Caste System and Sikhism
At the times of Guru nanak and his successors, Hindu society was divided in caste distinctions. An individual's status was ascribed on the basis of his birth into a particular caste. Social intercourse between members of different castes was minimal. The caste status was also closely linked to one's traditional occupation and was the symbol caste identity within society. Marriages were performed on the basis of one's caste. Intra caste marriages were prohibited. Each caste has its council which was responsible for enforcing these caste laws.
Being aware of the destructive impact of the caste system on the social, relegious and cultural fabric of indian society, sikh gurus vehemently rejected the caste system. As sikh gurus were against any institutional inequality or caste exclusiveness.
According to the ideology of caste system, Hindu society is divided into four caste groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Anybody outside the caste sytem was treated as untouchables.
There is a hierarchy of these caste groups.The first three are called 'twice born' because only the men of these high caste groups are entitled to the initiation ceremony and wearing the sacred thread. And only these groups were entitled to hear the Vedas. Thus both the shudras and Hindu women were excluded from the privilege of the initiation ceremony and wearing the sacred thread. Guru Nanak took the opposite view and condemned the diffrential treatment of Hindu women, preaching instead the equiality of both sexes. He said: 'How can we call her polluted from whom the noblest of the world are born?'
Sikh gurus not merely condemn and denounce the caste system but took some practical steps to eradicate social devisions within Hindu society. Institutions of langar had not only the sole purpose of providing the food to needfull but also a practice to show equality of all those sitting in the pangat without any distinctions.