(Last Updated on : 10/01/2011)
Jainism divides mankind into a caste system which is further divided into numerous sub-castes (Jatis). All sorts of beings belong to Jainism, but it does not mean that they are equal in their status. All Jivas are divided into four levels of existence; gods, human beings, animals and beings in hell. Each one of them has a number of classes which are precisely distinguished from one another, and the individual classes are further divided into subclasses. The uppermost three castes are called "twice-born" because their males experience a second, spiritual birth by a special consecration in which they are encircled by a holy thread (or, at least are supposed to be encircled). The castes of Brahmanas or the priests, Kshatriyas or the warriors and Vaishyas or the businessmen are the "twice-born".
The present grouping of humanity in castes and sub castes was not, according to the Jaina-theologians, always prevalent. In the first, lucky eras of the world-period all men were equal. The division into castes came only during Risabha's period, and besides, there were only three castes at the beginning: Kshatriyas who were supposed to protect humanity with the help of the weapons, Vaishyas who were to look after trade, agriculture and cattle-breeding and Sudras whose duty it was to do all sorts of works. Sudras were divided into two groups: workmen and others. The former were either "touchable", i.e. ritually pure (like barbers) or impure (like those who have to live segregated from others). Caste-system experienced further development under Bharata. An important aspect of caste system among the Jainas is that the followers of the Jaina-religion are compelled to marry the members of the other religious communities because their all-powerful code of the caste does not permit them to marry a person from their own community, but coming from a different caste.
Bharata had founded the Brahmana caste among the Jains. It is certain that in the older historical periods of Jainism there was no such division of the society, as it is now, into a countless number of "Jatis" which cannot eat with one another nor marry among one another. The four Varnas appear to be originally ranks and belonging to them was conditioned more by profession than by birth. Even the social respect given to the different castes was a different one among the Jainas in the old period.
The cast of today form fixed organized bodies which regulate the private life of their members by their precepts on marriage, food and avoidance of ritual impurity and this is done to the smallest detail. A special body called the Panchayat watches over the strict implementation of the cast-laws and offences against the caste-order are punished by it.
Efforts are being made presently by the enlightened Jainas to break the rigid barriers of the caste system. Thus it is reported that hundred people from the castes of the Chaturthas and Panchamas pledged in writing not to acknowledge any difference between the two castes in future.
Quite a majority of Jainas belong today, as since centuries, to the rank of businessmen, Baniyas. There are castes of businessmen in great numbers.