The Tyranny of Caste
While the term “caste” is generally associated with India, the practice of it is by no means limited to that land. Whatever its form, however, it represents tyranny and is condemned in God’s Word.
NO DOUBT the last place in the world you would look for an example of caste would be among farm animals. Yet did you know that research has discovered that among hens and cows, even in the barnyard, are to be found all “the special privilege, the oppression, the cruelty and snobbery of caste”?
Yes, in the farmer’s henyard “a definite social hierarchy, or ‘pecking order,’ is always established. Every bird has a wholesome fear of those above her in rank and will know which ones are below her.” (Saturday Review, June 22, 1957) And regarding the cows we are told that each herd has its queen, “who always precedes the others into barn and pasture and has an unresented right to push aside any other cow at a feed bunk. Behind her other cows of good social standing walk in unvarying order.” In a herd of a hundred cows this may include twelve, as at Cornell University’s dairy barn, where “the rest stood respectfully aside as the privileged few entered the building” first.—American Mercury, November, 1956.
Caste among the lower animals, and it is not limited to domestic animals by any means, seems amusing to us humans. To what extent those oppressed by it suffer we can only surmise. But caste among humans is not amusing; it is a brutal, harsh yoke of tyranny that rests heavily on the shoulders of many, many millions, causing them to mourn, sigh and groan, and arouses in all lovers of righteousness, whether affected by it or not, strong sentiments of righteous indignation.
MANY KINDS OF CASTE
Caste invariably involves tyranny. It is the use of power to oppress others because of claimed superiority. The supposed difference may be entirely imaginary, as in the case of Indian caste, or it may be due to circumstances of birth, such as in the racial discrimination of a minority. Thus in many Eastern lands those of light skin are discriminated against, whereas in Western lands those who have a dark skin are oppressed. Among the major kinds of caste tyranny are the Brahman caste system of India, racial discrimination, national prejudice and aesthetic snobbery due to possession of education, culture, wealth, etc., and that of religion, the distinction between clergy and laity.
Caste distinction is generally considered as being native to India, although actually it goes all the way back to the priesthood established by Nimrod’s mother after his death. As regards its Indian manifestation, it appears that many centuries before Christ light-skinned Aryan invaders subjugated the people and foisted upon them an arbitrary caste system. The Hindu word for caste has inherent the thought of color, light color, while the Portuguese root for the English word “caste” means “race,” and, by implication, pure or unmixed race. According to one Hindu writer, the Brahman “caste system was soon discovered to be a very effective instrument of domination and exploitation, for keeping the people ignorant in order to make them submissive, and for keeping them weak by increasing divisions among them.”—The Menace of Hindu Imperialism, Swami Dharm Theertha, 1946.
Originally Brahman caste had four major divisions: (1) the Brahmans, or priests and scholars; (2) the warriors and rulers; (3) the husbandmen, merchants and artisans; (4) the servants. Those who for one reason or another forfeited their caste became a fifth group, the outcastes or “untouchables.” (The Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. 6, p. 1, 1956 Ed.) The lot of this last class was so pitiable and wretched that the government of India finally made it illegal.
A particularly ruthless form of the tyranny of caste is that based on skin color. Caste distinction in the form of apartheid is the burning question in South Africa today. In the summer of 1957 the public press in the United States told of incident after incident of the tyranny of this type of caste. A new $500,000 school in Nashville, Tennessee, was dynamited, becoming a total loss simply because it had admitted one Negro child among its 390 pupils. To keep nine Negro youths from entering a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the governor of the state sent out hundreds of militia armed with guns, clubs and gas masks, ostensibly to prevent trouble, but taking the side of those flouting the law and at the same time defying the sovereignty of the federal government. In Los Angeles, California, all forty-three members of a certain Methodist church resigned to protest having a Negro pastor appointed to their church.
Many more incidents could be cited, all taking place within just a few months. Most of the incidents reported are a protest against the order of the Supreme Court of the land that made it illegal to segregate students according to race. Advocates of racial caste may boast of being Christians and good Americans, but their actions prove that they have no regard for God’s law, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and no regard for the law of the land as interpreted by its Supreme Court.
More prevalent but perhaps less brutal is the tyranny of caste distinction because of advantages of culture, education and wealth. Those who possess these frequently exercise snobbery toward the have-nots. Even as with Indian caste, all social contacts are regulated in line with these distinctions. Of a similar kind is the caste of royalty in such lands as Great Britain.
Clannishness because of nationality is also a form of caste tyranny. The foreigner is looked down upon regardless of what merits he may have. Devotees of nationalistic caste usually have more hatred for other peoples than love for their own country.
And then there is the religious caste system in which those who wear the cloth, whether clergy, monks or nuns, are set apart as a people more holy than others. These are also distinguished by such titles as “Reverend,” “Father,” “Bishop,” “Monsignor,” etc. All such caste distinction is likewise a form of tyranny, causing others to bow in fear and respect and to feel obligated to give financial support to the preferred ones.
NO SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT
Organized religion generally supports the caste status quo, and in the United States the tyranny of caste is most pronounced in what is known as the “Bible Belt.” But nowhere does God’s Word countenance the tyranny of caste. Among the ancient Israelites there was no caste system; intermarriage was forbidden only to keep the worship of Jehovah pure. Israelites were allowed to marry non-Israelite proselytes, two examples being that of Rahab and Ruth.
While the Israelites were recognized as Jehovah’s chosen people because of God’s covenant with their ancestor Abraham, they were warned against any caste consciousness. They were told that Jehovah himself loves these foreigners and were reminded of the fact that they themselves were at one time foreigners—in the land of Egypt. In fact, time and again God’s prophets reminded them that God’s favor depended not upon race but upon properly worshiping Him.
Even more explicit are the Christian Greek Scriptures. Thus the apostle Paul plainly declared that God “made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” If all came from one man, Adam, then all are related and there can be no superiority because of color or any other physical characteristic. (This is borne out by the fact that the blood from any one of the various races cannot be distinguished from that of the others.) Paul also shows that Christians are not to make distinctions because of national or politico-economic differences: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman” in the Christian congregation.—Acts 17:26; Gal. 3:28.
And far from recognizing any caste distinction because of worldly education, we are told that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor. 3:19) And to those who set up a caste system as regards wealth by favoring the rich over the poor the disciple James bluntly wrote: “You have class distinctions among yourselves and you have become judges rendering corrupt decisions, is that not so? Listen, my beloved brothers. God chose the ones who are poor respecting the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him, did he not? You, though, have dishonored the poor man. The rich . . . blaspheme the beautiful name by which you were called, do they not? If, now, you practice carrying out the kingly law according to the Scriptures, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing quite well. But if you continue showing favoritism, you are working a sin, for you are reproved by the law as transgressors.”—Jas. 2:4-9.
Nor is there to be any caste within the Christian congregation because of special privileges of service. Because two of his apostles had asked for chief seats in his kingdom Jesus said to them: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them and the great men wield authority over them. This is not the arrangement among you; but whoever wants to become great among you must be your minister, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”—Matt. 20:25-27.
Jesus also definitely ruled out a titled clergy caste system among his followers. Condemning such practices among the Jews, he, among other things, stated: “But you, do not you be called ‘Rabbi’, for one is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for One is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called ‘leaders’, for your Leader is one, the Christ. But the greatest one among you must be your servant.”—Matt. 23:8-11, margin.
HOW CASTE DISTINCTION HARMS
No question about it, regardless of where practiced and why, caste distinctions cause much suffering. Their practice is cruel and selfish. Those who do impose caste distinctions upon others fail to heed Jehovah’s command “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” They neglect to ‘love their neighbor as themselves’ and overlook Jesus’ commandment: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”—Mic. 6:8, RS; Matt. 22:39; 7:12.
Caste distinction harms not only those oppressed by it but also those exalted by it. How so? In that it is a manifestation of pride, and “pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Also, we are warned that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled,” and that “what is lofty among men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.” And to the extent that caste makes men unmerciful and harsh, to that extent practicing it means receiving like treatment at the hands of the great Judge, Jehovah God.—Prov. 16:18; Matt. 23:12; Luke 16:15; Matt. 7:2.
Caste distinctions, as we have seen, foster pride, jealousy and strife. Being opposed to God’s Word, they are of Satan the Devil, and being practiced by the lower animals, they are animalistic. The words of censure by the disciple James therefore apply to it: “If you have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in your hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is the earthly, animal, demonic. For where jealousy and contentiousness are, there disorder and every vile thing are.”—Jas. 3:14-16.
But most serious of all, caste distinctions exalt creatures and are therefore a form of creature worship. As such they invite God’s wrath, for he is “a God exacting exclusive devotion.” Because He cannot deny himself he will, in the near-at-hand battle of Armageddon, bring low proud man and have his name alone exalted.—Ex. 20:5.
Those who love God and their fellow man will have nothing to do with any caste distinctions, nor with organizations that practice them. As for those who are discriminated against because of caste distinction and who are unable to get out from under this yoke, rather than making an issue of it and dedicating one’s life to fighting it as some do, the wise course is to wait on Jehovah until his due time to end all injustices, which he will do in his new world of righteousness.