Under the Hindu caste system, the shudras are the lowest and largest caste. Traditionally, shudras have worked in service, as slaves or practitioners of unskilled trades. While members of this caste are not as maligned as Dalits or untouchables, they still face a great deal of discrimination from members of higher castes. In the 20th century, numerous organizations have worked for equality in India, abolishing the caste system and aiming to create a more egalitarian society. Many social reforms have been instituted since the independence movement in India, making life very different for the Shudra, among many others.
The roots of the caste system can be found in the vedas, religious texts which are crucial to the practice of Hindusim. According to the vedas, there are four varna, or castes. The highest caste, the Brahmins, are scholars and priests. The Kshatriya are warriors and rulers, while the Vaishya are merchants and skilled artisans. Under this system, the Shudra is the largest caste, and a substantial part of Hindu society. People without caste are known by a variety of terms.
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The Shudra have classically lived lives of service. Slaves were often classified as Shudra, as were cobblers, blacksmiths, maids, cooks, and so forth. They have typically not been accorded the same rights as higher castes, forced to use different temples and public facilities. Over the centuries of the caste system, this led to a great deal of resentment among the Shudra.
Since the rigid caste system did not historically allow for upward mobility, members of this caste were stuck in positions of servility. As the caste system evolved to become hereditary, this meant that multiple generations were stuck in service. As more egalitarian religions became widespread in Asia, many Shudras converted to them, seeking a belief system which supported equal rights and opportunity for all. The Shudra caste was also a strong supporter of reform movements such as that which ultimately lead to the abolishment of the caste system through the Indian Constitution.
Under the Constitution, the caste system is not supposed to determine one's place in society. In practice, however, this is not always the case, especially in rural parts of India. While Shudras are certainly in theory welcome to marry into other castes or become merchants, warriors, priests, and rulers, many find this difficult. Numerous organizations in India work towards greater equality among the castes, and for more rights among the lower castes and Dalits.