. All Sikhs were equal in langar, but in the outside world social difference were legitimized. Even untouchability made a return; Sikh untouchables, called  Mazhabis, were denied access to gurudwaras and village wells. When the Sikhs took service in British army, Sikh regiments were caste based, since the higher castes would neither mix nor take orders from lower castes. Caste  was a way for Jats to retain their social dominance. 
             In 1880's Bhai Kahn Singh published his book Hum Hindu Nahi.  The aim of the book backed by a large number of educated Sikhs was to persuade the British that Sikhs constituted a separate  people from Hindus so that Sikhs should have their own representatives and laws. The thesis of the book was that  Sikhism did not not support Varna, while Hinduism does. Probably in answer , Gianni Ditt Singh, a disillusioned new convert, wrote Naqli Sikh Prabodh; he pointed out that an amritdhari or fully baptized Sikh retained his caste name and an untouchable remained an untouchable even after conversion.
           In 1900's Rahtia Sikhs tried to enter the Golden Temple, the chief temple of Sikhs. The head Sardar ordered their arrest. The reason for their barring was that they were impure and so defiled the purity of the temple.
           Because of dangerous reformist  tendencies developing, the Khalsa Dharam Shastra was published in 1914. It strictly laid down the rules. Members of Mazhabi, Rahtia and Ramdasia castes did not have the right  to go beyond four steps inside the Golden Temple. The four Varnas were instructed not to mix with the untouchable Sikhs. Those guilty of breaking the caste rules were called 'patit' or fallen and were shunned by civil society.
            1920' s saw the Gurudwara Reform Movement which continued to gather steam.  The religious body of  SGPC was set up and they passed resolution to ban untouchability and took in low caste priests. However it did not make much headway. Even in 1933 the head of Golden Temple noted that mahzbis' offerings of  consecrated food were not accepted and other Sikhs denied them use of public utilities. (One story is that when Ambedkar wanted Hindu dalits to convert to Sikhism, Sikh dalits told him of the atrocities they suffered daily and dissuaded him). In fact so entrenched had the caste system become in the Sikh psyche that after Independence the Sikh leaders demanded that Sikh untouchables should have the same reservation  rights as Hindu untouchables. Thus the same Sikhs who demanded that the Indian Constitution recognize them as a separate religion because they did not recognize caste , now argued that  not recognizing Sikhs had untouchables was discrimination against Sikhs.  Since then caste system had  continued among the Sikhs, though concern with purity and mixing is less than it si with the Hindus.
       A survey in 2001 found  that each castes have separate temples. Most villages even have separate crematoriums for dalits. Though the upper castes insist there is no discrimination because Sikhism do not believe in caste, the dalits tell a different story. They had to sit at the last rows in the temple, to eat last at langar (which defeats its purpose), are often not allowed to cook or serve food at langar, are not allowed to carry the Granth sahib or Sikh holy book and is often taunted for their origins.  If the try to cross the limits set for them (like taking out a guruparb procession or entering a caste gurudwara) violence is inflicted on them by the upper castes. The more they assert themselves, the more atrocities are inflicted on them, religion notwithstanding.
          Sikhism is confined to a limited area, is a newer religion and  had been documented extensively since its inception; hence it is easier to study the development of caste hierarchy in it. Study of Sikh social history tells us a great deal about the rise of  caste in Hinduism.


       The Indian Muslim society is divided into  Asrafs (noble) and non-Asrafs. Ashrafs and non-Ashrafs are collectively referred to as 'oonchi zat' (high caste) and 'neechi zat' (low caste). In their turn Asrafs are subdivided into  Sayyids supposedly descendants of  Muhammad, Shaykhs (Arabic: “Chiefs”), descendants of Arab or Persian invaders, Pathans (members of Pasthun tribes) and Mughals. It is not that all who belong to such castes actually are descended from these races; but high hindu castes who have become absorbed into them took such designations as well.  Economic relationships between Asrafs and non-Asrafs  depend on the jajman-kamin or patron-client system. The non-ashraf Muslim castes are similarly subdivided into farmer, artisan castes etc., with untouchables at the bottom. They follow the same rules of endogamy and intermixing as do their Hindu counterparts. Though rules of pollution are less strict, they are nevertheless observed so that people like barbers are treated as untouchables. Nightsoil and carrion carriers form the most untouchable caste whose very touch pollutes. Even mosques are sometimes separate. Among the non-Asrafs superiority or inferiority of a caste is determined by the relatively pure or impure nature of the occupation associated with each, and how close they come to physical proximity of the Asrafs in their daily activities. However non-Asrafs are always inferior to Asrafs. If an Asraf marries non-Asraf the Asrafs will not accept him or her as equal and would not dine with them, particulary not on formal occasions before the general public.  The non-Asrafs are also known as Ajlaf meaning wretched, mean. Even after conversion all the old practices remain. For example,  Meos are Muslim rajputs who employed Brahmin  genealogists to fabricate claims to  Ksatiryahood.


     The case is the same with Indian Christians.  They too are divided into a number of castes with the previously Brahmin castes at the top and untouchables at the bottom.  The same rules of Hindu caste system govern them, and they are known by their caste names --- Christian Nayars,  Christian Paraya etc.  Hardly any lower castes are allowed to be appointed as priest. Untouchables have separate graveyards and churches. So entrenched is the system that if a Christian upper caste cannot find a suitable caste Christian to marry, then a Hindu of the same caste will be selected rather than another Christian of  lower caste. The Dalits who converted to Christianity possibly gained a new sense of self-respect, but the gains were wiped out by the fact that uppercaste Christians from whose ranks their religious superiors come still treated them as untouchables. There has been recorded instances of priests refusing to enter the houses of their dalit congregation; the mission schools have separate arrangmenets for dalits and other castes. Nor did their relationship with Hindu castes change in any way. So, many Dalit Christians have either started new churches themselves  or reconverted back to Hinduism. How castesim is practised by Christians is attested by the Christian dalits themselves.
"But the irony is  that caste discrimination is very much practised in Christianity. For example, there are separate seats for the dalits in churches; in fact   there are separate churches for Christian dalits, separate communion  cups, and even separate burial grounds. As Mr. Kaka Karlekar. Chairman  of the Backward Classes Commission, commented, "even today the  Christians belonging to the SCs are forced to have separate cemeteries in some parts of India. Even the dead must observe caste and untouchability."
Though Christianity also does not recognize caste system, there are upper and lower caste among Christians. In Goa, for example, there are upper caste Catholic Brahmins who do not marry Christians belonging to the lower castes. In many churches, the low caste Christians have to sit apart from the high caste Christians. In Andhra Pradesh, there are Christian Dalit, Christian Malas, Christian Reddys, Christian Kammas, etc. In Tamil Nadu, converts to Christianity form Scheduled Castes - Latin Catholics, Christian Shanars, and Christian Gramani are in the list of Scheduled Castes. Such instances are many and vary from region to region.

" The external forms of untouchability and their practice still exist among Christians, within the Church, in the graveyard, in the festivals, in marriage alliances, etc. The most unfortunate thing is that the caste Christians,  practising these inhuman acts are often supported by their own caste-priests and nuns, who even encourage them to attack Dalit Christians. That is the main reason for caste-practice continuing in the Church. Incidents in the past and also in recent years prove that in those areas and villages where large number of priests and nuns have been ordained, (few example: Thatchoor in Madras diocese, Eraiyur in Pondy diocese, Varadarajanpet in Kumbakonam diocese)  the Caste-Christians are more active in oppressing Dalit Christians and resisting vigorously when they demand dignity, equality, and justice. Most of the caste priests, nuns and some in hierarchical positions use their money, authority and institutional power against Dalit Christians at the times of crisis, instead of supporting their just cause. We are saying this from many experience"

"Archbishop George Zur, the apostolic Pro-nuncio to India spoke to the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in December 1991, declaring ....: "Though Catholics of the lower castes and tribes form sixty percent of church membership, they have no place in decision- making. Scheduled caste converts are treated as low caste not only by high caste Hindus but by high caste Christians too. In rural areas they cannot own or rent houses, however well-placed they may be. Separate places are marked for them in the parish churches and burial grounds. Inter- caste marriages are frowned upon and caste tags are still appended to the Christian names of high caste people. Casteism is rampant among the clergy and the religious. Though Dalit Christians make up 65 percent of the ten million Christians in the south, less than 4 percent of the parishes are entrusted to Dalit Priests. There are no Dalits among thirteen Catholic bishops of Tamilnadu or among the Vicars-General and Rectors of seminaries and Directors of  Social Assistance  Centres."
     Protestant Churches suffer from the same malaise.
The feelings of the low castes can be gauged from the event where about a 1,000 Dalit Christians armed with lethal weapons had barged into the "Conversion Victory Mela" on July 13, 2002 at the Chengalput St. Joseph's Church shouting "Don't dupe Dalit Hindus by promising equal treatment!"

 It might appear surprising that Islam and Christianity though being religions of equality should be so riddled with caste. Their apologists invariably explain that Hinduism has corrupted them. Of course it is true that when castes converted enbloc, they carried all their baggage with them and the economic-political  forces ensured that the social relationships do not change. But they ignore the beam in their own eye, viz that, though all Muslims or all Christians might be equal in God's eyes, the religious institutions had always sanctioned social inequality.
         Among the Arabs the Querash claimed excellence by virtue of being Prophet's tribe, and Omar distributed booty according to the length of time one has been a convert. In India the names of the Asrafs give away their claims to superiority; they were superior because of their birth  from conquering invaders, while their conquered subjects were low or ajlaf. Rather like the varna system, Humayun brought with him a Muslim society divided into Ahl-e-kalam or clergy, Ahl-e-Jegh or warriors and Ahl-e-Murad.  Above all slavery was practiced. Though the Koran says that  freeing slaves is a meritorious act slavery was never abolished; Muhammad himself enslaved captives of war and freely engaged in buying and selling slaves --- there can be no greater social discrimination than that. Therefore though the Muslim rulers and clergy expressed surprise at untouchability which did not exist among them, they saw nothing wrong with a endogamous hierarchy and made no attempts to change things when their co-religionists practiced it. Indeed there do not seem to have  been any highly regarded Islamic authority who ever spoke of an equal society.

          In Christianity also, spiritual salvation was no guarantee of social equality.  Whatever Christ may have taught, the Christian Church had never been too eager for equality. The New Testament  condones slavery explicitly.
    Ephesians 6: 5-9:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.
Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.
Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
      1 Timothy 6:1-3 "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;"
       Titus 2:9-10:
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.
       1 Peter 2:18-21:
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
       Philemon 1:6.
He is no longer just a slave; he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a slave and as a brother in the Lord.
Slavery was continued in Christian Byzantine and slaves  were kept in the heart of Catholic Rome by the Popes during medieval age. USA of course practised slavery , justifying it with quotes from the Bible.

               During Middle Ages Europe was ruled the hierarchical system of feudalism --- though pollution was not a concern and interdining was allowed, in every other respect from dress codes to marriage rules it showed the same pattern as the caste system. The Church taught that this feudalism is divinely ordained, and a good Christian who did not protest his lowly position would be rewarded by God. After the Protestant revolution at first there was some impulse towards equality and reformation within the Church. . But soon both Catholic and Protestant Churches became more interested in retaining power and gaining wealth. The mainstream Churches  taught that one should not rebel against the status quo; indeed after the 1857 mutiny in India, the Monghyr Baptists told the British govt. that had they been allowed to convert all Hindus then the mutiny would never have happened because "Christianity does not teach subjects to rebel".

           When these Churches came to India it was never with the idea to change society; saving souls was only a way to swell their numbers. Letters still exist from the Colonial times where we find churches engaged in bidding for heathen souls. Caste leaders would send letters asking what material benefits each Church could offer even listing what other Churches had offered; an auction of sorts would ensue until the whole caste converted. When uppercastes converted it was with the understanding that caste distinctions would be maintained. Some priests did try to do away with these practices but the Churches were more anxious not to upset wealthy and powerful patrons. The missionaries themselves came from a society that was class-based with fixed ideas about how each class should behave. So though they found untouchability to be against  Christian principles  they found nothing wrong with a hierarchical society per se. (Not to mention they missed the irony of trying to separate the Hindus and Christians on basis of purity). Moreover the Britishers brought with them racism. They thought that darker skinned  people were inherently inferior.  When the first Brahmin clergyman, (fully convinced of his superiority as well) demanded equal salary with European missionaries his religious superiors were scandalized. They spoke bitterly of his ingratitude and lamented that natives now thought themselves to be as good as white men. It is not surprising therefore that the Churches made no serious attempts at eradicating casteism, though the Bishops are fond of proclaiming loudly how they are eradicating caste.  In fact even now certain Christian groups are quite prepared to accept caste, if only Hindus would convert.