“There is no caste in Hinduism,” he told me, and no evidence would convince him otherwise. Not the fact that all my Hindu friends know precisely what caste they were born into. Nor the fact that all my Hindu students know precisely which castes their parents will not allow them to marry into.
Now comes even sadder evidence for the enduring power of the caste system in Hinduism—yet another honor killing. According to reports in Time, the New York Times, and elsewhere, a 22-year-old Hindu journalist named Nirupama Pathak was found dead after her family found out she was pregnant and intended to marry a man outside of her Brahmin (priestly) caste. The family claims it was a suicide, but police have arrested her mother on charges of murder—murder for the cause of caste.
In my teaching and writing, I have argued repeatedly that all religions, like all people, are a mix of good and bad.
In “God is Not One,” I try to point out areas where each of the great religions succeeds and areas where each fails. In its Mahabharata and Ramayana epics, Hinduism has produced some of the greatest stories ever told. In its goddesses, Hinduism offers models for womanhood lacking in more patriarchal religions. And in its practice of darshan or "sacred seeing," it has developed one of the most beautiful devotions on earth. But the caste system is, as it were, Hinduism’s cross to bear.
According to the Hindu gentleman I sparred with at the White House, caste is social rather than religious. But the roots of caste can be traced back to a story in the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, in which the various social classes are produced from the sacrifice of a primordial man—the priestly class from the mouth, the warrior class from the arms, the merchant class from the thighs, the laboring class from the feet (Rig Veda 90:10).