Why is the topic of the caste system in India relevant to Indian history?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the caste system is a very relevant topic to both Indian history and the present state of India.  The caste system is seen by some in India as the source of its greatest strength.  While all of the world has changed, despite all of the change that the subcontinent has undergone for the last five centuries, and regardless of how India has changed, the caste system has remained steadfast.  Proponents of the caste system point to how this represents the power of Indian tradition and the origin of how tradition defines what it means to be "India."  On the other side of the debate, anyone who wishes to point out how tradition is stifling India and denying opportunities in a globalized world that is ripe with potential will point to the caste system as an element that needs to be eliminated.  In a world that is become more democratized, the caste system is pointed to as a reflection of an institution that needs to be changed.  Communism has fallen, leaders like Kim Jong Il and Gadaffi are no longer in power, and there is greater connectivity in the world making borders almost dissipate.  Yet, the caste system is still present, locking people into defined states of being and denying opportunities to those who could benefit greatly from a globalized world.  The caste system is a relevant topic because of where it is in Indian history and where many wonder where it will be in its present and future.