CASTE AND THE WOMEN OF INDIA
Everybody who keeps in touch with the slowly changing social conditions in India is convinced that the caste, the most important fetich of the Hindus, is gradually losing its hold, particularly upon the upper classes, because they cannot adjust it to the requirements of modern civilization and to the foreign customs they imitate and value so highly. Very high authorities have predicted in my hearing that caste will be practically obsolete within the next fifty years, and entirely disappear before the end of the century, provided the missionaries and other reformers will let it alone and not keep it alive by controversy. It is a sacred fetich, and when it is attacked the loyal Hindu is compelled to defend and justify it, no matter what his private opinion of its practicability and advantages may be, but, if foreigners will ignore it, the progressive, cultured Hindus will themselves discard it. The influences of travel, official and commercial relations, and social intercourse with foreigners, personal ambition for preferment in the military and the civil service, the adoption of modern customs and other agencies are at work undermining the institution, and when a Hindu finds that its laws interfere with his comfort or convenience, he is very certain to ignore them. The experience of the Maharaja of Jeypore, told in a previous chapter, is not unusual. His case is only one of thousands, for nearly every native prince and wealthy Hindu has broken caste again and again without suffering the slightest disadvantage, which has naturally made them indifferent.
Travelers see very little of this peculiar institution, and it is so complicated that they cannot comprehend it without months of study. They notice that half the men they meet on the streets have odd looking signs upon their foreheads. Ryas, our bearer, calls them “god marks,” but they are entirely artificial, and indicate the particular deity which the wearer is in the habit of worshiping, as well as the caste to which he belongs. A white triangle means Krishna, and a red circle means Siva—the two greatest gods—or vice versa, I have forgotten which, and Hindus who are inclined to let their light shine before men spread on these symbols with great care and regularity. At every temple, every market place, at the places where Hindus go to