New Delhi, November 9: India has a long history of Vedas and Puranas, the caste system imbibed in the minds of people has done nothing but divide the people on basis of class. Regarded as a rigid social group, the word ‘Caste’ has characterized and divided the people on basis of lifestyle and social status.
Bringing facts to reality, Savitri Mumukshu, has briefly explained the origin, history, and sociology of the word ‘Caste’ on her Twitter handle. Unveiling the long-lost truth, she explained how the Europeans and Spaniards invented the word and characterized it in a way that looked like the word was rooted in India. But like they say, ‘truth prevails’, the untold truth behind the purity of blood and the so-called 'status in the society' was conceptualized by the foreigners.
It was never the Hindus! We did not have a word that meant caste in the first place. Documented in Spanish since 1417, the word ‘Casta’ is an Iberian word that means lineage. It is the root of the English word ‘caste’. The Europeans rightly used the racist word which was historically used as a racial and social identifier connoting white supremacy and a measure of intelligence, civilization, and morality. It was basically used by the Spanish & Portuguese colonial societies having a hierarchical race-based "caste system".
Origin of the word:
The word originated from the Spanish concept of purity of blood called "Limpieza de Sangre” during the Christian conflict with Islam. Casta was used in Christian Spain to differentiate Jewish or Muslim heritage who were usually convicted by the Spanish inquisition for heresy. Only the ‘Old Christians’ who had "Limpieza de Sangre” were considered of having high social status. So it was Christian religious extremism during the Inquisition with its ideas of racial superiority and purity of blood that created the original Sistema de Casta or Caste System.
Back in Spain during the era of1500s, the idea of ‘purity of blood’ & ‘Casta’ was associated with the color of the skin and percentage of ‘white blood’ in a person. The Spanish people then termed anyone with a lineage even inked to a dark-skinned ancestor as tainted by a ‘stain’ due to that connection. The Spanish and the Portuguese emphasized the term ‘cleanliness of blood’ and ‘purity of white blood’ to maintain a system of racial discrimination in society. Continuing it further, the Portuguese when landed in India in 1497 labeled the Hindu Varna System as ‘Caste’.
Vasco De Gama, in 1502, once has asked an Indian about his caste to which it is supposed that he replied to be ‘Nair Bramane’. This was highly impossible because ‘Nairs’ were Kshatriyas or Shudras. Such instances define that Portuguese stating about the Hindu caste is highly fictional. Duarte Barbosa, the first Portuguese author in India to use “Casta” surprisingly did not apply the word “casta” to identify every social group in India. He used it to refer to groups that combined endogamy & occupation as was common in Portuguese medieval corporations.
The term used by Barbosa for Indian social groups was ‘le de gente’ which means ‘type of people. Furthermore, he used “alvo, branco, quase branco, baço, & preto” (niveous, white, almost white, dim and black) in a hierarchy starting with “alvo” (whitest) at top, & “preto” (darkest) at the bottom. He then linked “civilizational” behavior like “courtesy”, “hygiene”, and “food habits” of Indian people to their skin color. His description of “whiter” Indians as more civilized than “black” is the origin of when race linked caste was falsely attributed to Hindus. Barbosa also categorized Indians by civility & color, but he used the word “Casta” because he could only think in terms of the Portuguese concept of “purity of blood” to describe how Indians avoided intermarriage between certain communities to preserve genetic health.
It was in 1921, that an Indo Portuguese Catholic priest Sebastião Dalgado in Glossário Luso-Asiático, associated the Sanskrit word ‘varna’ to caste. This portrayed the Hindus to be racist by citing the excuse that the Rig Veda described the fictional Aryan Invasion as a war among white & dark races. His works were based on distorted racial theories of the false Aryan Invasion Theory. He simply assigned Varna as color to make it mean the bigoted European concept of racial purity based on skin color, declaring caste as the main Indian method of social categorization.
It was the Europeans who practiced the caste as a social institution, linking race to social status in their colonies. They discriminated against and considered the Black Africans and dark indigenous people as inferior who were uncivilized, immoral, and unintelligent due to lack of white blood. The racial discrimination in Spain went so far that it was meant as ineligibility for office, priesthood, or emigration to foreign terrorists. It was such that fake genealogical records were produced to prove one’s pure ancestry.
Casta Paintings depicting the racist discrimination by Spain
By 1600, the Spaniards considered anyone with ancestral connections to black Africans or indigenous people as a ‘stain’. The 18th-century paintings known as Casta paintings illustrated the Caste system with a hint of black ancestry. Casta paintings depicted the supposed "innate" character & quality of people connected to their birth and skin color. In a painting by José Joaquín Magón, a mestizo (mixed Indian + Spanish) was labeled “humble, meek, and docile” because of darker skin than Whites.
Another painting claimed "from Lobo and Indian woman is born the Cambujo, one usually slow, lazy, and cumbersome." Casta paintings such as this by Ignacio Barreda (1777) showed white Spainards at the highest social status & dark-skinned as more “uncivilized at a lower status.
The Europeans used this bigoted discrimination against the dark people to justify the racist institution of slavery. Since ‘white blood’ was considered as an ultimate measure to identify an individual’s intelligence, morality, and position, colonialism was justified as a civilizing force. And so, the Portuguese colonizers who savaged India with a Christian Inquisition transposed their own racist & colonial ideas of a birth & skin color-based caste onto the Varna system of Hindu society. The British found the myth a convenient excuse to divide & conquer India.
It was Sir Risley in 1901 who believed in racial superiority and conducted the first census where he classified 1000s jaatis as ‘caste’. And with this, an entire baseless foundation of lies and myths was hammered in the minds of Hindus explaining it through mythology, the birth-based racial system of ‘caste’ which actually never existed in India. That same foundation of lies is used today by special interest groups as a double-edged weapon to demonize, distort & denigrate Hinduism. It’s time we called out such lies & discarded the word caste, which was created & nurtured by European colonizers, NOT Hindu India.