There are four varnas - Brahmin, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. We identify "varnas" with "jatis". In point of fact, varna and jati are not the same. The varnas are only the four mentioned above, that is Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Within each there are many jatis. Among Brahmins there are Ayyars, Ayyangars, Raos, and so on. In the fourth varna there are Mudaliars, Pillais, Reddis, Naikkars, Nayudus, Gaundars, Padayacis.
In common parlance jati is used for varna. I am also using the two as interchangeable terms.
The sastras lay down separate rites and practices for the four jatis (that is the four varnas). This means that within the fold of the same religion, Hinduism, there athe vre numerous differences. Food cooked by one caste is not to be eaten by the another. A young man belonging to one jati is not to marry a girl belonging to another. The vocation practised by one jati is not to be practiced by the another. The differences are indeed far too many.
Apart from the large number of divisions in each varna already existing, more and more divisions (or jatis) are coming into being. Thus Hinduism appears to be a strange religion.
Hindus today feel ashamed of the fact that a religion of which they have otherwise reason to be proud (because it once belonged to the whole world) should have so many differences in it. Other religions too have their dos and don'ts. The Ten Commandments are meant for all Christians. So are the injunctions of the Quran for all Muslims. But in Hinduism the dos and don'ts are not the same for all. What one man does as part of his dharma becomes adharma if done by another. For instance, it is dharma for one man to wear the sacred thread and chant the Vedas, while the same is adharma for another. If the person who chants the Vedas does not bathe and keep his stomach empty he will be guilty of adharma. Another, however, need not necessarily bathe nor observe fasts. When I see that our religion is still alive with all these differences, I am reminded of the words of a great man. . "That one day all of us will die is not to be wondered at. The real wonder is that we have nine openings (or gates) in our body but our life do not escape through any of them. "
Navadvare sarire' smin ayuh sravati santanam
Jivatityadbhutam tatra gacchatiti kim adbhutam
Similarly one must wonder at the fact that our religion is still alive in spite of all its differences and in spite of the fact that people are troubled by doubts about the same.
For the same it is offence to chant the Vedas, while for the others it is an offence not to chant the same. Why should there be so many differences in our religion and why should it seem to be discriminatory? Some feel that it is shameful even to speak about the differences and believe that they are a blot on our faith, which has otherwise many worthy features. While some Hindus try to satisfy themselves about these somehow, many find them to be a constant irritant. Then there are also people who feel angry about these differences and turn atheists as a reaction to the same.
Some are at heart proud of Hinduism but want the varna system to be scrapped and all Hindus to form a single class without any distinction as is the case with the followers of other religions. "The Vedas must be thrown open to all and there must be one common form of worship for all", they declare. "We must do away with the system of separate religious rites and practices." Some go further and claim that such was the concept obtaining in our religion during the time of our forefathers. "The original thinkers of our religion who proclaimed the oneness of the individual self and the Paramatman, "they argue, "would not have believed in such differences among the individual souls. Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita that the vocations are assigned to people according to differences in their nature, not according to their birth." So they hold caste to be a blot on our religion and believe that the system of hereditary occupations did not originally obtain but was a later invention.
We must examine these views in some detail.
For a general background, please see here