Outcastes – also known as Untouchables, included butchers, gravediggers, trash collectors, etc.
In approximately 1500 B.C., a group of people known as the Aryans invaded India. The Aryans were semi-nomadic people who brought many new ideas to India, including their religion. Their religious beliefs were included in the Vedas, a collection of prayers, chants, sacrificial details and other meditations.
The caste system began in India after the Aryans invaded and established their own rules for governing the society. The Aryans prohibited marriages between their own people and the people of the civilizations they conquered.
From 1000 B.C. to 500 B.C., rigid social classes emerged in India. They included the subgroups of the caste system listed above. The Outcastes or Untouchables were considered such a low group that they were never mentioned or acknowledged in society. Over time, each of the subgroups, or castes, became subdivided into over 3,000 castes.
Each caste had a specific place in society based on their purity determined at birth. They socialized, ate, married, worked and worshipped with their own caste. They would never consider marrying or working outside their caste.
The Indians believed that they could attain a higher caste position in the next life by leading a good life. This belief was derived from the Hindu religious teachings of karma and reincarnation. They also believed that they could be reincarnated into the body of an insect if they did not lead a good life in their current position.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS DIRECTIONS: After the activity is over, sit with members of your own caste and discuss your answers to the following questions.
1. How did it feel to be stuck in your given caste during the activity? Why?
2. If you had lived from 1000-500 B.C. in India, how difficult do you think it would have been to follow the strict rules of the caste system?
3. Do you think people questioned the system? Why or why not?
4. Why do you suppose the class distinctions were so harsh?
5. How is the caste system of India like the class system of the United States? How is it different?
6. In our society, do we treat people differently who are born into different economic situations? Defend your answer.
7. In the U.S., do people have different standards for members of different groups? Do we apply laws the same to people in different classes? Give examples to defend your answer.
ON THE CASTE SYSTEM OF INDIA After reading “Overview of the Caste System of Ancient India,” your goal is to answer questions #1-10 as a group. Each person in your group will be wearing a color, placing him or her into a specific Indian caste. You should treat each person in your group as if they are actually members of that caste.
THE BRAHMIN (purple) is the most important person in your group. Agree with anything s/he says. Do anything s/he tells you to. This is the wisest person in the group. Because s/he is so intelligent, any answer s/he gives is acceptable.
THE KSHATRIYA (red) is another important person in your group. Ask the Kshatriya to protect you from the other groups in the room who may try to invade your group and steal your answers. Also, ask the Kshatriya to keep the Untouchables out of your group.
THE VAISYA (green) is an important caste, but not nearly as important as the others already mentioned. If you are Brahmin or Kshatriya, tell the Vaisya to record the answers on your sheet. This is his or her job. The Vaisya may try to give you answers. However, s/he will be wrong, so laugh off anything s/he says.
THE SHUDRA (yellow) has little importance to your group. Ignore anything the Shudra says. When the Brahmin has finished expounding his or her profound knowledge, and the Vaisya has recorded it, tell the Shudra to hand in your answers. Otherwise, pretend s/he doesn’t exist.
THE UNTOUCHABLES (blue) should be completely ignored. Do not talk to them nor should you acknowledge their presence in any way. If they come near you, move away quickly so that you are not contaminated.