No. Not really, indeed.
Then, how did it creep into Hindu society ? I shall address the volatile issue hereinasunder in it’s entirety that should satisfy all.
Varna system was introduced by Maharsi Manu in order to create an occupational social order to run the society / country smoothly. It is the oldest, highly defined and most sophisticated civil code ever evolved, ever known to humanity and we have every reason to be proud of this precious heritage.
Any society shall need a group to learn / research / teach. Such a group dedicated to the cause were addressed as Brahmana-s imbued with Sattvika proclivities entailing asceticism / renunciation without which the task is almost impossible to be accomplished effectively.
Any society shall need a group to defend / protect all from internal strife as well as external invasions. Such a group dedicated to the cause were addressed as Ksatriya-s imbued with Rajasika proclivities entailing action / strength / power without which the task is almost impossible to be accomplished effectively.
Any society shall need a group to generate wealth / prosperity / economic well-being through trade and commerce. Such a group dedicated to the cause were addressed as Vaisya-s imbued with a blend of Rajasika and Tamasika proclivities entailing continuous action with steadiness without which the task is almost impossible to be accomplished effectively.
Any society shall need a group not only to serve aforesaid three groups but also produce goods / commodities required by all. Such a group dedicated to the cause were addressed as Sudra-s imbued with Tamasika proclivities entailing resolute dedication and steadiness without which the task is almost impossible to be accomplished effectively.
As all elements of human requirement / survival / sustenance / growth have been covered over aforesaid four groups, there was / is no scope for any fifth group at all.
Transmigration of Atma, re-incarnation into another life to redeem unfulfilled desires / to withstand Karmaphala of Karma-s committed in previous lives, are again well-established / proven facts. There is hardly any controversy over this issue.
Another cosmic reality is that Providence ensures, you are born into an ambiance / circumstances / species / clan / community / clime / family to facilitate redemption of unredeemed Karma-s as well as fulfillment of unfulfilled desires. Cosmic machinery ensures proper balance between these two aspects i.e. unfulfilled desires and Karmaphala, with precision.
Karma-s undertaken in a life leave behind their imprints on consciousness known as Samskara-s that decide Guna-s i.e. proclivities / inclination / tendencies. There are three orders of Guna-s, Sattva, Raja and Tama.
When you combine all these cosmic realities, an interesting scenario develops which is illustrated through some real life instances.
If a person leads a Sattva predominant life i.e. Sattvika, possibilitiy of his / her being born to a Sattvika family runs high. That is why generally you find Sattvika proclivities in the progeny born to Sattvika parents. Same is true with persons leading Rajasika / Rajasika–Tamasika / Tamasika orders of life. They are likely to be re-born to Ksatriya, Vaisya and Sudra families respectively.
It was this cosmic reality that was expanded to claim, progeny born to a Brahmana is Brahmana by birth, Ksatriya born to a Ksatriya by birth, Vaisya born to a Vaisya by birth and finally, Sudra born to a Sudra by birth. So the contention and convention of Varna by birth had an illusionary basis which was sanctified as real in due course of time. In reality, Varna used to be allocated by Guru-s in Gurukula after a certain process of observation and examination as those Guru-s used to be highly venerable Siddha Yogi-s. Change of Varna at a later stage owing to some inevitable factor cropped up later, was also permissible and acceptable under Guru’s supervision and with his consent.
If someone expires with a resurgent / unfulfilled desire to be a musician, possibility of his / her being born to an illustrious family of musicians shall run high overriding predominance of Guna-s. After being born to a family of musicians as a proceed of the resurgent / unfulfilled desire of past life to become a musician, subsequent conduct / overall persona shall be guided by the prevailing Guna accumulated in previous / any past birth whichever resurgent, at the moment.
Same cosmic mechanism operates in case of so-called hereditary diseases. Diseases being inherited through Genes is merely an illusion. The real cause is unredeemed Karma that is destined to redeem itself through the agony of a specified disease in a facilitating ambiance.
If someone expires worrying about safety / well-being of his daughter, likelihood of his born as a pet attached to the same daughter runs high as attachment / worrying disposition are highly Tamasika tendencies !!!! In response to a question as to what happens when a house-holder constructs a beautiful house with great care and attachment yet unable to dwell in that owing to sudden demise, an enlightened Yogi responded, chances are very high that he would be a lizard dwelling / crawling in that house in harmony with Tamasika nature of the attachment to the house and the unfulfilled desire to dwell in that !!!
Now a few words about Jati.
The term Jati has always been invoked for communities in Sanatana scriptures and not for what is commonly understood as caste. Hindu–Jati / Stri–Jati / Hun–Jati etc. have been quite common in scriptures. The term of ‘Caste’ does not belong to our lexicon at all. It has it’s roots as ‘Casta’ in Portuguese language and ‘Catus’ in Latin. Profound wisdom enshrined in Manusmriti was defiled by Mughals / Britishers thrusting ill-gotten concept of discrimination and persecution through ‘Caste’ upon us, entirely unfounded and absurd. Their sole objective had been ‘Divide, Rule and Destroy’ Hindu population so as to enable them continue with their endeavour of pillage and plunder. Later, Britishers legalised it by enacting The Criminal Tribes Act 1871 that declared 60 million occupational Hindu-s i.e. 30% population as criminals !! In 1900, Britishers declared it mandatory to suffix ‘surname’ after every name.
Manusmriti is often accused of destroying Hindu society by discrimination and persecution through segmentation. There cannot be any other accusation as absurd and ludicrous as this one. On the contrary, Varna system imparted community-hood, sense of affinity / unity / mutual support and protected the society from several debilitating forces.
If fundamental principles of Manusmriti are retained and the operational component modified in harmony with contemporary developments, it may very well be re-introduced and pursued for the smooth running of society and nation in 21st century.
Indeed, Manusmriti in it’s true form, is always operational and the wisdom, imperishable.