Several social institutions are attributed to Hinduism–the practice of caste-system being one that has led to a hierarchical society where everyone is equal in theory but none is so in practice. The historical practice of Sati is another example. However, these social institutions have nothing to do with the sacred Hindu religion itself.
In the venerable Purusha Suktam, there are a couple of lines that translate to this: Brahmins (pundits) are like the face, the Kshatriyas (kings) are like the arms, the Vyshyas (businesspeople) are like the trunk, and the Shudras (workers) are like the legs of God. While some have wrongly interpreted this to suggest that one is above the other, there is no basis for this. Is the face superior to trunk? Can we say the arms are more important than the legs? These lines of Purusha Suktam are often used to link Hinduism with the emergence of the caste system. However, the caste system is a division of labour system that existed amongst the people inhabiting Bharat. The Purusha Suktam enlightens by suggesting that all caste groups are like different limbs of One God–they all are essential for the body of God to function, so none is more or less important than the other. The Hindu religion ordains that all are treated equally.
While divinity is worshipped as mother across India, the abominable practice of Sati was also prevalent in the Indian society at one point in time. It was accepted as a social evil and banned in the nineteenth century– mainly by the efforts of Raja Ramamohan Roy, the founder of Brahma Samaj. While this social practice prevailed in India, it would be incorrect to link it to the Hindu religion. The fallacy of such attribution is evident when one looks at logic like this: some individuals get into adultery, and they follow Religion R, so Religion R encourages infidelity. It is utterly fallacious to draw such conclusions. The Hindu religion accords the highest respect to a woman. Matru Devo Bhava (mother is God), Pitru Devo Bhava (father is God) it proclaims and puts mother first amongst people who should be revered. The givers of knowledge, wealth and courage are all forms of the divine mother in the Hindu religion.
While the eternal knowledge in Upanishads proclaimed the oneness of life, people who failed to grasp this fundamental basis of Hindu religion were responsible for misconstruing social institutions as vehicles for discrimination. If the Upanishadic knowledge emphatically proclaiming the truth that every individual is an expression of God is taken to every doorstep, the social institutions will evolve and get refreshed to be what they are meant to be. The magnificence of Hindu thought can only liberate not bind.