July 16th, 2010
12:47 PM ET

My Take: Hinduism's caste problem, out in the open

Hindu devotees at a religious celebration in India this month.

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

A few weeks ago, at an interfaith gathering at the White House, a Hindu gentleman told me he enjoyed my new book, “God is Not One,” but he objected strenuously to my criticisms of the Hindu caste system.

“There is no caste in Hinduism,” he told me, and no evidence would convince him otherwise. Not the fact that all my Hindu friends know precisely what caste they were born into. Nor the fact that all my Hindu students know precisely which castes their parents will not allow them to marry into.

Now comes even sadder evidence for the enduring power of the caste system in Hinduism—yet another honor killing. According to reports in Time, the New York Times, and elsewhere, a 22-year-old Hindu journalist named Nirupama Pathak was found dead after her family found out she was pregnant and intended to marry a man outside of her Brahmin (priestly) caste. The family claims it was a suicide, but police have arrested her mother on charges of murder—murder for the cause of caste.

In my teaching and writing, I have argued repeatedly that all religions, like all people, are a mix of good and bad.

In “God is Not One,” I try to point out areas where each of the great religions succeeds and areas where each fails. In its Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, Hinduism has produced some of the greatest stories ever told. In its goddesses, Hinduism offers models for womanhood lacking in more patriarchal religions. And in its practice of darshan or "sacred seeing," it has developed one of the most beautiful devotions on earth. But the caste system is, as it were, Hinduism’s cross to bear.

According to the Hindu gentleman I sparred with at the White House, caste is social rather than religious. But the roots of caste can be traced back to a story in the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, in which the various social classes are produced from the sacrifice of a primordial man—the priestly class from the mouth, the warrior class from the arms, the merchant class from the thighs, the laboring class from the feet (Rig Veda 90:10).

Today a far more finely grained system of caste is used in the United States to persuade my Hindu students at not to marry below their station, and in India to justify so-called honor killings.

Yes, Hindu thinkers such as the first Hindu missionary to America Swami Vivekananda have argued against caste, and the Indian Constitution outlawed caste-based discrimination, but the caste system, both ancient and religious, will not be swatted away so easily by either reformers or legislators. According to the New York Times, when Pathak’s father learned of his daughter’s engagement, he wrote her a letter arguing that inter-caste marriages, while permissible under Indian law, had been prohibited for millennia in Hinduism.

As someone who has written repeatedly against Hinduphobia in American history, I have no desire to turn Hinduism into the next religion Americans love to hate. But it is in my view an obligation of every religious practitioner—and every atheist—both to admit to the problems in their worldview and to address them.

One of my most frightening experiences as a professor came when I was teaching the history of Christian thought to a largely Christian student body at Georgia State University in Atlanta. I made my students read Nazi theology because I wanted to challenge them to see how the Christian legacy of anti-Semitism, which goes back to claims in the Gospel of John that the Jews killed Jesus, had been used to justify the murder of Jews. My students sidestepped this challenge by insisting that the Nazis were not Christians. Christians are good people, they told me, and good people do not murder Jews. In this way, they absolved themselves of the responsibility of reckoning with their tradition’s dark side. End of discussion.

After 9/11, many Muslims made a similar move. The men who chanted “Allahu Akbar” as they flew their jets into the Twin Towers were not Muslims, they said, because Muslims are good people, and good people do not murder innocent women and children. They, too, absolved themselves of the responsibility of reckoning with their tradition’s dark side.

Most Hindus are good people. The ones I know certainly are. But it does no good for them or for anyone else to pretend that “there is no caste in Hinduism.” There is caste in Hinduism. That question is settled, in blood. The real question is what Hindus are going to do about it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Hinduism • Opinion

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. BigOil

    "If religion or other practice is a problem, fix it or get rid of it to keep the rest (good part) of the culture"

    What do you think's being on? Sounds like you are very ignorant of Indian and Hindu culture and history. There is no way Hinduism would have stood the test of time and been around for 5000 years if it was as rigid and inflexible as you say it is. On practical terms, you are basically screaming at people who would never support a caste system anyway (Where people are forced to do certain kinds of work).
    All the isolated cases mentioned cannot be driven by "Hindu" religious doctrines because Hinduism has numerous texts and beliefs and sub-beliefs. If someone came to me and said Hinduism dictates that I stand upside down every day for an hour, I know that's flawed because Hinduism doesn't have rigid fundamentals. Hinduism cannot really dictate about what should be done. Hinduism's practices vary widely by region. The core philosophy is very sophisticated and deals with the nature of the Universe and not about commandments.
    In any case in all the attacks on Hinduism, no one actually mentions what specific religious doctrine has ordered that supposedly "evil" Hindu practice.

    July 17, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  2. Madhwa

    Thousands of blacks were killed and are still being killed in USA and elsewhere by the white supremacist bigots purely because of skin color and ethinicity! What do you call that? BTW, the enraged parents, while I entirely condemn the killing and can't imagine how anyone could kill their own children, killed their own daughter because of their own strongly held beliefs. You take this one or 2 examples out of a billion or so Hindus and generalize as if it part of Hindu religion? Show me one scripture or text in Hinduism that talks about this. I can show you your Bible passages how it supports anti-semitism, slavery and witchhunt!

    July 17, 2010 at 1:31 am |
    • BigOil

      Right on. I didn't know Hinduism commanded me to do "Honor" killings. Seems like the anti-Hindu haters have taken a murder case and some kind of local backward tribal custom and lumped the rest of us into it. Since overwhelmingly most Hindus don't believe in a so called caste system or practice honor killings, why would these bigots keep attacking us I wonder? It seems illogical, assuming of course they truly believe in human rights and dont' have any other hidden agenda's...
      Also if it's a Hindu practice, what Hindu doctrine specifically tells us to go commit honor killings?

      July 17, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  3. TheRationale

    Caste system...yet another genius cultural ideal of a religion.

    Note to sane people: If religion or other practice is a problem, fix it or get rid of it to keep the rest (good part) of the culture, don't leave it alone because it happens to be the culture.

    Examples: Creationism, Jihad, caste systems, subjugation of women, honor killing.

    July 16, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
    • BigOil

      Brilliant analysis...except that caste is casta, a Spanish/Portuguese word that refers to the casta system in South America.
      And also, what you call "caste" in Hinduism is actually tribe/ethnicity (Jathi) not caste. Is ethnicity an invention of religion? That's a curious question because ethnicity is found everywhere in the world and presumably even atheism would not quell tribalism and ethnic divisions.

      July 17, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  4. truth

    Muslims believe their religion is perfect, because God is perfect, and he sent the message of Islam. What you classify as the "dark side" is all relative. Who's to say what the universal right and wrong is? You wanting Muslims to fess up to the 'good and bad' of their religion would not really make sense to them, because if there was bad in their religion, why would they be following it (their mentality)? What you perceive to be bad, they perceive to have an ultimate purpose and truth, you just may not see it from your perspective. Same probably goes for Christians, although I can't speak for them.


    July 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Anika

      I'm a Muslim and yeah I'll admit it, it has quite a history as a violent religion. Doesn't mean I'm blowing up stuff everywhere. Just putting it out there. Religion is not perfect, with all the human involvement we have, I doubt there is any perfect religion. You seem to think we all have a fundamentalist mentality though I beg to differ I have quite different beliefs. Forgive me but I also seem to find it humorous when you say "ultimate purpose and truth". Everyone has a different one. I'm sure my Muslim community's "ultimate purpose" is in no way to pose a threat to national security. Just regular people. Then you find those crazy people who believe their life goal is to give their life for the "cause". I'll be the first to say that they are mentally insane. I believe in God, just doesn't mean I accept all of what my religion prescribes for me.

      July 17, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  5. kk

    Caste system is just used for marrige etc..so what..my parents did it its up to me if I want to do it..but I probably will as it is wrong to marry outside your caste and subcaste! its just tradition..who wants to break tradition!! for those who don't realize we Hindus survived all the religions onslaughts of Islam and Christianity becase we are so deeply rooted in our culture and traditions..caste system was just invented by the british seriosly as this author does not mention that in ancient times you can move up and down in castes depending on your social status and your occupation and when someone did something wrong he did not get burnt at the steak like in europe or get crusified in jerusalem he became and OUTCASTE!!!!!!!!!!!!...today brahmins are treated like crap in India!!! do some research people before you talk crap I am astonished at someone who is so educated can talk such utter non-sense just for himself and his personal glory!!

    July 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  6. aHindu

    These western so called SCHOLARS can't even understand a quote to its meaning and use it in different way.

    July 16, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  7. aHindu

    This is due to misunderstanding of the Sanskrit Word. Varna IS NOT EQUAL to Caste System.

    July 16, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  8. Mark from Middle River

    Thanks for the informaton people. I also had read the national geographic articles on the dilalets and it was beyond shocking. One of the images I will never get out of my head was the image of a middle aged man, covered in human feces with this smile on his face. It was his job to clean dead animals out of the village sewage by climbing through the system. What floored me was the author told of how some daliets had refused to do such work and their homes were burned to the ground and their familes were killed. All because they refused to do such jobs.

    Then there was the movie "bend it like beckam" where the actress explains what it meant to be Indian and Hindu. Most of this spoke of people she was not allowed to associate with. Part of me knows that you should not base an opinion on a media report or a movie but there just too many examples that I just always wanted to know another opinion on or of

    July 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • BigOil

      Some extremists who hate Hinduism like to keep showing Hindus as backward and dumb. I would think in 2010 with the huge number of Engineers and scientists who are Hindu, people could have seen this propaganda. I totally agree that the Indian countryside needs economic development bad, but I don't see how that's a religious issue. BTW, the public bathrooms in Delhi are run by a so called Brahmin group, and the leader of India's biggest state (Uttar Pradesh) is a so called Dalit (Mayawati) and she is worth $400 million. Certain extremist Christian organizations seem eager to attack Hinduism. No religion would have survived 5000 years if it was so rigid especially after 800 years of Islamic rule and 150 years of British Christian rule.
      BTW, the writer of the Hindu epic Ramayana was Valmiki, who was also a "Dalit".

      July 17, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  9. Ravi


    Caste system has nothing to do with colour of the skin. You will find light skinned people and dark skinned people in both what we call today "upper" and "lower" casts. This identification of colour with caste arose in 18th and 19th centuries when the German and British "Indologists" mistranslated the word "varna" as "colour" and specifically as "skin colour". That was a time when the europeans saw the entire world through a racialist worldview and this (mis)translation fitted neatly with their wordview of "lighter skin upper casts" vs "darker skin lower casts".

    But the reality is much more complex than that.The word "varna" is derived from the root "vr" which means 'covering' or 'appearance'. But 'appearance' here does not denote the colour of human skin but the "guna" (qualities) of human nature.
    Many Hindu Gods are potrayed as 'dark' in skin colour. For example. Krishna in Bhagavat Gita is potrayed as "dark coloured" one .Rama in Ramayana is often potrayed as dark or blue.

    The skin colour of Hindu Gods (or of its people) were never an issue with Hindu society until the 18th century "oreintalists" made it into an issue with their own interpretations.The racial theory of caste is inconsistent with evidence because long before caste system came into being, Indian population has become inseparably mixed.

    July 16, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • BigOil

      "Also do remember that in India, not only Hindus but also Muslims and Christians also practise caste system "
      Exactly, in fact in Pakistan it's called Qom and if you google "bbc dalit christian" you can read an article on how Christian Dalits face horrendous discrimination by the church.

      July 16, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  10. Ravi


    The gentleman whom you met was actually right. Caste is a social construct not a religious construct. In the vedic times, there is no caste.There is only a semblance of varna. Many western analysts confuse between the varna system and the caste system. In the earlier vedic times, there is no mention of the word "Brahmin". There was "Brahman" and "Brahman" did not indicate any caste but people of higher consciousness regardless of their socio-economic background.It was only in later vedic times that word "Brahmin" came into being. Also note that in vedic times, there is nothing called "Kshatriya". There was "Rajanya" who was entrusted with protecting the people but it was not hereditary like Kshatriya would become in later day caste system.

    The prevalance (or its lack of) of caste system in vedic times can be gauged from the fact that in the thousands of verses in the Rg Veda, only once does it mentions anything resembling varna system and that too in the later period of vedic times in purusha sukta (RV 10:90). Even that sukta never specifically talks about inferiority or superiority of varnas.Although people cite it for its "ranking" order of the varnas, the main point of the sukta is that all the varnas come from the same purusha not that one varna is superior to other.In anceint times, people were free to change thier varnas. It was not rigid like the latter day caste system.

    Also do remember that in India, not only Hindus but also Muslims and Christians also practise caste system which clearly indicates that caste is a social construct of Indian soceity rather than a specifically a religious construct ordained by Hinduism.

    July 16, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  11. Mark from Middle River

    I enter into this discussion with a question or to clarify a ethnic issue that I have heard concerning Hinduism. I have seen the artcles dealing with the caste system in magazines such as national geographic, and. Last summer a news report about skin lightener use in India. Can some some clarify if this issue of caste and skin color is linked or defining of the total issue.

    In other words do dark skin Indians trancend all of the castes or are they just in the loWer caste?

    July 16, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • BigOil


      They are completed unrelated. Remember caste is not even an Indian word but a Spanish/Portuguese word (casta). The casta system in South and Central America is based on skin color as well as race. In the colonial era some people attributed caste as skin color in the HIndu context based on the now diproven Aryan Invasion theory. There is no race called Aryan, Arya is a term of respect (like sir) and is not a race.
      Coming back to your skin color question, my theories are that in India it has to do with the TAP Islamic rule (Turkic, Arab, Perisan) who were fair skinned and the ruling class followed by the British who were white skinned as well. In my personal experience, light skin being held as better is found in many countries. Russian's even consider olive skinned "caucasians" as black (and therefore inferior). East Asia and the middle east are also heavily observant of this (I have heard numerous Chinese personally tell me how they look down on dark skin).
      Also to give you some ground level information, Indians vary widely in skin color and in fact most families themselves have a huge range of skin colors. I also find it strange that they would attack Indians for desiring fair skin while White's go to tanning booths all the time.
      In summary then, casta in South America is based on skin color but Jathi (ethnicity) in India is not.

      July 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  12. BigOil

    "Being born to Hindu parents I have consistently pondered about how over a billion people, about one sixth of humanity continues to stratify itself purely on the basis of birth."
    Uuuh, firstly Hindus don't do work based on their work (atleast the ones in Industrialized areas). Serfdom and discrimination are economic issues getting solved by India's industrialization, not sure what that has to do with Hinduism as a religion. Lumping Jathi which means ethnicity with caste (casta) a Spanish/Portuguese word doesn't make it a caste. As far as I know every country in the world has ethnicties and tribes (and in fact even in the middle east/rural China/parts of South America, almost everyone marries within their tribe/ethnicity). Also generally people are born in their ethncity, not sure how that is a unique Hindu or even Indian characteristic. Infact I find it impressive that 1.2 Billion Indians can live in one country largely in peace while much smaller countries have horrendous ethnic fights and are not able to form bigger nations.

    July 16, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  13. aHinduCitizen

    well, steven, the only issue I have with your note is that it seems you have feel you have discovered something new about hindus!

    The issue of caste and how to recover from its negative effects is endlessly debated in indian media and amongst hindus and indians. Most educated hindus view discrimination based on caste somewhat like educated westerners view of race discrimination – a truly bad thing. At the same time, like race, caste is a reality – a kind of ancient clan concept and many of its aspects have a benign cultural reading. Your hindu friend is no different from a western liberal who says race doesnt matter in america; its a wished for ideal, while the reality is much more complex.

    The cases you cite are appalling and have their roots in a particular north indian rural sub-culture which is extremely backward and patriarchal. Due to modernization, girls are getting much better educated and naturally want to have the freedom to live their own lives. This is strongly resisted by their extended families who view them as renegades and this is supported by the ancient clan/caste rules. The violence against them is justified by citing these ancient beliefs, though at the same time all of these people are living modern lives. The question for indian civil society is: 1) to punish these acts which are illegal under indian law 2) to change mindsets of people through education and examples. And both of these are ongoing today in india.

    This is the heart of the story, not your glib essentialist summary.

    July 16, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  14. Dilip

    Stephen Prothero needs help . He absolutely does not understand Hinduism or the varna system, loosely defined as caste. Varna system is an observation of society as to how people organize themselves, rather than how to organize people. Stephen should have done some serious research into Hindu scriptures before commenting on Hinduism. Maybe it is the guilt of his ancestors racist past that he feels compelled to paint others in similar light.

    July 16, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  15. Madhwa

    Stephen – I am amazed that you are even a scholar! You just quote "Purusha Sukta" which, in an abstract sense, defines the various human pursuits. Brahmanas from face – depicts people pursuing intellectual professions, Kshatriyas or rajas(rulers) from the arms – soldiers/kings, Vysyas – the trading community from the lap – can't exactly associate thighs and the trading community, Shudras – the hard labor community – from the feet signifying the hard work. Where is the "by birth" criterion here? Are you not qualified enough to interpret these shlokas properly given your educational background? You are making the mistake of taking them at face value. Even then, it is not stated that tehse categories were by birth!

    Let me explain a bit of caste system in India. 1000's of years ago, it was devised as a way to organize the society based on one's profession. Theere was no heirarchy but intellectual pursuits were considered the purest form of human endeavors. As such entry into that guild were very regulated. The same parallels we see today in various profession based organizations like IEEE, ASME, et al. One can't simply walk into them. Later due to invasions, these boundaries became rigid and it became "by birth", the entry to these guilds. Thus was born the caste system. The scheming missionaries of both Christianity and Islam doctored many a sacred text of Hinduism to insert demeaning passages to undermine Hindu socio-religious texts.

    You need to do your research thoroughly of eastern religions and not view them through western religious prism. Even slavery and the killing of blacks can be traced to Bible. Why haven't you mentioned it in your article? Racism continues to this day in a not so subtle manner. Did you watch CNN program on this? BTW, very few Hindus in USA stick to caste system and I know about it better than you do. Don't rely for your research on Indian news papers. The "honor killing" is a term chosen by the leftist/secular media in India and has no religious or scriptural backing!

    July 16, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Stephen Prothero

      I have written on many occasions that Christians justified slavery on the basis of the Bible. The same is true of lynchings of blacks by the KKK in America. But such a point is perfectly consistent with the point I'm making in this article. All religions have good and bad points. And it's up to the people inside them to fess up to both. Do you think there is anything at all wrong with Hinduism, Madhwa, or is it a perfect religion? I think there are lots of things wrong with Christianity, not least its history of anti-Semitism (mentioned in my piece) and racism.

      July 16, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • BigOil

      What I find amazing is this insistence on linking Hinduism with Indian economic conditions but this standard is not applied elsewhere. For example we don't call the European serf system a Christian serf system or slave trade as the Christian slave system or the Arab/Muslim slave system. But for Hindus, a special standard is reserved. Are we supposed to ignore the obvious fact that caste is not even an Indian word! It is a Spanish/Portuguese word and refers to the Christian casta system found in South and Central America. Little surprise that in thse countries income disparity is very high and the upper casta (White's) are the ruling politicians and the wealthy.
      Calling Jathi as Caste doens't make it a caste Professor Prothero. Jathi is our ethnicty/tribe. In most of the world people marry within their ethnicity and tribe, Hindus are hardly alone in this. Calling it a caste then saying people marry within their caste and that's strange is absurd. To me caste can mean one of two things, either a racial hybrid/hierarchy like in South America (Mestizo, Pardo etc..) or a job like the European serf system.

      July 16, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
    • BigOil

      ". All religions have good and bad points. And it's up to the people inside them to fess up to both. Do you think there is anything at all wrong with Hinduism, Madhwa, or is it a perfect re"

      I see a lot of problems with India's economic condition in rural area's , but that's more of an economic discussion regarding Industrialization. I am not sure what this has to do with Hinduism as a religion.
      It's curious that foreign words like caste are used to understand Hinduism. If you are serious about understanding Hinduism then must use terms like Varna and Jathi and know what they mean. Varna describes the co-dependence of human society on each other and of course today hardly anyone works in their varna anyway. (personally I have worked in all four varna's of Hinduism)

      July 16, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
    • Ivan Soto

      The killing of the woman in the story trashes your deflections, Madhwa. The caste system is a disgrace to ordinary decency.

      July 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
    • RDM


      You mentioned in your article that you "made my students read Nazi theology because I wanted to challenge them to see how the Christian legacy of anti-Semitism, which goes back to claims in the Gospel of John that the Jews killed Jesus, had been used to justify the murder of Jews."

      If it was a Christian legacy that goes back to the Gospel of John in the Bible why did you have them read Nazi theology? Why not read the Bible – where Christian doctrine for belief and behaviour is revealed – to discover this supposed "legacy of anti-Semitism?" The Bible may record that the "Jews killed Jesus", but does it really say that followers of Jesus Christ, Who prayed to His heavenly Father to forgive His enemies, should hate, and even kill, Jews in retaliation? The answer to that question is "No."

      Anti-Semitism is not a Christian legacy, dare I say solely a Nazi one, but one of the sinful, perverted human heart of which each of us are capable. Only God's mercy and grace, given through His Son, Jesus Christ, to a person who is willing to receive it, can change that person's mindset, affections, and will. May God grant that to each of us who desire it!

      July 16, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
    • PJ

      Dr. Prothero,

      With all due respect, I think your faith in the veracity of your thesis is making you a bit blind to contrary explanations. Christians doing something doesn't mean Christianity demands something. You're committing a rather sloppy conflation of religious and cultural factors that indicate a rather Eurocentric perspective on history, but ironically a Judeo-Christian perspective on what constitutes a "religion" in contradiction to your own pet theory.

      Hinduism was never a codified religion. The Vedas create common ground, but unlike the revealed (Abrahamic) religions, the idea that the rules about organizing society are immutable truths does not exist. There is a clear delineation between the eternal truths and prescriptions for behavior and social organization. At one time, caste not only made sense, but was a plain reality for any agrarian society. How exactly do you think people are going to memorize hundreds of thousands of lines of scripture unless it has been inculcated from birth? How exactly do you suppose nobility and royal lineage has ever been passed down? I suppose on top of Eurocentrism and impositions of Abrahamic concepts onto non-Abrahamic religions, you are also guilty of a certain modernist hubris as well.

      July 17, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  16. Gil T

    Goo point, Stephen, on how Christians and Muslims react to absolve themselves of dark deeds done by Nazis and 911 suicide-murders while Hindus absolve themselves of a caste system and its deeds.
    People whose home-grown faith, incubated and propagated from antiquity, within the safe and familiar confines of culture, language, ethnicity and national barriers encounter an eye-opening they get out in the open of the world.
    The faith that is in Christ Jesus has never been the sole claim or possession of any single culture, language, ethnicity or country. Even the Greek language was not the primary language of those first converts to the faith. There was never a concerted effort to limit the print form of the scriptures to the Greek language, but on the contrary to translate it in the language of all peoples of the world who desired to know the scriptures themselves. It’s a faith that was readily proclaimed and made known to the whole world.

    July 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  17. Moresh

    I would like to congratulate the author for calling a spade a spade. Being born to Hindu parents I have consistently pondered about how over a billion people, about one sixth of humanity continues to stratify itself purely on the basis of birth. The Bhagwad Gita is one of the most beautiful ideas ever presented to mankind. But along with it the system of caste is our "Original Sin". Slavery did exist in the West, but the repentance I observe among most Whites here is something I have never found in the Indian community. The system of reservations which goes beyond affirmative action has only ossified the caste boundaries for the modern age.There is no catharsis only enduring shame.

    July 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • Madhwa

      You are sadly mistaken abou the "stratification" ! In the current context, only the non-upper castes (aka BRAHMINS) don't want to give up the advantages due to being in a particular "low caste". Blame it entirely on the current ruling dispensation, which persisted this divide for their own political gains! Greed is natural to most people on earth, irrespective of nationality and religious affiliations.

      July 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • Stephen Prothero

      Thanks, Moresh. Most of my Hindu students at BU have no trouble admitting that the caste system is problematic and both ancient and Hindu. And they are resolved to do something about it. I just wish there were more Hindus like that. And more Christians and Muslims willing to look at the dark side of their religions too.

      July 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Stephen Prothero.... Thanks Stephen for your attention to this and 'the dark side' of all religions.

      Appreciate your writings and comments....


      July 16, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • BigOil


      What stratification are you talking about? Hindus are doing whatever job they can based on supply and demand. Reiterating colonial propaganda doesn't make it real. The reservation system was flawed and categorized people as lower and upper arbitrarily, however it has "evened" out disparity between ethnic groups in India. Infact I find the casta system in South America disgusting and the huge income disparities found there as well. The great unspoken discrimination in the world today. I also find the discrimination against the 10-15 million Roma/Gypsy untouchable caste in Europe terrible which continues to this day.

      July 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  18. cat

    Hinduism's caste problem: It exists.

    July 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Madhwa

      So does apartheied of blacks and otehr colored people in christianity!

      July 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Mike

      Cite an example?

      July 16, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • BigOil

      The Christian casta system found in Central/South America strives to keep each casta in it's place. In most of these countries under the age old Catholic casta system, the tiny upper casta White elite control the economic and political machinery. Hindu caste system is an oxymoron. Hindu's have Jathi and Varna, caste is a European concept.

      July 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  19. Reality

    Why is this topic again being discussed. Did we not discuss this at length a few weeks ago?

    July 16, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Frogist

    I think some people regard saying there are bad things about a religion/philosophy as the same as saying ALL people who practice it are bad. But that's not a true equivalent. When people say the muslims flew the planes into buildings they do not fully qualify that statement. They don't acknowledge that those muslims are not representative of all muslims. And when the christians say Nazis aren't christians, they don't acknowledge that some christians were Nazis.
    Religions are all about the comfort of belonging and knowing you are right and good. To admit that their religion is flawed means that they are wrong. There are no absolutes and their comfort level plummets. For this reason, the ultra-religious, the extremists, will never acknowledge the faults inherent in their viewpoint. That's why they are extremists. Because to them, to recognise any weakness, is to destroy the whole. But they will have no problem doing that to another person's position. They don't see that the other person is exactly the same as themselves. An extremist will only recognize the differences, not the similarities.
    This is a very thought provoking article and I am inclined to go read his book now...

    July 16, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.