Whether it’s an urban, pollution breathing city or a muddy, brick-built village, hierarchy is a way of life. Ever since the Aryans arrived in India around 1500 BC, we have had certain divisions in society. Originally those divisions were made on the basis of occupation, but with regards to the Hindu caste system, religion crept in eventually. And now, no one knows where occupation ended, and religion and caste system began.
It’s like trying to tell the difference between Maggi noodles and Yippee noodles in the same bowl. Feel me? It was a common belief that the Brahmins had emanated from the head of Lord Brahma, creator of the universe, the Kshatriyas from his chest, the Vaishyas from his thighs and the Shudras from his feet. Hence, making the Brahmins the most superior caste of the hierarchy and the Shudras, most inferior.
Abominable, really, cause if superiority is to be determined by vertical order, why, people living in Kashmir are practically Gods, and we should worship them, as it forms the crown of our country! Although the rigidity of the Hindu Caste System and the Hindu Caste System itself has faded away, traces still remain, not just religiously and socially, but economically as well.
In the 21st century, Brahmins are no longer elite and Shudras are no longer oppressed. Brahmins conduct the pujas we hold at our places, keeping alive customs and rituals of Hinduism as they have since eternity and being born in a Scheduled Caste gets you admission under the OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota in Government Law College, India’s first law college, and Mumbai’s best. What was a virtual impossibility for them due to the oppressive rules of the Caste System and huge economic disparity, is now a reality- not only quality education, but a quality life. But hierarchy and economic disparities are a way of life even now, and may remain in the years to come just like your irritating sibling you can do nothing about.
Being elite is now associated with the brands you wear on your hips and coming from an ‘upper caste’ means nothing if you don’t have money. If we were to follow this common belief, then the modern day version of the Hindu Caste System would look like this-
The Ambanis, Birlas, Tatas would now make the Brahmins, being able to call the shots on government policies and affecting change in every sphere of life possible by using their money generated power. But these are what I would call the Acquired Brahmins, as they were middle class, working men (Vaishyas) who have earned their way to the top.
The Kshatriyas, who comprised of Kings and army generals, responsible for the security of their State can now be called a lot of different things- Army, Navy, Spies, Police Officers, and other administrators trusted with maintaining ‘peace and order’. This brings to mind the interestingly controversial species called ‘politicians’ and I now wonder if they fall under this category – trusted with the maintenance of ‘peace and order.’ Well, they can be called the Kshatriyas too, in a way. The source of power for the businessmen of the level of Ambanis is money and the source of power for politicians is well, power. Power attained by the virtue of the office they hold, cause let’s face it, ‘public support’ doesn’t mean shit.
The Vaishyas were usually merchants and traders living under the regime of a King, not doing his bidding, but subject to his rules. Not unlike us, paying GST that the current government came up with and working 9-5 shifts to meet a monthly budget of our own. Upper middle class living in a three-bedroom, hall kitchen of a co-operative housing society as well as lower middle class living in a chawl would form this category.
One sure way of knowing you fall under The Vaishyas is if you are made to stop at a traffic signal for hours to let a signatory or ‘important person’ pass by, then yep, you are a Vaishya. Entrepreneurs, Gujaratis running their own business, CEOs of big companies, street vendors, your pani puri stall vendor, and a student on a monthly pocket money with a naïve dream- all fall under this category.
Movie stars, dancers, singers and other artists would form the ‘Gliteratti’ of the The Vaishyas as these are the people who too, have earned it and some, born into it. One might reflect that someone like Shah Rukh Khan does not belong here, but take a look at his interviews where he says he would dance at weddings for cash will change your mind. It’s a two way street to the Gliteratti and The Vaishyas.
The Shudras, who were considered untouchables, and were condemned to the dirtiest of tasks have come a long way from what was forced on them by Hinduism, but the bias still remains in everyone’s heads, like a dark stain on your favourite white T-shirt; no matter how much you clean it with Vanish, it just won’t budge. The maids that do the utensils and laundry at our homes, who live in almost slum areas, gutter cleaners, office clerks (sometimes interns), prostitutes, waiters, cab drivers, and women-women everywhere, on every continent, country, city, suburb, and village fall under the lowest tier of even this category. I like to call it ‘The Condemned’. The one thing common among all these are that they are utterly powerless. All the people from different spheres of life mentioned above fall under this category with women at the bottom.
Like a multi-layered Gordon Ramsay cake, these observations and analogies serve as a scale to measure whether your cake is Masterchef worthy or not. We may have progressed to what is called a ‘developing country’, but hierarchy is not lost on us. And never will be. I can just hear Karl Marx turning in his grave. Sociology students will get this one.
The phrases- ‘Rich are getting richer and poor are getting poorer’ and it’s fraternal twin, ’Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink’ are not lost on us either. And it’s portrayed very well in anecdotes about the same by stand- up comedians making a living out of our universal misery. And funnily enough, you’ll love it on the grounds of it being ‘relatable’.
Hey, atleast hierarchy’s got a sense of humour. For more on this please browse the Forbes, Bombay Times, our Annual Budget and The Kapil Sharma Show, every Saturday and Sunday, 9 p.m. onwards.