Q69. Are there castes among the Sikhs?
Five hundred years ago, Guru Nanak introduced the concept of a casteless society. The Hindus rigidly adhered to the caste system which divided the community into water-tight compartments. This not only prevents social intercourse but also encourages fatalism.
According to Guru Nanak, no man is born high or low. Taking the image of the potter’s wheel, Guru Arjan compared the different kinds of people to vessels of many types and patterns, but all made of clay. In spite of religious and social distinctions, all mankind is of one basic material common to all.
Many Indian saints and Bhagats(saints or seers) belonged to low castes, but this did not stand in the way of their spiritual attainment. They are still revered and worshipped on account of their saintliness. God’s Name burns away all impurities and ennobles the individual.
According to Guru Nanak, caste is humbug. He writes: “From one Light the whole world came into being; so, who is good and who is bad?” Caste is man made division for selfish ends. According to Hinduism, one belonging to the lowest caste was not even regarded as worthy of religious instruction. Moreover, birth determines status and this could not be changed. This was against the Guru’s basic belief in the right of every individual, to the opportunity for both social and spiritual uplift.
A man becomes high or low according to his actions. Only they are really depressed who forget the Lord. When Guru Nanak was asked about his own caste, he replied, “I belong to the lowest among the low castes.” Kabir challenged the Brahmins and inquired if they were not born in the same way as men of the so-called low castes. Moreover, caste is of no consequence in the next world, or in the court of God.
Any consideration of caste in matters of matrimony should be discouraged. Caste distinctions were abolished by Guru Gobind Singh. When a disciple becomes a Khalsa, he renounces his previous caste and becomes a memeber of a casteless society:
“The caste of all mankind is one and the same.”