Can you imagine that we are living in a country where wealth and social stature was measured in terms of the number of cows that one possessed? In the vedic period, wars were being fought for cows (Gavishti). Whether professions led to the creation of caste or castes decided profession is a chicken and egg problem that is not yet solved. One thing that remains clear is the fact that caste (which was also a function of profession or vice versa) was a major determinant of a person’s social stature.
Caste being an ascriptive status acted as a barrier for social mobility. Brahmins at the apex and Shudras at the bottom was a fixed social hierarchy though some historians claim that some mobility did exist between certain strata of the society. During the Mughal and the colonial regime, land became a decisive factor in determining the position of an individual in the social hierarchy. Such a feeling still exists in some rural societies. Observe that this was a major breakthrough in challenging the traditional caste based social hierarchy. The presence of foreign rulers could be the reason.
Things have changed drastically in the present age. With freedom came the ideas of liberty, equality, fraternity, etc enshrined in the constitution. Many people worked for the uplift of the downtrodden and correction of the past practices which still continue in the form of positive discrimination.
Knowledge has become a major determinant of one’s social position. Knowledge which can be achieved arms the Indians today to reach upper echelons of the society realizing the Napoleon ideal that “Nothing is impossible”. We are heading towards a knowledge economy. The more the knowledge you have, the more are your chances to be in the upper strata of the society.