The caste system in India has been a subject of much controversy. It was supposed to be an identification of man’s inbuilt inclinations and capacities, but gradually this truth was lost and it morphed into a mechanical system for slotting people into various social categories based on their birth in a certain family. It thus became a vehicle for stigma and discrimination. The Dalits are much discriminated against, there is no doubt. Sri Aurobindo points out the true origin of the caste system – how the four castes are actually four latent powers (caturvyuha) within Man which must be perfected by every person on the spiritual path. The Brahmin represents the faculty of knowledge, ethics and learning, the Kshatriya represents valour, the Vaishya represents commerce and relationship of harmony, while the Shudra represents perfection in work.
In contemporary terms:
Brahmin = intelligentsia.
Kshatriya = people involved in governance.
Vaishya = capitalists.
Shudra = labour.
"We must realise that the ancient Aryan Rishis meant by the Chaturvarnya (four castes) not a mere social division, but a recognition of God manifesting Himself in fundamental Swabhava(individual nature), which our bodily distinctions, our social orders are merely an attempt to organise in the symbols of human life, often a confused attempt, often a mere parody and distortion of the divine thing they try to express. Every man has in himself all the four Dharmas, but one predominates, in one he is born and that strikes the note of his character and determines the type and cast of all his actions; the rest subordinated to the dominant type and helps to give it its complement. No Brahmana is a complete Brahmana unless he has the Kshatratejas in him, the Vaishyashakti and the Shudrashakti, but all these have to serve in him the fullness of his Brahmanyam. God manifests Himself as the four Prajapatis or Manus, catvāro manavah of the Gita, and each man is born in the amśa of one of the four; the first characterised by wisdom and largeness, the second by heroism and force, the third by dexterity and enjoy- ment, the fourth by work and service. The perfected man develops in himself all four capacities and contains at once the god of wisdom and largeness, the god of heroism and force, the god of skill and enjoyment, the god of work and service. Only one stands dominant and leads and uses the others.
Sri Aurobindo, Supplement: Shakti-Chatushtaya
"The fundamental truth is not this outward thing, but a force of our inner being in movement, the truth of the fourfold active power of the spiritual nature. Each Jiva possesses in his spiritual nature these four sides, is a soul of knowledge, a soul of strength and of power, a soul of mutuality and interchange, a soul of works and service, but one side or other predominates in the action and expressive spirit and tinges the dealings of the soul with its embodied nature; it leads and gives its stamp to the other powers and uses them for the principal strain of action, tendency, experience. The Swabhava then follows, not crudely and rigidly as put in the social demarcation, but subtly and flexibly the law of this strain and develops in developing it the other three powers. Thus the pursuit of the impulse of works and service rightly done develops knowledge, increases power, trains closeness or balance of mutuality and skill and order of relation. Each front of the fourfold godhead moves through the enlargement of its own dominant principle of nature and enrichment by the other three towards a total perfection. This development undergoes the law of the three gunas. There is possible a tamasic and rajasic way of following even the dharma of the soul of knowledge, a brute tamasic and a high sattwic way of following the dharma of power, a forceful rajasic or a beautiful and noble sattwic way of following the dharma of works and service. To arrive at the sattwic way of the inner individual Swadharma and of the works to which it moves us on the ways of life is a preliminary condition of perfection. And it may be noted that the inner Swadharma is not bound to any outward social or other form of action, occupation or function. The soul of works or that element in us that is satisfied to serve, can, for example, make the life of the pursuit of knowledge, the life of struggle and power or the life of mutuality, production and interchange a means of satisfying its divine impulse to labour and to service.