When and Why Was the Caste System Abolished by Law in India?

The Indian caste system, which has been a part of the societal hierarchy of the Hindu religion since its beginnings in 3000 B.C., was legally abolished in 1949. The chief drafter of the 1949 Constitution of the Republic of India, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, described the caste system as a deterrent to social mobility that prevented technological and scientific advancement, caused famines and discouraged society from recognizing the civic respect that should be accorded all human beings.

Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, argued that it was a sin against God and man for one individual to assume superiority over another. Gandhi opposed the lifelong and unchangeable differences in status resulting from a person's birth that were imposed on Indian society by the caste system.

The traditional caste system divisions, in descending hierarchical order, are: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Each caste defines not only social status, but also the acceptable and expected occupations. Below the four caste divisions are the Dalits, or untouchables, who were considered unclean and were ostracized from the rest of Indian society.