"‘Brahmins began to feel uneasy at permitting even their thoughts to touch the thoughts of untouchables’"

A Brahmin is considered the highest of the four varnas or classes in the traditional Hindu caste system, a form of social stratification in which residents were defined by their social status.

Traditionally, the full four varnas are:

  • Brahmins- Scholars, teachers and priests
  • Kshatriyas - Soldiers and warriors
  • Vaishyas - Agricultural workers and merchants
  • Shudras - Service providers and artisans

The Harijans or Untouchables formed a fifth group, who were not allowed to interact with those of a higher caste. This group was largely made up of those outside of the social structure, such as nomadic, tribal people and Candala, those who had to deal with the disposable of the dead.

According to traditional scholars, groups of lower-caste individuals could seek to elevate the status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes.

While a contemporary version of the caste system still exists in India it has been largely criticised by a number of different scholars and organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Patriotic Society), as a form of racial discrimination.  In 2001 a United Nations conference against racism attempted to pass a resolution declaring the caste system an oppressive form of apartheid – although no formal bill was ever passed.