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Aditi Bahali November 6, 12 Honors English 1103 May I Seek Your Blessings?

My family recently came back from a trip to India, and this past weekend I had gone home for a day or two to see my family after six long weeks. While I was visiting my family we went to my best friends house. Her and I have both spend all of our lives in the southern states of America, but our parents have constantly reminded us of our roots. Therefore on the ride to her house my mom reminded my brother and I to touch my friends grandparents feet. Touching feet of elders in India is a way to showing respect and receive their blessings. My brother joking replied, I am tired of touching elders feet, I had to bend over and touch so many feet in India. Then my mother went to tell me about how my brother touched the feet of every elder, including people he should not have touched the feet of, as in people of a lower caste. The caste system is a part of Hinduism where a person is born into one of four castes and has no chance of becoming a part of a higher caste. This comment surprised, almost shocked me, for a number of reasons. One big reason is that this person of a lower caste that my brother accidentally touched the feet of was my aunts maids father. My aunts maid is named Kavita, and she is extremely well liked by my family, my aunt and uncle even bought her a car and gold jewelry for her recent engagement. Kavita is practically a part of our extended family, so why was it a mistake for my brother to seek her fathers blessings? The answer to that question is a sad truth, that despite of all the social advances in India, the caste system is so deeply intertwined in Hindu society that it still matters.

A caste system is a social system in Hinduism in which you are born into a social standing. In Hinduism the first man created, Purusa, is sacrified in order to give rise to the four castes; Brahmin, Kashatriya, Vaisya and Shudra. The Brahmin came from his mouth, his two arms were made the Kshatriya, his two thighs the Vaishya and from his feet the Sudra was born. Brahmins are the priests, Kshatriyas are the warriors and nobility, Vaisyas are the farmers, traders and artisans and Shudras are the farmers and servants. Brahmins are considered to be of the highest caste, then comes Kshatriya followed by Vaisya, and lastly there is Shudra; thus Brahmins came from Purusas mouth and Shudra came from his feet. Reincarnation and Karma are also beliefs of Hinduism, meaning that you are born into the caste that you are in based on your deeds in your pervious life. For example, a truly virtuous person from the Shudra caste could be rewarded with rebirth as a Brahmin in their next life. That means that if you are born into a lower caste it is because you have sinned in your pervious life; you deserve to be born into a lower caste because of your karma, the deeds your soul has performed in your pervious life. The same mentally goes towards those born into higher caste, the Brahmins are Brahmin because they are seen as greater in Gods eyes. That is why my brother sought the blessing of Kavitas father her father was almost embarrassed, he himself didnt feel worthy of giving my brother his blessing.

When the British began to take power in India in 1757, they manipulated the caste system as a way to gain social control. The Brahmin caste had lost some of its power during the Mughal Era, a period when Muslim leaders ruled India. However, when the British started to take control of India they allied themselves with the Brahmin caste and

glorified it, so the Brahmin caste got back certain special privileges that were taken way by the Muslim leaders. But at the same British outlawed Indian customs concerning the lower castes. However, the British thought that both members of lower-caste and uppercaste should receive the same punishment for committing the same offence. So even though the Brahmin were given back some of the power they had lost they during the Mughal era, the lower-castes enjoyed an improvement in their social standing. After India gained its independence on August 15th 1947, the new Indian government instituted laws to protect people born in lower castes.

Once India became its own republic the social system also changed. With wealth and education your social standing started to become less and less about which caste you were born into. A newly educated and affluent middle class mixed socially with people of the same financial statured and not caste. After the British rule Indian society began to break down into a more westernized class system. While this is true, people of the lower castes still struggled to get opportunities. For example, I always wondered why almost every single Indian I met in the United States is a Brahmin. I used to just think that it was a coincidence but then it dawned on me, only the best educated from India get to come and live in America, and the best educated are more than often Brahmins.

The majority of political leaders in India are still Brahmin. Both my grandfather and my uncle are IS officers, meaning they work for the Indian administrative services. I have yet to meet an IS officer that is not Brahmin. Most doctors, lawyers, politicians and successful businessmen are still Brahmin, while most of my family maids, drivers and

cooks are of lower castes. About 80.5 per cent of India is Hindu, and about four percent of India is Brahmin (A Zillion Reasons). However, even though Brahmins only account for about four percent of the Indian population they account for 37.17 per cent of the Indian bureaucracy. Although figures do show that the numbers of Brahmins in the Parliament are decreasing. In 1981 Brahmins made up about 19.91 percent of the members of Parliament, that number dropped to 12.44 percent in 1989. From 1989 to 1988 the percentage of Brahmins in Parliament stayed the same but then dropped again in 1999 to 11.3 percent. In 2007 the number of Brahmins in parliament was at 9.17 percent (A Zillion Reasons).

There are those that see these facts to be comforting, but others see that Brahmins are facing reverse discrimination. In 2006 there was a article that circulated titled Are Brahmins the Dalits of Today? (Dalits are the untouchables, they were considered to be so unworthy that they were not even a part of the caste system. The Dalits were below Shudras. So what could have possessed a man to think that Brahmins are the Dalits of today? The quotas put up by the government to limit the amount of Brahmins in the Parliament and bureaucracy along with affirmative action for lower-caste students, has made it so that some Brahmins are now struggling. Lower-caste families receive protection from the government for their land and housing, Brahmins do not. Some Brahmins are, in fact, struggling despite their privileged backgrounds. About fifty percent of the rickshaw-pullers, a rickshaw is a two-wheeled cart that people sit in while a rickshaw-puller rides a bike to transport the people, at Delihs Patel Nagar, a popular shopping destination, are Brahmin (Are Brahmins Todays) About seventy five

percent of all domestic help and cooks in Andhra Pradesh are Brahmin. Have these policies set by the Indian government to protect the lower-castes hurt Brahmins? Maybe. Also have Anti-Hindu circles, lead by Muslims, targeted Brahmins? Yes. When a Brahmin is attacked, the target is unmistakably Hinduism (Are Brahmins Todays). Many countries around the world mandate affirmative action in higher education, where groups that have historically faced discrimination are given preferential admissions. In India more than 50 percent of admissions slots are reserved for the members of lower-caste groups. The debate over whether this is beneficial is focused on two main issues. The first issue centers on the question of who these programs actually target. If the students getting admitted in these slots are of a lower caste, but of a wealthy background the affirmative action is not helping who it is suppose to help. There is also the argument saying that giving admissions to unprepared students will only hurt them in the end because they will struggle in classes, and as a result be more likely to drop out. The education they receive may just be a waste of time, money and efforts for them in the end. A study done by Senhil Mullaninathan, Marianne Bertrand and Rema Hanna shows that students of lower-caste families that received admissions as a result of affirmative action did not benefit from it. The study focused on students applying for an entrance to engineering colleges in 1996 in one Indian state. Engineering colleges are among the most prestigious types of colleges in India, and admissions are extremely competitive. The first step of the study was to collect a census of all individuals who took the admissions exam in 1996 (Senhil Mullaniantha, Marianne Bertrand, Rema Hanna, 25). The minimum score for admission is roughly 480 out of 900 for upper-caste individuals, 419 for the OBC category, and 182 for the SC category. The OBC and SC are the lower

caste categories. These score show the disparities at entrance and confirm the plausibility of the hypothesis that lower-caste students will simply not be able to perform well in college and, hence, may not benefit from admission because of the mismatch between their basic skill level and the skill requirements of an engineering education (Senhil Mullaniantha, Marianne Bertrand, Rema Hanna, 25). In order to see if the hypothesis was true Senhil Mullanianthans team interviewed about seven hundred of the households from this census of applicants between 2004 and 2006, this is approximately eight to ten years after the entrance exam. Both of the applicants and their parents were unhappy with their life outcomes including income and occupation, job satisfaction, social networks and caste identity (Senhil Mullaniantha, Marianne Bertrand, Rema Hanna, 25). Job satisfaction depends on a lot of factors, not all of which have to do with your marks at engineering school. Studies have also shown that upper-caste students can get away without a great education because they have family and friends with connections, which goes back to the old American saying its not what you know, its who you know. This may very well be true, because studies show that lower-caste students have a harder time seeking employment even if they are educated (Senhil Mullaniantha, Marianne Bertrand, Rema Hanna, 27). So what is the future of the caste system in India, will it ever completely suffice? The answer to that is yes and no. My grandmother still, to this day, despite the fact that I live in America and plan on living in America for my whole life, wants me to marry a Brahmin man. In an arranged marriage that is still a question that is often asked Is the perspective bride or groom of the same caste. After all we are different. Brahmins dont eat meat, we have a special coming of age ceremony for our sons when they turn a certain

age and we only wear pure gold at our weddings. But at the same time do these small cultural differences make us that different than those of other castes? Absolutely not! Many compare the caste system to the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Brave New World is a novel in which children are put into a certain caste and then go through psychological stimulations to believe that they are either worse or better than other castes. That is the most depressing aspect of the caste system today if you ask me, the psychological stimulations. The way I see the caste system today is the way there are social classes in every society. In any society it is much harder to work your way up if you are at the bottom. In every society the rich tend to stay rich and the poor tend to stay poor. In a sense India is now just like about other democracy, every citizen has the opportunity to work and rise to their full potential. How the caste system makes the situation more complex is the idea that if you are of a lower caste you are not worthy of those above you, that you have sinned and your lower caste is your punishment not just a misfortune. It means that if you are from a lower caste you better stay away from a girl that is of a higher caste because you are worthy of marrying her. It means that probably will have to work a lot harder to get into college because your family probably wont have the funds to support you. It means that even if you raise a caring daughter that a Brahmin family learns to love, there will still be stigma when their youngest son goes to ask for your blessings.

Bibliography "Are Brahmins Todays Dalits in India?" Http://www.hindustantimes.com/. N.p., 11 May 2007. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. <http://www.hindustantimes.com/Indianews/UttarPradesh/Are-Brahmins-today-s-Dalits-in-India/Article1-221926.aspx>. "The Caste System." Victorian Web. N.p., 6 Nov. 2000. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/india/caste.html>. Mollainathan, Sendhil, Marianne Bertrand, and Rema Hanna. "Affirmative Action in Education." Www.nber.org. National Bureau of Economic Research, Apr. 2008. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nber.org.librarylink.uncc.edu/papers/w13926.pdf?new_window=1>. Szczepanski, Kallie. "History of India's Caste System." About.com Asian History. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. <http://asianhistory.about.com/od/india/p/indiancastesystem.htm>. "A Zillion Reasons to Escape from India." A Zillion Reasons to Escape from India. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. <http://escapefromindia.wordpress.com/indias-brahminrule-data/>.

Aditi- This is definitely an interesting topic, and it sounds like you can definitely relate to it. I really liked how you incorporated some history as background information as clarification for the reader. It is also very helpful that you have clarified some terms for the reader that they may not know. What I might try to improve is your voice in the essay. I would try to add just a little more of your opinion into the essay. Your almost there, just a little more and it would really make the essay. Maybe try and answer, How do you feel about the caste system? or how would you like to see it changed if it should be at all? Anything like that would really add to the essay.