The caste system: the past, present and future?

I was debating what my next post should be about and I thought why not talk about something I highly disagree with, that still lives on today within the tamil community…

The caste system.

For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, I will delve a little deeper.

The Caste system is the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy. This system is complex and is dependent upon the ancestors within the family regarding social status. A person is born into their caste and remains that caste until their death. He or she cannot change caste. There are three types of castes systems in Sri Lanka for the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils.

At the top of the caste for Sri Lankan tamils are the Brahmans. They have sacred routes and tend to become priests as they represent the highest purity within the caste system. Next caste is Vellaler which is my caste and represents at least 50% of the population in Sri Lanka. We are considered to be the landlords meaning we can own land as we are of a higher caste. After this are the cultivators and fishermen, however within this subgroup there are multiples castes laying within. At the bottom is where the ‘low caste’ people are and have occupations in labour such as agricultural work.

Now this may sound old and backwards, however the frightening thing is this caste system still exists. Previously, higher caste people only married within the same caste; for example: Vellaler people only married vellaler and if they did not, they were seen to be a disgrace to the family and were more likely to run away in order to marry. I say previously although many Tamils within western countries are still adopting this same mentality that only someone of a higher caste should marry within that same caste.

Within love marriages, it is still seen today. As a born and bred london tamil, I have found that in order to find a suitable match that everyone will agree with, we must hand out an application for the male to fill out to then send off to the family.

These questions consist of:

  1. Where are you from in Sri Lanka? (Tamils pretty much know by the area you are from, what caste you are)
  2. What caste are you? (Just to make sure you are not of a lower caste living in a high caste area which is possible)
  3. What is your job occupation?
  4. What do your parents do? (Because if your parents have a crap job, it will then be reflected badly on their family)
  5. What do your siblings do? (Because if your siblings are not well-educated then this will also be reflected badly)
  6. Do you smoke/drink? (Because what will the family think if he drinks too much and cannot handle it?)

Bearing in mind in order for the family to accept he must pass ALL questions in order to move to the next stage of the interview which is meeting the family and sussing out his character.

In this day and age where same sex marriages have been legalised, interracial marriages are more common and society is multi-cultural. Why are Sri Lankan Tamils living in the 21st century and being modern yet their mentality is still living back home?

If we do not look at horoscopes for love, why do we look at caste?

Do not get me wrong quite a few Tamils have adopted a modern attitude and to you, I admire you for dropping your traditional values and adjusting to the times. To those who still have not adjusted, THERE IS STILL TIME TO CHANGE!

Within the tamil community, there is a sense of pride of who you get married to. If there is a chance your pride can be tarnished and people will talk about you then the answer is no. This is also seen within the occupation that your children have which is why most asian parents want you to do either medicine, law, dentistry or engineering.

There is no way my kids are growing up in fear of bringing the wrong guy home and not being able to marry them due to the fact it may bring shame to the family.

The future? I hope the caste system does not make it into the future. By far it is the worst system to be ever created and I pray that in my generation no one will follow this.

Your 21st century modern London tamil

Vij x


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