Indian caste system wiki

Indian caste system wiki DEFAULT


Formal and informal social stratification and classification which confers status

For other uses, see Caste (disambiguation).

Caste is a form of social stratification characterised by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution.[1] Its paradigmatic ethnographic example is the division of India's Hindu society into rigid social groups, with roots in India's ancient history and persisting to the present time.[1] However, the economic significance of the caste system in India has been declining as a result of urbanisation and affirmative action programs. A subject of much scholarship by sociologists and anthropologists, the Hindu caste system is sometimes used as an analogical basis for the study of caste-like social divisions existing outside Hinduism and India. The term "caste" is also applied to morphological groupings in eusocial insects such as ants, bees, and termites.[5]


The English word "caste" () derives from the Spanish and Portuguese casta, which, according to the John Minsheu's Spanish dictionary (), means "race, lineage, tribe or breed".[6] When the Spanish colonised the New World, they used the word to mean a "clan or lineage". It was, however, the Portuguese who first employed casta in the primary modern sense of the English word 'caste' when they applied it to the thousands of endogamous, hereditary Indian social groups they encountered upon their arrival in India in [6][7] The use of the spelling "caste", with this latter meaning, is first attested in English in [6]

In South Asia[edit]


Main articles: Caste system in India and Caste system among South Asian Muslims

Modern India's caste system is based on the colonial superimposition of the Portuguese word casta on the four-fold theoretical classification called Varna and on natural social groupings called Jāti. From onwards, for the purposes of the Decennial Census, the British classified all Jātis into one or the other of the Varna categories as described in ancient texts. Herbert Hope Risley, the Census Commissioner, noted that "The principle suggested as a basis was that of classification by social precedence as recognized by native public opinion at the present day, and manifesting itself in the facts that particular castes are supposed to be the modern representatives of one or other of the castes of the theoretical Indian system."[8]

Varna, as mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, describes society as divided into four categories: Brahmins (scholars and yajna priests), Kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), Vaishyas (farmers, merchants and artisans) and Shudras (workmen/service providers). The texts do not mention any hierarchy or a separate, untouchable category in Varna classifications. Scholars believe that the Varnas system was never truly operational in society and there is no evidence of it ever being a reality in Indian history. The practical division of the society had always been in terms of Jatis (birth groups), which are not based on any specific religious principle, but could vary from ethnic origins to occupations to geographic areas. The Jātis have been endogamous social groups without any fixed hierarchy but subject to vague notions of rank articulated over time based on lifestyle and social, political or economic status. Many of India's major empires and dynasties like the Mauryas,[9] Shalivahanas,[10] Chalukyas,[11] Kakatiyas[12] among many others, were founded by people who would have been classified as Shudras, under the Varnas system. It is well established that by the 9th century, kings from all the four Varnas, including Brahmins and Vaishyas, had occupied the highest seat in the monarchical system in Hindu India, contrary to the Varna theory.[13] In many instances, as in Bengal, historically the kings and rulers had been called upon, when required, to mediate on the ranks of Jātis, which might number in thousands all over the subcontinent and vary by region. In practice, the jātis may or may not fit into the Varna classes and many prominent Jatis, for example the Jats and Yadavs, straddled two Varnas i.e. Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, and the Varna status of Jātis itself was subject to articulation over time.

Starting with the British colonial Census of led by Herbert Hope Risley, all the jātis were grouped under the theoretical varnas categories.[14] According to political scientist Lloyd Rudolph, Risley believed that varna, however ancient, could be applied to all the modern castes found in India, and "[he] meant to identify and place several hundred million Indians within it."[15] In an effort to arrange various castes in order of precedence functional grouping was based less on the occupation that prevailed in each case in the present day than on that which was traditional with it, or which gave rise to its differentiation from the rest of the community. "This action virtually removed Indians from the progress of history and condemned them to an unchanging position and place in time. In one sense, it is rather ironic that the British, who continually accused the Indian people of having a static society, should then impose a construct that denied progress"[16] The terms varna (conceptual classification based on occupation) and jāti (groups) are two distinct concepts: while varna is a theoretical four-part division, jāti (community) refers to the thousands of actual endogamous social groups prevalent across the subcontinent. The classical authors scarcely speak of anything other than the varnas, as it provided a convenient shorthand; but a problem arises when colonial Indologists sometimes confuse the two.[17] Thus, starting with the Census, caste officially became India's essential institution, with an imprimatur from the British administrators, augmenting a discourse that had already dominated Indology. "Despite India's acquisition of formal political independence, it has still not regained the power to know its own past and present apart from that discourse".[18]

An image of a man and woman from the toddy-tapping community in Malabar from the manuscript Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India, which consists of 72 full-color hand-painted images of men and women of various religions, occupations and ethnic groups found in Madura, Indiain , which confirms the popular perception and nature of caste as Jati, before the British made it applicable only to Hindus grouped under the varnacategories from the census onwards.

Upon independence from Britain, the Indian Constitution listed 1, castes across the country as Scheduled Castes in , for positive discrimination.[19] The Untouchable communities are sometimes called Scheduled Castes, Dalit or Harijan in contemporary literature.[20] In , Dalits were % of India's population.[21] Most of the 15 million bonded child workers are from the lowest castes.[22][23] Independent India has witnessed caste-related violence. In , government recorded approximately , cases of reported violent acts, including rape and murder, against Dalits.[24] For , the government recorded murders, 3, injuries, 1, rapes, kidnappings, and cases of arson.[25]

The socio-economic limitations of the caste system are reduced due to urbanisation and affirmative action. Nevertheless, the caste system still exists in endogamy and patrimony, and thrives in the politics of democracy, where caste provides ready made constituencies to politicians. The globalisation and economic opportunities from foreign businesses has influenced the growth of India's middle-class population. Some members of the Chhattisgarh Potter Caste Community (CPCC) are middle-class urban professionals and no longer potters unlike the remaining majority of traditional rural potter members. There is persistence of caste in Indian politics. Caste associations have evolved into caste-based political parties. Political parties and the state perceive caste as an important factor for mobilisation of people and policy development.[26]

Studies by Bhatt and Beteille have shown changes in status, openness, mobility in the social aspects of Indian society. As a result of modern socio-economic changes in the country, India is experiencing significant changes in the dynamics and the economics of its social sphere.[27] While arranged marriages are still the most common practice in India, the internet has provided a network for younger Indians to take control of their relationships through the use of dating apps. This remains isolated to informal terms, as marriage is not often achieved through the use of these apps.[28]Hypergamy is still a common practice in India and Hindu culture. Men are expected to marry within their caste, or one below, with no social repercussions. If a woman marries into a higher caste, then her children will take the status of their father. If she marries down, her family is reduced to the social status of their son in law. In this case, the women are bearers of the egalitarian principle of the marriage. There would be no benefit in marrying a higher caste if the terms of the marriage did not imply equality.[29] However, men are systematically shielded from the negative implications of the agreement.

Geographical factors also determine adherence to the caste system. Many Northern villages are more likely to participate in exogamous marriage, due to a lack of eligible suitors within the same caste. Women in North India have been found to be less likely to leave or divorce their husbands since they are of a relatively lower caste system, and have higher restrictions on their freedoms. On the other hand, Pahari women, of the northern mountains, have much more freedom to leave their husbands without stigma. This often leads to better husbandry as his actions are not protected by social expectations.[30]

Chiefly among the factors influencing the rise of exogamy is the rapid urbanisation in India experienced over the last century. It is well known that urban centers tend to be less reliant on agriculture and are more progressive as a whole. As India's cities boomed in population, the job market grew to keep pace. Prosperity and stability were now more easily attained by an individual, and the anxiety to marry quickly and effectively was reduced. Thus, younger, more progressive generations of urban Indians are less likely than ever to participate in the antiquated system of arranged endogamy.

India has also implemented a form of Affirmative Action, locally known as "reservation groups". Quota system jobs, as well as placements in publicly funded colleges, hold spots for the 8% of India's minority, and underprivileged groups. As a result, in states such as Tamil Nadu or those in the north-east, where underprivileged populations predominate, over 80% of government jobs are set aside in quotas. In education, colleges lower the marks necessary for the Dalits to enter.[31]


Main article: Caste system in Nepal

The Nepalese caste system resembles in some respects the Indian jāti system, with numerous jāti divisions with a varna system superimposed. Inscriptions attest the beginnings of a caste system during the Licchavi period. Jayasthiti Malla (–) categorised Newars into 64 castes (Gellner ). A similar exercise was made during the reign of Mahindra Malla (–). The Hindu social code was later set up in Gorkha by Ram Shah (–).


Main article: Caste system among South Asian Muslims

McKim Marriott claims a social stratification that is hierarchical, closed, endogamous and hereditary is widely prevalent, particularly in western parts of Pakistan. Frederik Barth in his review of this system of social stratification in Pakistan suggested that these are castes.[32][33][34]

Sri Lanka[edit]

Main article: Caste system in Sri Lanka

The caste system in Sri Lanka is a division of society into strata,[35] influenced by the textbook varnas and jāti system found in India. Ancient Sri Lankan texts such as the Pujavaliya, Sadharmaratnavaliya and Yogaratnakaraya and inscriptional evidence show that the above hierarchy prevailed throughout the feudal period. The repetition of the same caste hierarchy even as recently as the 18th century, in the British/Kandyan period Kadayimpoth – Boundary books as well indicates the continuation of the tradition right up to the end of Sri Lanka's monarchy.


Southeast Asia[edit]


Main article: Balinese caste system

Balinese caste structure has been described as being based either on three categories—the noble triwangsa (thrice born), the middle class of dwijāti (twice born), and the lower class of ekajāti (once born)--or on four castes[36]

The Brahmana caste was further subdivided by Dutch ethnographers into two: Siwa and Buda. The Siwa caste was subdivided into five: Kemenuh, Keniten, Mas, Manuba and Petapan. This classification was to accommodate the observed marriage between higher-caste Brahmana men with lower-caste women. The other castes were similarly further sub-classified by 19th-century and earlyth-century ethnographers based on numerous criteria ranging from profession, endogamy or exogamy or polygamy, and a host of other factors in a manner similar to castas in Spanish colonies such as Mexico, and caste system studies in British colonies such as India.[36]


In the Philippines, pre-colonial societies do not have a single social structure. The class structures can be roughly categorised into four types:[37]

  • Classless societies - egalitarian societies with no class structure. Examples include the Mangyan and the Kalanguya peoples.[37]
  • Warrior societies - societies where a distinct warrior class exists, and whose membership depends on martial prowess. Examples include the Mandaya, Bagobo, Tagakaulo, and B'laan peoples who had warriors called the bagani or magani. Similarly, in the Cordillera highlands of Luzon, the Isneg and Kalinga peoples refer to their warriors as mengal or maingal. This society is typical for head-hunting ethnic groups or ethnic groups which had seasonal raids (mangayaw) into enemy territory.[37]
  • Petty plutocracies - societies which have a wealthy class based on property and the hosting of periodic prestige feasts. In some groups, it was an actual caste whose members had specialised leadership roles, married only within the same caste, and wore specialised clothing. These include the kadangyan of the Ifugao, Bontoc, and Kankanaey peoples, as well as the baknang of the Ibaloi people. In others, though wealth may give one prestige and leadership qualifications, it was not a caste per se.[37]
  • Principalities - societies with an actual ruling class and caste systems determined by birthright. Most of these societies are either Indianized or Islamized to a degree. They include the larger coastal ethnic groups like the Tagalog, Kapampangan, Visayan, and Moro societies. Most of them were usually divided into four to five caste systems with different names under different ethnic groups that roughly correspond to each other. The system was more or less feudalistic, with the datu ultimately having control of all the lands of the community. The land is subdivided among the enfranchised classes, the sakop or sa-op (vassals, lit. "those under the power of another"). The castes were hereditary, though they were not rigid. They were more accurately a reflection of the interpersonal political relationships, a person is always the follower of another. People can move up the caste system by marriage, by wealth, or by doing something extraordinary; and conversely they can be demoted, usually as criminal punishment or as a result of debt. Shamans are the exception, as they are either volunteers, chosen by the ranking shamans, or born into the role by innate propensity for it. They are enumerated below from the highest rank to the lowest:[37][38][39]
  • Royalty - (Visayan: kadatoan) the datu and immediate descendants. They are often further categorised according to purity of lineage. The power of the datu is dependent on the willingness of their followers to render him respect and obedience. Most roles of the datu were judicial and military. In case of an unfit datu, support may be withdrawn by his followers. Datu were almost always male, though in some ethnic groups like the Banwaon people, the female shaman (babaiyon) co-rules as the female counterpart of the datu.
  • Nobility - (Visayan: tumao; Tagalog: maginoo; Kapampanganginu; Tausug: bangsa mataas) the ruling class, either inclusive of or exclusive of the royal family. Most are descendants of the royal line or gained their status through wealth or bravery in battle. They owned lands and subjects, from whom they collected taxes.
  • Shamans - (Visayan: babaylan; Tagalog: katalonan) the spirit mediums, usually female or feminised men. While they weren't technically a caste, they commanded the same respect and status as nobility.
  • Warriors - (Visayan: timawa; Tagalog: maharlika) the martial class. They could own land and subjects like the higher ranks, but were required to fight for the datu in times of war. In some Filipino ethnic groups, they were often tattooed extensively to record feats in battle and as protection against harm. They were sometimes further subdivided into different classes, depending on their relationship with the datu. They traditionally went on seasonal raids on enemy settlements.
  • Commoners and slaves - (Visayan, Maguindanao: ulipon; Tagalog: alipin; Tausug: kiapangdilihan; Maranao: kakatamokan) - the lowest class composed of the rest of the community who were not part of the enfranchised classes. They were further subdivided into the commoner class who had their own houses, the servants who lived in the houses of others, and the slaves who were usually captives from raids, criminals, or debtors. Most members of this class were equivalent to the European serf class, who paid taxes and can be conscripted to communal tasks, but were more or less free to do as they please.

East Asia[edit]

China and Mongolia[edit]

During the period of Yuan Dynasty, ruler Kublai Khan enforced a Four Class System, which was a legal caste system. The order of four classes of people in descending order were:

Today, the Hukou system is argued by various Western sources to be the current caste system of China.[40][41][42]


See also: Social classes of Tibet

There is significant controversy over the social classes of Tibet, especially with regards to the serfdom in Tibet controversy.

Heidi Fjeld&#;[no] has put forth the argument that pres Tibetan society was functionally a caste system, in contrast to previous scholars who defined the Tibetan social class system as similar to European feudal serfdom, as well as non-scholarly western accounts which seek to romanticise a supposedly 'egalitarian' ancient Tibetan society.


Main article: Edo society

In Japan's history, social strata based on inherited position rather than personal merit, were rigid and highly formalised in a system called mibunsei (身分制). At the top were the Emperor and Court nobles (kuge), together with the Shōgun and daimyō. Below them, the population was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, craftsmen and merchants. Only samurai were allowed to bear arms. A samurai had a right to kill any peasants, craftsman or merchant who he felt were disrespectful. Merchants were the lowest caste because they did not produce any products. The castes were further sub-divided; for example, peasants were labelled as furiuri, tanagari, mizunomi-byakusho among others. As in Europe, the castes and sub-classes were of the same race, religion and culture.

Howell, in his review of Japanese society notes that if a Western power had colonised Japan in the 19th century, they would have discovered and imposed a rigid four-caste hierarchy in Japan.[43]

De Vos and Wagatsuma observe that Japanese society had a systematic and extensive caste system. They discuss how alleged caste impurity and alleged racial inferiority, concepts often assumed to be different, are superficial terms, and are due to identical inner psychological processes, which expressed themselves in Japan and elsewhere.[44]

Endogamy was common because marriage across caste lines was socially unacceptable.[44][45]

Japan had its own untouchable caste, shunned and ostracised, historically referred to by the insulting term Eta, now called Burakumin. While modern law has officially abolished the class hierarchy, there are reports of discrimination against the Buraku or Burakumin underclasses.[46] The Burakumin are regarded as "ostracised".[47] The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō and those of residents of Korean and Chinese descent.


A typical Yangban family scene from The Yoon family had an enduring presence in Korean politics from the s until the s.

The baekjeong (백정) were an "untouchable" outcaste of Korea. The meaning today is that of butcher. It originates in the Khitan invasion of Korea in the 11th century. The defeated Khitans who surrendered were settled in isolated communities throughout Goryeo to forestall rebellion. They were valued for their skills in hunting, herding, butchering, and making of leather, common skill sets among nomads. Over time, their ethnic origin was forgotten, and they formed the bottom layer of Korean society.

In , with the foundation of the Confucian Joseon dynasty, Korea systemised its own native class system. At the top were the two official classes, the Yangban, which literally means "two classes". It was composed of scholars (munban) and warriors (muban). Scholars had a significant social advantage over the warriors. Below were the jung-in (중인-中人: literally "middle people". This was a small class of specialised professions such as medicine, accounting, translators, regional bureaucrats, etc. Below that were the sangmin (상민-常民: literally 'commoner'), farmers working their own fields. Korea also had a serf population known as the nobi. The nobi population could fluctuate up to about one third of the population, but on average the nobi made up about 10% of the total population.[48] In , the vast majority of government nobi were emancipated,[49] and by the nobi population stood at about % of the total population of Korea.[50] The hereditary nobi system was officially abolished around –87 and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of ,[50] but traces remained until

The opening of Korea to foreign Christian missionary activity in the late 19th century saw some improvement in the status of the baekjeong. However, everyone was not equal under the Christian congregation, and even so protests erupted when missionaries tried to integrate baekjeong into worship, with non-baekjeong finding this attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage.[citation needed] Around the same time, the baekjeong began to resist open social discrimination.[51] They focused on social and economic injustices affecting them, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by upper class, authorities, and "commoners", and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.[52]

With the Gabo reform of , the class system of Korea was officially abolished. Following the collapse of the Gabo government, the new cabinet, which became the Gwangmu government after the establishment of the Korean Empire, introduced systematic measures for abolishing the traditional class system. One measure was the new household registration system, reflecting the goals of formal social equality, which was implemented by the loyalists' cabinet. Whereas the old registration system signified household members according to their hierarchical social status, the new system called for an occupation.[53]

While most Koreans by then had surnames and even bongwan, although still substantial number of cheonmin, mostly consisted of serfs and slaves, and untouchables did not. According to the new system, they were then required to fill in the blanks for surname in order to be registered as constituting separate households. Instead of creating their own family name, some cheonmins appropriated their masters' surname, while others simply took the most common surname and its bongwan in the local area. Along with this example, activists within and outside the Korean government had based their visions of a new relationship between the government and people through the concept of citizenship, employing the term inmin ("people") and later, kungmin ("citizen").[53]

North Korea[edit]

Main article: Songbun

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported that "Every North Korean citizen is assigned a heredity-based class and socio-political rank over which the individual exercises no control but which determines all aspects of his or her life."[54] Called Songbun, Barbara Demick describes this "class structure" as an updating of the hereditary "caste system", a combination of Confucianism and Stalinism.[55] She claims that a bad family background is called "tainted blood", and that by law this "tainted blood" lasts three generations.[56]

West Asia[edit]

Further information: Yazidi

Yezidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader is a hereditary emir or prince, whereas a chief sheikh heads the religious hierarchy. The Yazidi are strictly endogamous; members of the three Yazidi castes, the murids, sheikhs and pirs, marry only within their group.


Pre-Islamic Sassanid society was immensely complex, with separate systems of social organisation governing numerous different groups within the empire.[57] Historians believe society comprised four[58][59][60]social classes, which linguistic analysis indicates may have been referred to collectively as "pistras".[61] The classes, from highest to lowest status, were priests (Persian: Asravan&#;), warriors (Persian: Arteshtaran&#;), secretaries (Persian: Dabiran&#;), and commoners (Persian: Vastryoshan&#;).


Further information: Al-Akhdam

In Yemen there exists a hereditary caste, the African-descended Al-Akhdam who are kept as perennial manual workers. Estimates put their number at over million residents who are discriminated, out of a total Yemeni population of around 22 million.[62]


Main article: Caste system in Africa

Various sociologists have reported caste systems in Africa.[63][64][65] The specifics of the caste systems have varied in ethnically and culturally diverse Africa, however the following features are common – it has been a closed system of social stratification, the social status is inherited, the castes are hierarchical, certain castes are shunned while others are merely endogamous and exclusionary.[66] In some cases, concepts of purity and impurity by birth have been prevalent in Africa. In other cases, such as the Nupe of Nigeria, the Beni Amer of East Africa, and the Tira of Sudan, the exclusionary principle has been driven by evolving social factors.[67]

West Africa[edit]

A Griot, who have been described as an endogamous caste of West Africa who specialise in oral story telling and culture preservation. They have been also referred to as the bard caste.

Among the Igbo of Nigeria – especially Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Edo and Delta states of the country – Obinna finds Osu caste system has been and continues to be a major social issue. The Osu caste is determined by one's birth into a particular family irrespective of the religion practised by the individual. Once born into Osu caste, this Nigerian person is an outcast, shunned and ostracised, with limited opportunities or acceptance, regardless of his or her ability or merit. Obinna discusses how this caste system-related identity and power is deployed within government, Church and indigenous communities.[63]

The osu class systems of eastern Nigeria and southern Cameroon are derived from indigenous religious beliefs and discriminate against the "Osus" people as "owned by deities" and outcasts.

The Songhai economy was based on a caste system. The most common were metalworkers, fishermen, and carpenters. Lower caste participants consisted of mostly non-farm working immigrants, who at times were provided special privileges and held high positions in society. At the top were noblemen and direct descendants of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen and traders.[68]

In a review of social stratification systems in Africa, Richter reports that the term caste has been used by French and American scholars to many groups of West African artisans. These groups have been described as inferior, deprived of all political power, have a specific occupation, are hereditary and sometimes despised by others. Richter illustrates caste system in Ivory Coast, with six sub-caste categories. Unlike other parts of the world, mobility is sometimes possible within sub-castes, but not across caste lines. Farmers and artisans have been, claims Richter, distinct castes. Certain sub-castes are shunned more than others. For example, exogamy is rare for women born into families of woodcarvers.[69]

Similarly, the Mandé societies in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone have social stratification systems that divide society by ethnic ties. The Mande class system regards the jonow slaves as inferior. Similarly, the Wolof in Senegal is divided into three main groups, the geer (freeborn/nobles), jaam (slaves and slave descendants) and the underclass neeno. In various parts of West Africa, Fulani societies also have class divisions. Other castes include Griots, Forgerons, and Cordonniers.

Tamari has described endogamous castes of over fifteen West African peoples, including the Tukulor, Songhay, Dogon, Senufo, Minianka, Moors, Manding, Soninke, Wolof, Serer, Fulani, and Tuareg. Castes appeared among the Malinke people no later than 14th century, and was present among the Wolof and Soninke, as well as some Songhay and Fulani populations, no later than 16th century. Tamari claims that wars, such as the Sosso-Malinke war described in the Sunjata epic, led to the formation of blacksmith and bard castes among the people that ultimately became the Mali empire.

As West Africa evolved over time, sub-castes emerged that acquired secondary specialisations or changed occupations. Endogamy was prevalent within a caste or among a limited number of castes, yet castes did not form demographic isolates according to Tamari. Social status according to caste was inherited by off-springs automatically; but this inheritance was paternal. That is, children of higher caste men and lower caste or slave concubines would have the caste status of the father.[65]

Central Africa[edit]


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February )

Ethel M. Albert in claimed that the societies in Central Africa were caste-like social stratification systems.[70] Similarly, in , Maquet notes that the society in Rwanda and Burundi can be best described as castes.[71] The Tutsi, noted Maquet, considered themselves as superior, with the more numerous Hutu and the least numerous Twa regarded, by birth, as respectively, second and third in the hierarchy of Rwandese society. These groups were largely endogamous, exclusionary and with limited mobility.[72]

Horn of Africa[edit]

The Madhiban(Midgan) specialise in leather occupation. Along with the Tumal and Yibir, they are collectively known as sab.[73]

In a review published in , Todd reports that numerous scholars report a system of social stratification in different parts of Africa that resembles some or all aspects of caste system. Examples of such caste systems, he claims, are to be found in Ethiopia in communities such as the Gurage and Konso. He then presents the Dime of Southwestern Ethiopia, amongst whom there operates a system which Todd claims can be unequivocally labelled as caste system. The Dime have seven castes whose size varies considerably. Each broad caste level is a hierarchical order that is based on notions of purity, non-purity and impurity. It uses the concepts of defilement to limit contacts between caste categories and to preserve the purity of the upper castes. These caste categories have been exclusionary, endogamous and the social identity inherited.[74]Alula Pankhurst has published a study of caste groups in SW Ethiopia.[75]

Among the Kafa, there were also traditionally groups labelled as castes. "Based on research done before the Derg regime, these studies generally presume the existence of a social hierarchy similar to the caste system. At the top of this hierarchy were the Kafa, followed by occupational groups including blacksmiths (Qemmo), weavers (Shammano), bards (Shatto), potters, and tanners (Manno). In this hierarchy, the Manjo were commonly referred to as hunters, given the lowest status equal only to slaves."[76]

The Borana Oromo of southern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa also have a class system, wherein the Wata, an acculturated hunter-gatherer group, represent the lowest class. Though the Wata today speak the Oromo language, they have traditions of having previously spoken another language before adopting Oromo.[77]

The traditionally nomadic Somali people are divided into clans, wherein the Rahanweyn agro-pastoral clans and the occupational clans such as the Madhiban were traditionally sometimes treated as outcasts.[78] As Gabboye, the Madhiban along with the Yibir and Tumaal (collectively referred to as sab) have since obtained political representation within Somalia, and their general social status has improved with the expansion of urban centers.[73]


European feudalism with its rigid aristocracy can also be considered as a caste system.

Basque region[edit]


This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (February )

For centuries, through the modern times, the majority regarded Cagots who lived primarily in the Basque region of France and Spain as an inferior caste, the untouchables. While they had the same skin color and religion as the majority, in the churches they had to use segregated doors, drink from segregated fonts, and receive communion on the end of long wooden spoons. It was a closed social system. The socially isolated Cagots were endogamous, and chances of social mobility non-existent.[79][80]

United Kingdom[edit]

In July , the UK government announced its intention to amend the Equality Act , to "introduce legislation on caste, including any necessary exceptions to the caste provisions, within the framework of domestic discrimination law".[81] Section 9(5) of the Equality Act provides that "a Minister may by order amend the statutory definition of race to include caste and may provide for exceptions in the Act to apply or not to apply to caste".

From September to February , Meena Dhanda led a project on "Caste in Britain" for the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).[82]


United States[edit]

Main article: Racial segregation in the United States

In W. Lloyd Warner's view, the historic relationship between Blacks and Whites in the US showed many caste-like features such as residential segregation and marriage restrictions.[83] In her best-selling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, journalist Isabel Wilkerson similarly uses caste as a means to understand the racial hierarchy of the United States. Discrimination based upon socio-economic factors are historically prevalent within the country.

According to Gerald D. Berreman, in the two systems, there are rigid rules of avoidance and certain types of contacts are defined as contaminating. In India, there are complex religious features which make up the system, whereas in the United States race and color are the basis for differentiation. The caste systems in India and the United States have higher groups which desire to retain their positions for themselves and thus perpetuate the two systems.[84]

The process of creating a homogenised society by social engineering in both India and the US has created other institutions that have made class distinctions among different groups evident. Anthropologist James C. Scott elaborates on how "global capitalism is perhaps the most powerful force for homogenization, whereas the state may be the defender of local difference and variety in some instances".[85] The caste system, a relic of feudalistic economic systems, emphasises differences between socio-economic classes that are obviated by openly free market capitalistic economic systems, which reward individual initiative, enterprise, merit, and thrift, thereby creating a path for social mobility. When the feudalistic slave economy of the southern Unites States was dismantled, even Jim Crow laws did not prevent the economic success of many industrious African Americans, including millionaire women like Maggie Walker, Annie Malone, and Madame C.J. Walker. Parts of the United States are sometimes divided by race and class status despite the national narrative of integration.

Latin America[edit]

Main article: Casta

See also[edit]


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India's "Untouchables" Face Violence, Discrimination

More than million people in India are considered "Untouchable"—people tainted by their birth into a caste system that deems them impure, less than human.

Human rights abuses against these people, known as Dalits, are legion. A random sampling of headlines in mainstream Indian newspapers tells their story: "Dalit boy beaten to death for plucking flowers"; "Dalit tortured by cops for three days"; "Dalit 'witch' paraded naked in Bihar"; "Dalit killed in lock-up at Kurnool"; "7 Dalits burnt alive in caste clash"; "5 Dalits lynched in Haryana"; "Dalit woman gang-raped, paraded naked"; "Police egged on mob to lynch Dalits".

"Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls," said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables."Human Rights Watch is a worldwide activist organization based in New York.

India's Untouchables are relegated to the lowest jobs, and live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped with impunity by upper-caste Hindus seeking to keep them in their place. Merely walking through an upper-caste neighborhood is a life-threatening offense.

Nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits, according to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 16 to 18 in Vancouver, Canada.

Crime Against Dalits

Statistics compiled by India's National Crime Records Bureau indicate that in the year , the last year for which figures are available, 25, crimes were committed against Dalits. Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.

No one believes these numbers are anywhere close to the reality of crimes committed against Dalits. Because the police, village councils, and government officials often support the caste system, which is based on the religious teachings of Hinduism, many crimes go unreported due to fear of reprisal, intimidation by police, inability to pay bribes demanded by police, or simply the knowledge that the police will do nothing.

"There have been large-scale abuses by the police, acting in collusion with upper castes, including raids, beatings in custody, failure to charge offenders or investigate reported crimes," said Narula.

That same year, 68, complaints were filed against the police for activities ranging from murder, torture, and collusion in acts of atrocity, to refusal to file a complaint. Sixty two percent of the cases were dismissed as unsubstantiated; 26 police officers were convicted in court.

Despite the fact that untouchability was officially banned when India adopted its constitution in , discrimination against Dalits remained so pervasive that in the government passed legislation known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act. The act specifically made it illegal to parade people naked through the streets, force them to eat feces, take away their land, foul their water, interfere with their right to vote, and burn down their homes.

Since then, the violence has escalated, largely as a result of the emergence of a grassroots human rights movement among Dalits to demand their rights and resist the dictates of untouchability, said Narula.

Lack of Enforcement, Not Laws

Enforcement of laws designed to protect Dalits is lax if not non-existent in many regions of India. The practice of untouchability is strongest in rural areas, where 80 percent of the country's population resides. There, the underlying religious principles of Hinduism dominate.

Hindus believe a person is born into one of four castes based on karma and "purity"—how he or she lived their past lives. Those born as Brahmans are priests and teachers; Kshatriyas are rulers and soldiers; Vaisyas are merchants and traders; and Sudras are laborers. Within the four castes, there are thousands of sub-castes, defined by profession, region, dialect, and other factors.

Untouchables are literally outcastes; a fifth group that is so unworthy it doesn't fall within the caste system.

Although based on religious principles practiced for some 1, years, the system persists today for economic as much as religious reasons.

Because they are considered impure from birth, Untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered "unclean" or exceedingly menial, and for very little pay. One million Dalits work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and oppression.

Although illegal, 40 million people in India, most of them Dalits, are bonded workers, many working to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago, according to a report by Human Rights Watch published in These people, 15 million of whom are children, work under slave-like conditions hauling rocks, or working in fields or factories for less than U.S. $1 day.

Crimes Against Women

Dalit women are particularly hard hit. They are frequently raped or beaten as a means of reprisal against male relatives who are thought to have committed some act worthy of upper-caste vengeance. They are also subject to arrest if they have male relatives hiding from the authorities.

A case reported in illustrates the toxic mix of gender and caste.

A year-old Dalit woman was gang-raped and then burnt alive after she, her husband, and two sons had been held in captivity and tortured for eight days. Her crime? Another son had eloped with the daughter of the higher-caste family doing the torturing. The local police knew the Dalit family was being held, but did nothing because of the higher-caste family's local influence.

There is very little recourse available to victims.

A report released by Amnesty International in found an "extremely high" number of sexual assaults on Dalit women, frequently perpetrated by landlords, upper-caste villagers, and police officers. The study estimates that only about 5 percent of attacks are registered, and that police officers dismissed at least 30 percent of rape complaints as false.

The study also found that the police routinely demand bribes, intimidate witnesses, cover up evidence, and beat up the women's husbands. Little or nothing is done to prevent attacks on rape victims by gangs of upper-caste villagers seeking to prevent a case from being pursued. Sometimes the policemen even join in, the study suggests. Rape victims have also been murdered. Such crimes often go unpunished.

Thousands of pre-teen Dalit girls are forced into prostitution under cover of a religious practice known as devadasis, which means "female servant of god." The girls are dedicated or "married" to a deity or a temple. Once dedicated, they are unable to marry, forced to have sex with upper-caste community members, and eventually sold to an urban brothel.

Resistance and Progress

Within India, grassroots efforts to change are emerging, despite retaliation and intimidation by local officials and upper-caste villagers. In some states, caste conflict has escalated to caste warfare, and militia-like vigilante groups have conducted raids on villages, burning homes, raping, and massacring the people. These raids are sometimes conducted with the tacit approval of the police.

In the province Bihar, local Dalits are retaliating, committing atrocities also. Non-aligned Dalits are frequently caught in the middle, victims of both groups.

"There is a growing grassroots movement of activists, trade unions, and other NGOs that are organizing to democratically and peacefully demand their rights, higher wages, and more equitable land distribution," said Narula. "There has been progress in terms of building a human rights movement within India, and in drawing international attention to the issue."

In August , the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) approved a resolution condemning caste or descent-based discrimination.

"But at the national level, very little is being done to implement or enforce the laws," said Narula.

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Caste Discrimination in India


India is considered to be one of the few countries in the world where various parts of the local population practice different religions ranging from Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity being the main four sectors of religion. However, while this is the case roughly '% of the population' practices Hinduism which accounts for nearly '1 billion of the population' as practitioners of the religion.[1]. Because hinduism is considered to be one of the oldest religions in the world, dating back around years, many sub systems have formulated, one of them being the Caste system. The purpose of this wikipedia page is to help explore the caste system and it's discriminatory nature against those not only within it but also how intersectionality plays a crucial role in how certain individuals are treated far worse than others.

What is the Caste System

The caste system is a religious hierarchy formulated to divide Hindus into rigid groups "based on their karma and their duty".[2]. The system is divided into five main classes with the Brahmins being considered the highest and most well respected while the Dalits or Untouchables are labelled the lowest class. The pyramid system illustrated in the figure to the right showcases not only the hierarchy of each class, but also what roles each class fills within this sub-society. For instance, people part of the Brahmin class fill the role of priests thus attaining the highest form of respect within this system, whereas people of lower classes fill the roles of workers and cleaners thus commanding far less respect than their upper counterparts.

Each class also acquires a set of privileges. These privileges not only translate towards higher rights, but also encompass the ability to repress the lower classes, thus inevitably leading towards discrimination, particularly oppression of the Dalits. Even though the system was never formally adopted in India, its influence has been a primary source of controversy due to its unsettling presence in a number of cases regarding assault, rape, and murder. While the Indian government has enacted several laws formalised within the constitution such as articles 12 to 35 which are not only "dedicated to protecting the individual rights" but also help abolish the caste system.[3]The system's presence is one yet to be eliminated amongst certain sectors in India primarily those in the more rural parts of India. This prevalence is particularly due to the fact that "society itself is structured to keep this tradition going" and what this entails is that their are psychological barriers that have been implemented through decades of the system's presence and integration in society, thus making it difficult to get rid of such a rigid system.[4]


The Dalits or Untouchables face the highest form of discriminations by the other groups within the Caste System. The primary areas of which they are discriminated are education, work, and marriage, with marriage being the most notorious of the three.

Education and Work

Education has always played a crucial role in bettering one's circumstances, and while the caste system initially disabled Untouchables to acquire a formal education, the government has issued reserve systems to ensure that certain quotes of students are from the Dalits class. Even with such a progressive movement, there have been repercussions particularly from the higher classes, many of which "felt that the system was not meritocratic, and provided an unjust advantage to the low caste members."[5] This not only translated towards protests from the upper caste, but also discrimination towards the Untouchables in the work force to the point that it has "[conferred] almost a disadvantage bettering the chances of neither salaried work nor self-employment" due to upper class higher restrictions" while [also] increasing their likelihood of opting out of the labor force," because of their ability to receive an education thus deeming them overqualified for such positions. [6]


Within the Caste system, marriage is considered to be one of the most notorious subjects because of the implications inter-caste marriages hold. Inter-caste marriage is simply defined when two people of different castes marry each other. Such marriages that occur culminate in where those " violating the social norm had to face the consequences in terms of violence, social boycott, family boycott and death of the boys and girls(honour killing)."[7] Such murders have most notably happened upon the person of lower caste in the marriage. An example of this was seen during a case in where a Dalit man had married a woman from a higher class, which led to the brutal murder of the man in the public streets to avoid any form or relationship existing. [8]


Evaluating discrimination through an intersectionality lens also gives a great deal of insight. A core example would be women within the caste system, particularly those within the Dalits (Untouchables) class. Even though India has made a lot of progress to bring forth gender equality, there are still many areas where women are still subjugated to unequal treatment. Dalit women suffer from a variety of characteristics as they suffer from the "the triple burden of economic deprivation, patriarchy, and caste- and untouchability-based discrimination," creating a set of discriminations that are unique towards Dalit women. [9]

Because of these multiple layers of discrimination, the primary problems that Dalit women face are education, work, and sexual exploitation" Being part of the Dalits already reduces the type of jobs and education they attain as discussed in the previous section, however Dalit women face further discrimination because of their sex. For instance Dalit women only have a % literacy rate which is a near 20% less than compared to Dalit men who attain a literary rate of 75%. [10] Additionally, because of their gender they are also subjugated to less paying jobs, "Dalit women are hardly ever employed for cooks — which commands higher wages than sweeping and cleaning do," making them even face further "difficulties in getting employment for cooking because of the notion of the purity and pollution of occupations."[9]

Secondly, they are also more highly prone to sexual violence because of their gender and class. An example that conveys this was when a Dalit women who was part of a campaign to advocate women's equality was viciously raped after trying to stop a child marriage simply because she was part of the Dalit class. Moreover, the sexual violence associated with Dalit women comes from the notion that casting was viewed "as a form of institutionalised domination," and that "routinized sexual predation [was] an expression of caste dominance." What these comments indicated was that the sexual abuse of women was also justified simply as a way for upper caste men to showcase their dominance over lower caste woman thus indicating another dimension of discrimination based on Dalit women's intersectional attributes. [11]


To conclude, the caste system is an archaic system that seeks to discriminate individuals based on their class within the system and is further worsened by the oppression of individuals in lower classes by higher classes, with the latter also treating certain people within a particular class far worse than others due to other general discriminatory traits those people have.


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  5. Sankaran, Sindhuja; Sekderdej, Maciek (March ). "The Role of Indian Caste Identity and Caste Inconsistent Norms on Status Representation". Front Psychol. 8. doi/fpsyg Retrieved 28 July
  6. Das, Maitreyi Bordia (July ). "Minority status and labor market outcomes: Does India have minority enclaves?". The World Bank. doi/ Retrieved 28 July
  7. Das, Kumudin; Das, K.C. (). "Dynamics of inter-religious and inter-caste marriages in India". The World Bank. Retrieved 28 July
  8. "'Honour' crimes in India: An assault on women's autonomy". aljazeera. 14 March Retrieved 28 July
  9. Sabharwal, Nidhi Sadana; Sonalkar, Wandana (July ). "Dalit Women in India: At the Crossroads of Gender, Class, and Caste"(PDF). Global justice: Theory, Practice, Rhetoric. 8. Retrieved 28 July
  10. Borooah, Van K.; Iyer, Sriya (). "Religion, Literacy, and the Female-to-Male Ratio". Economic and Political Weekly. 40 (5): – Retrieved 28 July
  11. Gorringe, Hugo (). "Afterword: Gendering Caste: Honor, Patriarchy and Violence". South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal. Retrieved 28 July

Genetic Evidence on the Origins of Indian Caste Populations

Michael Bamshad

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Toomas Kivisild

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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W. Scott Watkins

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Mary E. Dixon

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Chris E. Ricker

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Baskara B. Rao

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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J. Mastan Naidu

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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B.V. Ravi Prasad

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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P. Govinda Reddy

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Arani Rasanayagam

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Surinder S. Papiha

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Richard Villems

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Alan J. Redd

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Michael F. Hammer

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Son V. Nguyen

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Marion L. Carroll

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Mark A. Batzer

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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Lynn B. Jorde

1Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 2Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Tartu University and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu , Estonia; 3Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah , USA; 4Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India; 5Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, India; 6Department of Anthropology, University of Madras, Madras, Tamil Nadu, India; 7Laboratory of Molecular Systematics and Evolution, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona , USA; 8Department of Human Genetics, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK; 9Department of Pathology, Biometry and Genetics, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, Louisiana State University Health Science Center, New Orleans, Louisiana , USA

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System indian wiki caste

Caste system in India

Social stratification practiced in India

This article is about socio-political stratification in Indian society. For socio-religious Hindu stratification, see Varna (Hinduism).

"Castes in India" redirects here. For the paper by B.&#;R. Ambedkar, see Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development.

Gandhivisiting Madras(now Chennai) in on an India-wide tour for Dalit(he used Harijan) causes. His writings, and speeches during such tours, discussed the discriminated-against castes of India.

Castes are rigid social groups characterized by hereditary transmission of life style, occupation and social status. The caste system in India has its origins in ancient India, and was transformed by various ruling elites in medieval, early-modern, and modern India, especially the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. The caste system consists of two different concepts, varna and jati, which may be regarded as different levels of analysis.

The caste system as it exists today is thought to be the result of developments during the collapse of the Mughal era and the rise of the British colonial government in India. The collapse of the Mughal era saw the rise of powerful men who associated themselves with kings, priests and ascetics, affirming the regal and martial form of the caste ideal, and it also reshaped many apparently casteless social groups into differentiated caste communities. The British Raj furthered this development, making rigid caste organisation a central mechanism of administration. Between and , the British formulated the caste system into their system of governance, granting administrative jobs and senior appointments only to Christians and people belonging to certain castes.[7] Social unrest during the s led to a change in this policy. From then on, the colonial administration began a policy of positive discrimination by reserving a certain percentage of government jobs for the lower castes. In , negative discrimination on the basis of caste was banned by law and further enshrined in the Indian constitution; however, the system continues to be practiced in parts of India.[9]

Caste-based differences have also been practised in other regions and religions in the Indian subcontinent, like Nepalese Buddhism,[10]Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. It has been challenged by many reformist Hindu movements, Sikhism, Christianity, by present-day Indian Buddhism.[13] With Indian influence in Southeast Asia, the caste system is also practiced in places such as Thailand,[14][15]Cambodia[16] and Bali.[17]

India after achieving independence in enacted many affirmative action policies for the upliftment of historically marginalized groups. These policies included reserving a quota of places for these groups in higher education and government employment.

Definitions and concepts

Varna, jāti and caste


Main article: Varna (Hinduism)

Varna literally means type, order, colour or class&#;[18][19] and was a framework for grouping people into classes, first used in Vedic Indian society. It is referred to frequently in the ancient Indian texts. The four classes were the Brahmins (priestly people), the Kshatriyas (also called Rajanyas, who were rulers, administrators and warriors), the Vaishyas (artisans, merchants, tradesmen and farmers), and Shudras (labouring classes). The varna categorisation implicitly had a fifth element, being those people deemed to be entirely outside its scope, such as tribal people and the untouchables.


Main article: Jāti

Jati, meaning birth, is mentioned much less often in ancient texts, where it is clearly distinguished from varna. There are four varnas but thousands of jatis. The jatis are complex social groups that lack universally applicable definition or characteristic, and have been more flexible and diverse than was previously often assumed.

Certain scholars[which?] of caste have considered jati to have its basis in religion, assuming that in India the sacred elements of life envelop the secular aspects; for example, the anthropologist Louis Dumont described the ritual rankings that exist within the jati system as being based on the concepts of religious purity and pollution. This view has been disputed by other scholars, who believe it to be a secular social phenomenon driven by the necessities of economics, politics, and sometimes also geography.[24][26] Jeaneane Fowler says that although some people consider jati to be occupational segregation, in reality the jati framework does not preclude or prevent a member of one caste from working in another occupation. A feature of jatis has been endogamy, in Susan Bayly's words, that "both in the past and for many though not all Indians in more modern times, those born into a given caste would normally expect to find marriage partner" within his or her jati.[28]

Jatis have existed in India among Hindus, Muslims, Christians and tribal people, and there is no clear linear order among them.[29]


Main article: Caste

The term caste is not originally an Indian word, though it is now widely used, both in English and in Indian languages. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is derived from the Portuguese casta, meaning "race, lineage, breed" and, originally, "'pure or unmixed (stock or breed)".[30] There is no exact translation in Indian languages, but varna and jati are the two most approximate terms.

Ghurye's description

The sociologistG. S. Ghurye wrote in that, despite much study by many people,

we do not possess a real general definition of caste. It appears to me that any attempt at definition is bound to fail because of the complexity of the phenomenon. On the other hand, much literature on the subject is marred by lack of precision about the use of the term.

Ghurye offered what he thought was a definition that could be applied across India, although he acknowledged that there were regional variations on the general theme. His model definition for caste included the following six characteristics:

  • Segmentation of society into groups whose membership was determined by birth.
  • A hierarchical system wherein generally the Brahmins were at the head of the hierarchy, but this hierarchy was disputed in some cases. In various linguistic areas, hundreds of castes had a gradation generally acknowledged by everyone.
  • Restrictions on feeding and social intercourse, with minute rules on the kind of food and drink that upper castes could accept from lower castes. There was a great diversity in these rules, and lower castes generally accepted food from upper castes.
  • Segregation, where individual castes lived together, the dominant caste living in the center and other castes living on the periphery. There were restrictions on the use of water wells or streets by one caste on another: an upper-caste Brahmin might not be permitted to use the street of a lower-caste group, while a caste considered impure might not be permitted to draw water from a well used by members of other castes.
  • Occupation, generally inherited. Lack of unrestricted choice of profession, caste members restricted their own members from taking up certain professions they considered degrading. This characteristic of caste was missing from large parts of India, stated Ghurye, and in these regions all four castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) did agriculture labour or became warriors in large numbers.
  • Endogamy, restrictions on marrying a person outside caste, but in some situations hypergamy allowed. Far less rigidity on inter-marriage between different sub-castes than between members of different castes in some regions, while in some endogamy within a sub-caste was the principal feature of caste-society.

The above Ghurye's model of caste thereafter attracted scholarly criticism[43][44] for relying on the census reports produced by the colonial government,[45] the "superior, inferior" racist theories of H. H. Risley, and for fitting his definition to then prevalent orientalist perspectives on caste.[48][49]

Ghurye added, in , that the colonial construction of caste led to the livening up, divisions and lobbying to the British officials for favourable caste classification in India for economic opportunities, and this had added new complexities to the concept of caste.[50] Graham Chapman and others have reiterated the complexity, and they note that there are differences between theoretical constructs and the practical reality.

Modern perspective on definition

Ronald Inden, the Indologist, agrees that there has been no universally accepted definition. For example, for some early European documenters it was thought to correspond with the endogamous varnas referred to in ancient Indian scripts, and its meaning corresponds in the sense of estates. To later Europeans of the Raj era it was endogamous jatis, rather than varnas, that represented caste, such as the jatis that colonial administrators classified by occupation in the early 20th century.

Arvind Sharma, a professor of comparative religion, notes that caste has been used synonymously to refer to both varna and jati but that "serious Indologists now observe considerable caution in this respect" because, while related, the concepts are considered to be distinct. In this he agrees with the Indologist Arthur Basham, who noted that the Portuguese colonists of India used casta to describe

&#;tribes, clans or families. The name stuck and became the usual word for the Hindu social group. In attempting to account for the remarkable proliferation of castes in 18th- and 19th-century India, authorities credulously accepted the traditional view that by a process of intermarriage and subdivision the 3, or more castes of modern India had evolved from the four primitive classes, and the term 'caste' was applied indiscriminately to both varna or class, and jati or caste proper. This is a false terminology; castes rise and fall in the social scale, and old castes die out and new ones are formed, but the four great classes are stable. There are never more or less than four and for over 2, years their order of precedence has not altered."

The sociologist Andre Beteille notes that, while varna mainly played the role of caste in classical Hindu literature, it is jati that plays that role in present times. Varna represents a closed collection of social orders whereas jati is entirely open-ended, thought of as a "natural kind whose members share a common substance." Any number of new jatis can be added depending on need, such as tribes, sects, denominations, religious or linguistic minorities and nationalities. Thus, "Caste" is not an accurate representation of jati in English. Better terms would be ethnicity, ethnic identity and ethnic group.


Sociologist Anne Waldrop observes that while outsiders view the term caste as a static phenomenon of stereotypical tradition-bound India, empirical facts suggest caste has been a radically changing feature. The term means different things to different Indians. In the context of politically active modern India, where job and school quotas are reserved for affirmative action based on castes, the term has become a sensitive and controversial subject.[56]

Sociologists such as M. N. Srinivas and Damle have debated the question of rigidity in caste and believe that there is considerable flexibility and mobility in the caste hierarchies.


Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India (18).jpg

Hindu musician

Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India (16).jpg

Muslim merchant

Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India (8).jpg

Sikh chief

Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India (5).jpg

Arab soldier

Pages from Seventy-two Specimens of Castes in India according to Christian Missionaries in February They include Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Arabs as castes of India.


There are at least two perspectives for the origins of the caste system in ancient and medieval India, which focus on either ideological factors or on socio-economic factors.

  • The first school focuses on the ideological factors which are claimed to drive the caste system and holds that caste is rooted in the four varnas. This perspective was particularly common among scholars during the British colonial era and was articulated by Dumont, who concluded that the system was ideologically perfected several thousand years ago and has remained the primary social reality ever since. This school justifies its theory primarily by citing the ancient law book Manusmriti and disregards economic, political or historical evidence.
  • The second school of thought focuses on socioeconomic factors and claims that those factors drive the caste system. It believes caste to be rooted in the economic, political and material history of India. This school, which is common among scholars of the post-colonial era such as Berreman, Marriott, and Dirks, describes the caste system as an ever-evolving social reality that can only be properly understood by the study of historical evidence of actual practice and the examination of verifiable circumstances in the economic, political and material history of India. This school has focused on the historical evidence from ancient and medieval society in India, during the Muslim rule between the 12th and 18th centuries, and the policies of the British colonial government from 18th century to the midth century.

The first school has focused on religious anthropology and disregarded other historical evidence as secondary to or derivative of this tradition. The second school has focused on sociological evidence and sought to understand the historical circumstances. The latter has criticised the former for its caste origin theory, claiming that it has dehistoricised and decontextualised Indian society.[69]

Ritual kingship model

According to Samuel, referencing George L. Hart, central aspects of the later Indian caste system may originate from the ritual kingship system prior to the arrival of Brahmanism, Buddhism and Jainism in India. The system is seen in the South Indian Tamil literature from the Sangam period, dated to the third to sixth centuries CE. This theory discards the Indo-Aryan varna model as the basis of caste, and is centred on the ritual power of the king, who was "supported by a group of ritual and magical specialists of low social status," with their ritual occupations being considered 'polluted'. According to Hart, it may be this model that provided the concerns with "pollution" of the members of low status groups. The Hart model for caste origin, writes Samuel, envisions "the ancient Indian society consisting of a majority without internal caste divisions and a minority consisting of a number of small occupationally polluted groups".[70]

Vedic varnas

The varnas originated in Vedic society (c. – BCE). The first three groups, Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishya, have parallels with other Indo-European societies, while the addition of the Shudras is probably a Brahmanical invention from northern India.[71]

The varna system is propounded in revered Hindu religious texts, and understood as idealised human callings. The Purusha Sukta of the Rigveda and Manusmriti's comment on it, being the oft-cited texts.[74] Counter to these textual classifications, many revered Hindu texts and doctrines question and disagree with this system of social classification.

Scholars have questioned the varna verse in the Rigveda, noting that the varna therein is mentioned only once. The Purusha Sukta verse is now generally considered to have been inserted at a later date into the Rigveda, probably as a charter myth. Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, professors of Sanskrit and Religious studies, state, "there is no evidence in the Rigveda for an elaborate, much-subdivided and overarching caste system", and "the varna system seems to be embryonic in the Rigveda and, both then and later, a social ideal rather than a social reality".[75] In contrast to the lack of details about varna system in the Rigveda, the Manusmriti includes an extensive and highly schematic commentary on the varna system, but it too provides "models rather than descriptions".[76] Susan Bayly summarises that Manusmriti and other scriptures helped elevate Brahmins in the social hierarchy and these were a factor in the making of the varna system, but the ancient texts did not in some way "create the phenomenon of caste" in India.


Jeaneane Fowler, a professor of philosophy and religious studies, states that it is impossible to determine how and why the jatis came in existence. Susan Bayly, on the other hand, states that jati system emerged because it offered a source of advantage in an era of pre-Independence poverty, lack of institutional human rights, volatile political environment, and economic insecurity.[clarification needed]

According to social anthropologist Dipankar Gupta, guilds developed during the Mauryan period and crystallised into jatis in post-Mauryan times with the emergence of feudalism in India, which finally crystallised during the 7th–12th centuries. However, other scholars dispute when and how jatis developed in Indian history. Barbara Metcalf and Thomas Metcalf, both professors of History, write, "One of the surprising arguments of fresh scholarship, based on inscriptional and other contemporaneous evidence, is that until relatively recent centuries, social organisation in much of the subcontinent was little touched by the four varnas. Nor were jati the building blocks of society."[82]

According to Basham, ancient Indian literature refers often to varnas, but hardly if ever to jatis as a system of groups within the varnas. He concludes that "If caste is defined as a system of group within the class, which are normally endogamous, commensal and craft-exclusive, we have no real evidence of its existence until comparatively late times."

Untouchable outcastes and the varna system

The Vedic texts neither mention the concept of untouchable people nor any practice of untouchability. The rituals in the Vedas ask the noble or king to eat with the commoner from the same vessel. Later Vedic texts ridicule some professions, but the concept of untouchability is not found in them.[84]

The post-Vedic texts, particularly Manusmriti mentions outcastes and suggests that they be ostracised. Recent scholarship states that the discussion of outcastes in post-Vedic texts is different from the system widely discussed in colonial era Indian literature, and in Dumont's structural theory on caste system in India. Patrick Olivelle, a professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions and credited with modern translations of Vedic literature, Dharma-sutras and Dharma-sastras, states that ancient and medieval Indian texts do not support the ritual pollution, purity-impurity premise implicit in the Dumont theory. According to Olivelle, purity-impurity is discussed in the Dharma-sastra texts, but only in the context of the individual's moral, ritual and biological pollution (eating certain kinds of food such as meat, going to bathroom). Olivelle writes in his review of post-Vedic Sutra and Shastra texts, "we see no instance when a term of pure/impure is used with reference to a group of individuals or a varna or caste". The only mention of impurity in the Shastra texts from the 1st millennium is about people who commit grievous sins and thereby fall out of their varna. These, writes Olivelle, are called "fallen people" and considered impure in the medieval Indian texts. The texts declare that these sinful, fallen people be ostracised.[85] Olivelle adds that the overwhelming focus in matters relating to purity/impurity in the Dharma-sastra texts concerns "individuals irrespective of their varna affiliation" and all four varnas could attain purity or impurity by the content of their character, ethical intent, actions, innocence or ignorance (acts by children), stipulations, and ritualistic behaviours.[86]

Dumont, in his later publications, acknowledged that ancient varna hierarchy was not based on purity-impurity ranking principle, and that the Vedic literature is devoid of the untouchability concept.


Early Vedic period (– BCE)

During the time of the Rigveda, there were two varnas: arya varna and dasa varna. The distinction originally arose from tribal divisions. The Vedic tribes regarded themselves as arya (the noble ones) and the rival tribes were called dasa, dasyu and pani. The dasas were frequent allies of the Aryan tribes, and they were probably assimilated into the Aryan society, giving rise to a class distinction. Many dasas were however in a servile position, giving rise to the eventual meaning of dasa as servant or slave.

The Rigvedic society was not distinguished by occupations. Many husbandmen and artisans practised a number of crafts. The chariot-maker (rathakara) and metal worker (karmara) enjoyed positions of importance and no stigma was attached to them. Similar observations hold for carpenters, tanners, weavers and others.

Towards the end of the Atharvaveda period, new class distinctions emerged. The erstwhile dasas are renamed Shudras, probably to distinguish them from the new meaning of dasa as slave. The aryas are renamed vis or Vaishya (meaning the members of the tribe) and the new elite classes of Brahmins (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) are designated as new varnas. The Shudras were not only the erstwhile dasas but also included the aboriginal tribes that were assimilated into the Aryan society as it expanded into Gangetic settlements. There is no evidence of restrictions regarding food and marriage during the Vedic period.

Later Vedic period (– BCE)

In an early Upanishad, Shudra is referred to as Pūşan or nourisher, suggesting that Shudras were the tillers of the soil. But soon afterwards, Shudras are not counted among the tax-payers and they are said to be given away along with the lands when it is gifted. The majority of the artisans were also reduced to the position of Shudras, but there is no contempt indicated for their work. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas are given a special position in the rituals, distinguishing them from both the Vaishyas and the Shudras. The Vaishya is said to be "oppressed at will" and the Shudra "beaten at will."

Jain sources indicate that the varna system was an integral part of Jain community during the times of Parshvanatha in 8th century BCE.[citation needed] The Jain text Arhat vacana states:

It is by karma that one is brāhmaņa, it is by karma that one is kşatriya, it is by karma that one is vaiśya, it is by karma that one is śudra.[98]

Second urbanisation (– BCE)

Knowledge of this period is supplemented by Pali Buddhist texts. Whereas the Brahmanical texts speak of the four-fold varna system, the Buddhist texts present an alternative picture of the society, stratified along the lines of jati, kula and occupation. It is likely that the varna system, while being a part of the Brahmanical ideology, was not practically operative in the society. In the Buddhist texts, Brahmin and Kshatriya are described as jatis rather than varnas. They were in fact the jatis of high rank. The jatis of low rank were mentioned as chandala and occupational classes like bamboo weavers, hunters, chariot-makers and sweepers. The concept of kulas was broadly similar. Along with Brahmins and Kshatriyas, a class called gahapatis (literally householders, but effectively propertied classes) was also included among high kulas. The people of high kulas were engaged in occupations of high rank, viz., agriculture, trade, cattle-keeping, computing, accounting and writing, and those of low kulas were engaged in low-ranked occupations such as basket-weaving and sweeping. The gahapatis were an economic class of land-holding agriculturists, who employed dasa-kammakaras (slaves and hired labourers) to work on the land. The gahapatis were the primary taxpayers of the state. This class was apparently not defined by birth, but by individual economic growth.

While there was an alignment between kulas and occupations at least at the high and low ends, there was no strict linkage between class/caste and occupation, especially among those in the middle range. Many occupations listed such as accounting and writing were not linked to jatis. Peter Masefield, in his review of caste in India, states that anyone could in principle perform any profession. The texts state that the Brahmin took food from anyone, suggesting that strictures of commensality were as yet unknown. The Nikaya texts also imply that endogamy was not mandated.

Mahavira, the 24th tirthankara introduced radical reforms in the social structure. He proclaimed complete dissolution of all the four varnas and called it obsolete. He stressed on equal treatment for all human beings. He discouraged classification of people on basis of birth, race and nationality.[][]Uttaradhyayana Sutra, one of the most important Jain texts state:[]

Warriors, ugra, gana, princes, brāhmaņas, bhogikas-chieftains and artisans of all sorts, he who does not utter a word in praise of all these and abstains from all of them, he is a true follower of the Jina.

The contestations of the period are also evident from the texts describing dialogues of Buddha with the Brahmins. The Brahmins maintain their divinely ordained superiority and assert their right to draw service from the lower orders. Buddha responds by pointing out the basic facts of biological birth common to all men and asserts that the ability to draw service is obtained economically, not by divine right. Using the example of the northwest of the subcontinent, Buddha points out that aryas could become dasas and vice versa. This form of social mobility was endorsed by Buddha.

Early Hinduism ( BCE CE)

See also: Dharmaśāstra and Hindu synthesis


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Classical period (– CE)

The Mahabharata, whose final version is estimated to have been completed by the end of the fourth century, discusses the varna system in section , presenting two models. The first model describes varna as a colour-based system, through a character named Bhrigu, "Brahmins varna was white, Kshatriyas was red, Vaishyas was yellow, and the Shudras' black". This description is questioned by Bharadvaja who says that colors are seen among all the varnas, that desire, anger, fear, greed, grief, anxiety, hunger and toil prevails over all human beings, that bile and blood flow from all human bodies, so what distinguishes the varnas, he asks. The Mahabharata then declares, "There is no distinction of varnas. This whole universe is Brahman. It was created formerly by Brahma, came to be classified by acts." The epic then recites a behavioural model for varna, that those who were inclined to anger, pleasures and boldness attained the Kshatriya varna; those who were inclined to cattle rearing and living off the plough attained the Vaishya varna; those who were fond of violence, covetousness and impurity attained the Shudra varna. The Brahmin class is modeled in the epic as the archetype default state of man dedicated to truth, austerity and pure conduct. In the Mahabharata and pre-medieval era Hindu texts, according to Hiltebeitel, "it is important to recognise, in theory, varna is nongenealogical. The four varnas are not lineages, but categories".

Late classical and early medieval period ( to CE)

Scholars have tried to locate historical evidence for the existence and nature of varna and jati in documents and inscriptions of medieval India. Supporting evidence has been elusive, and contradictory evidence has emerged.[]

Varna is rarely mentioned in the extensive medieval era records of Andhra Pradesh, for example. This has led Cynthia Talbot, a professor of History and Asian Studies, to question whether varna was socially significant in the daily lives of this region. Most mentions of varna in the Andhra inscriptions come from Brahmins. Two rare temple donor records from warrior families of the 14th century claim to be Shudras. One states that Shudras are the bravest, the other states that Shudras are the purest. Richard Eaton, a professor of History, writes, "anyone could become warrior regardless of social origins, nor do the jati—another pillar of alleged traditional Indian society—appear as features of people's identity. Occupations were fluid." Evidence shows, according to Eaton, that Shudras were part of the nobility, and many "father and sons had different professions, suggesting that social status was earned, not inherited" in the Hindu Kakatiya population in the Deccan region between the 11th and 14th centuries.[]

In Tamil Nadu region of India, studied by Leslie Orr, a professor of Religion, "Chola period inscriptions challenge our ideas about the structuring of (south Indian) society in general. In contrast to what Brahmanical legal texts may lead us to expect, we do not find that caste is the organising principle of society or that boundaries between different social groups is sharply demarcated."[] In Tamil Nadu the Vellalar were during ancient and medieval period the elite caste who were major patrons of literature.[][][]

For northern Indian region, Susan Bayly writes, "until well into the colonial period, much of the subcontinent was still populated by people for whom the formal distinctions of caste were of only limited importance; Even in parts of the so-called Hindu heartland of Gangetic upper India, the institutions and beliefs which are now often described as the elements of traditional caste were only just taking shape as recently as the early eighteenth century—that is the period of collapse of Mughal period and the expansion of western power in the subcontinent."

For western India, Dirk H. A. Kolff suggests open status social groups dominated Rajput history during the medieval period. He states, "The omnipresence of cognatic kinship and caste in North India is a relatively new phenomenon that only became dominant in the early Mughal and British periods respectively. Historically speaking, the alliance and the open status group, whether war band or religious sect, dominated medieval and early modern Indian history in a way descent and caste did not."[]

Adi Purana, an 8th-century text of Jainism by Jinasena, is the first mention of varna and jati in Jain literature.[] Jinasena does not trace the origin of varna system to Rigveda or to Purusha, but to the Bharata legend. According to this legend, Bharata performed an "ahimsa-test" (test of non-violence), and during that test all those who refused to harm any living beings were called as the priestly varna in ancient India, and Bharata called them dvija, twice born.[] Jinasena states that those who are committed to the principle of non-harming and non-violence to all living beings are deva-Brahmaṇas, divine Brahmins.[] The Ādi purāṇa (9th c.) also discusses the relationship between varna and jati. According to Padmanabh Jaini, a professor of Indic studies, in Jainism and Buddhism, the Adi Purana text states "there is only one jati called manusyajati or the human caste, but divisions arise on account of their different professions".[] The caste of Kshatriya arose, according to Jainism texts, when Rishabha procured weapons to serve the society and assumed the powers of a king, while Vaishya and Shudra castes arose from different means of livelihood they specialised in.[]

Medieval era, Islamic Sultanates and Mughal empire period ( to )

Early and mid 20th century Muslim historians, such as Hashimi in and Qureshi in , proposed that "caste system was established before the arrival of Islam", and it and "a nomadic savage lifestyle" in the northwest Indian subcontinent were the primary cause why Sindhi non-Muslims "embraced Islam in flocks" when Arab Muslim armies invaded the region.[] According to this hypothesis, the mass conversions occurred from the lower caste Hindus and Mahayana Buddhists who had become "corroded from within by the infiltration of Hindu beliefs and practices". This theory is now widely believed to be baseless and false.[][]

Derryl MacLein, a professor of social history and Islamic studies, states that historical evidence does not support this theory; that whatever evidence is available suggests that Muslim institutions in north-west India legitimised and continued any inequalities that existed; and that neither Buddhists nor "lower caste" Hindus converted to Islam because they viewed Islam to lack a caste system.[] Conversions to Islam were rare, states MacLein, and conversions attested by historical evidence confirms that the few who did convert were Brahmin Hindus (theoretically, the upper caste).[] MacLein asserts that the caste and conversion theories about Indian society during the Islamic era are not based on historical evidence or verifiable sources, but rather on the personal assumptions of Muslim historians about the nature of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in the northwest Indian subcontinent.[]

Richard Eaton, a professor of history at Berkley, asserts that the presumption of a rigid Hindu caste system and the oppression of lower castes in pre-Islamic era in India is the cause of "mass conversion to Islam" during the medieval era. This claim suffers from the problem that "no evidence can be found in support of the theory, and it is profoundly illogical".[]

Peter Jackson, a professor of Medieval History and Muslim India, writes that the speculative hypotheses about the caste system in Hindu states during the medieval Delhi Sultanate period (~ to ), and the existence of a caste system, as being responsible for Hindu weakness in resisting the plunder by Islamic armies, is appealing at first sight, but "they do not withstand closer scrutiny and historical evidence".[] Jackson states that, contrary to the theoretical model of caste where only Kshatriyas could be warriors and soldiers, historical evidence confirms that Hindu warriors and soldiers during the medieval era included members other castes such as Vaishyas and Shudras.[] "Further," writes Jackson, "there is no evidence that there ever was a widespread conversion to Islam at the turn of twelfth century" by Hindus of lower caste.[] Jamal Malik, a professor of Islamic studies, extends this observation further, and states that "at no time in history did Hindus of low caste convert en masse to Islam".[]

Jamal Malik states that caste as a social stratification is a well-studied Indian system, yet evidence also suggests that hierarchical concepts, class consciousness and social stratification had already occurred in Islam before Islam arrived in India.[] The concept of caste, or 'qaum' in Islamic literature, is mentioned by a few Islamic historians of medieval India, states Malik, but these mentions relate to the fragmentation of the Muslim society in India.[] Zia al-Din al-Barani of Delhi Sultanate in his Fatawa-ye Jahandari and Abu al-Fadl from Akbar's court of Mughal Empire are the few Islamic court historians who mention caste. Zia al-Din al-Barani's discussion, however, is not about non-Muslim castes, rather a declaration of the supremacy of Ashraf caste over Ardhal caste among the Muslims, justifying it in Quranic text, with "aristocratic birth and superior genealogy being the most important traits of a human".[][]

Irfan Habib, an Indian historian, states that Abu al-Fazl's Ain-i Akbari provides a historical record and census of the Jat peasant caste of Hindus in northern India, where the tax-collecting noble classes (Zamindars), the armed cavalry and infantry (warrior class) doubling up as the farming peasants (working class), were all of the same Jat caste in the 16th century. These occupationally diverse members from one caste served each other, writes Habib, either because of their reaction to taxation pressure of Muslim rulers or because they belonged to the same caste.[] Peasant social stratification and caste lineages were, states Habib, tools for tax revenue collection in areas under the Islamic rule.[]

The origin of caste system of modern form, in the Bengal region of India, may be traceable to this period, states Richard Eaton.[] The medieval era Islamic Sultanates in India utilised social stratification to rule and collect tax revenue from non-Muslims.[] Eaton states that, "Looking at Bengal's Hindu society as a whole, it seems likely that the caste system—far from being the ancient and unchanging essence of Indian civilisation as supposed by generations of Orientalists—emerged into something resembling its modern form only in the period –".[]

Later-Mughal period ( to )

Susan Bayly, an anthropologist, notes that "caste is not and never has been a fixed fact of Indian life" and the caste system as we know it today, as a "ritualised scheme of social stratification," developed in two stages during the post-Mughal period, in 18th and early 19th century. Three sets of value played an important role in this development: priestly hierarchy, kingship, and armed ascetics.

With the Islamic Mughal empire falling apart in the 18th century, regional post-Mughal ruling elites and new dynasties from diverse religious, geographical and linguistic background attempted to assert their power in different parts of India. Bayly states that these obscure post-Mughal elites associated themselves with kings, priests and ascetics, deploying the symbols of caste and kinship to divide their populace and consolidate their power. In addition, in this fluid stateless environment, some of the previously casteless segments of society grouped themselves into caste groups. However, in 18th century writes Bayly, India-wide networks of merchants, armed ascetics and armed tribal people often ignored these ideologies of caste. Most people did not treat caste norms as given absolutes writes Bayly, but challenged, negotiated and adapted these norms to their circumstances. Communities teamed in different regions of India, into "collective classing" to mold the social stratification in order to maximise assets and protect themselves from loss. The "caste, class, community" structure that formed became valuable in a time when state apparatus was fragmenting, was unreliable and fluid, when rights and life were unpredictable.

In this environment, states Rosalind O'Hanlon, a professor of Indian history, the newly arrived East India Company colonial officials, attempted to gain commercial interests in India by balancing Hindu and Muslim conflicting interests, and by aligning with regional rulers and large assemblies of military monks. The East India Company officials adopted constitutional laws segregated by religion and caste.[] The legal code and colonial administrative practice was largely divided into Muslim law and Hindu law, the latter including laws for Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. In this transitory phase, Brahmins together with scribes, ascetics and merchants who accepted Hindu social and spiritual codes, became the deferred-to-authority on Hindu texts, law and administration of Hindu matters.[a]

While legal codes and state administration were emerging in India, with the rising power of the European powers, Dirks states that the late 18th-century British writings on India say little about caste system in India, and predominantly discuss territorial conquest, alliances, warfare and diplomacy in India. Colin Mackenzie, a British social historian of this time, collected vast numbers of texts on Indian religions, culture, traditions and local histories from south India and Deccan region, but his collection and writings have very little on caste system in 18th-century India.

During British rule ( to )

Although the varnas and jatis have pre-modern origins, the caste system as it exists today is the result of developments during the post-Mughal period and the British colonial period, which made caste organisation a central mechanism of administration.


Jati were the basis of caste ethnology during the British colonial era. In the census and thereafter, colonial ethnographers used caste (jati) headings, to count and classify people in what was then British India (now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma). The census included 60 sub-groups each subdivided into six occupational and racial categories, and the number increased in subsequent censuses. The colonial era census caste tables, states Susan Bayly, "ranked, standardised and cross-referenced jati listings for Indians on principles similar to zoology and botanical classifications, aiming to establish who was superior to whom by virtue of their supposed purity, occupational origins and collective moral worth". While bureaucratic colonial officials completed reports on their zoological classification of Indian people, some British officials criticised these exercises as being little more than a caricature of the reality of caste system in India. The colonial officials used the census-determined jatis to decide which group of people were qualified for which jobs in the colonial government, and people of which jatis were to be excluded as unreliable. These census caste classifications, states Gloria Raheja, a professor of Anthropology, were also used by colonial officials over the late 19th century and early 20th century, to formulate land tax rates, as well as to frequently target some social groups as "criminal" castes and castes prone to "rebellion".[]

The population then comprised about million people, across five major religions, and over , agrarian villages, each with a population between and 1, people of various age groups, which were variously divided into numerous castes. This ideological scheme was theoretically composed of around 3, castes, which in turn was claimed to be composed of 90, local endogamous sub-groups.[][]

The strict British class system may have influenced the British preoccupation with the Indian caste system as well as the British perception of pre-colonial Indian castes. British society's own similarly rigid class system provided the British with a template for understanding Indian society and castes.[] The British, coming from a society rigidly divided by class, attempted to equate India's castes with British social classes.[][] According to David Cannadine, Indian castes merged with the traditional British class system during the British Raj.[][]

Race science

Colonial administrator Herbert Hope Risley, an exponent of race science, used the ratio of the width of a nose to its height to divide Indians into Aryan and Dravidian races, as well as seven castes.


From the s, photography was used in Indian subcontinent by the British for anthropological purposes, helping classify the different castes, tribes and native trades. Included in this collection were Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist (Sinhalese) people classified by castes.[]Above is an s photograph of Rajputs, classified as a high Hindu caste.
Jobs for forward castes

The role of the British Raj on the caste system in India is controversial. The caste system became legally rigid during the Raj, when the British started to enumerate castes during their ten-year census and meticulously codified the system. Between and , the British formulated the caste system into their system of governance, granting administrative jobs and senior appointments only to the upper castes.

Targeting criminal castes and their isolation

Starting with the 19th century, the British colonial government passed a series of laws that applied to Indians based on their religion and caste identification.[][][] These colonial era laws and their provisions used the term "Tribes", which included castes within their scope. This terminology was preferred for various reasons, including Muslim sensitivities that considered castes by definition Hindu, and preferred Tribes, a more generic term that included Muslims.[]

The British colonial government, for instance, enacted the Criminal Tribes Act of This law declared that all those who belonged to certain castes were born with criminal tendencies.[] Ramnarayan Rawat, a professor of History and specialising in social exclusion in the Indian subcontinent, states that the criminal-by-birth castes under this Act included initially Ahirs, Gurjars and Jats, but its enforcement expanded by the late 19th century to include most Shudras and untouchables, such as Chamars,[] as well as Sannyasis and hill tribes.[] Castes suspected of rebelling against colonial laws and seeking self-rule for India, such as the previously ruling families Kallars and the Maravars in south India and non-loyal castes in north India such as Ahirs, Gurjars and Jats, were called "predatory and barbarian" and added to the criminal castes list.[] Some caste groups were targeted using the Criminal Tribes Act even when there were no reports of any violence or criminal activity, but where their forefathers were known to have rebelled against Mughal or British authorities,[][] or these castes were demanding labour rights and disrupting colonial tax collecting authorities.[]

The colonial government prepared a list of criminal castes, and all members registered in these castes by caste-census were restricted in terms of regions they could visit, move about in or people with whom they could socialise.[] In certain regions of colonial India, entire caste groups were presumed guilty by birth, arrested, children separated from their parents, and held in penal colonies or quarantined without conviction or due process.[][][] This practice became controversial, did not enjoy the support of all British colonial officials, and in a few cases this decades-long practice was reversed at the start of the 20th century with the proclamation that people "could not be incarcerated indefinitely on the presumption of [inherited] bad character".[] The criminal-by-birth laws against targeted castes was enforced until the midth century, with an expansion of criminal castes list in west and south India through the s to s.[][] Hundreds of Hindu communities were brought under the Criminal Tribes Act. By , the colonial government included criminal castes and tribes under the act in the Madras Presidency alone.[]

While the notion of hereditary criminals conformed to orientalist stereotypes and the prevailing racial theories during the colonial era, the social impact of its enforcement was profiling, division and isolation of many communities of Hindus as criminals-by-birth.[][][][b]

Religion and caste segregated human rights

Eleanor Nesbitt, a professor of History and Religions in India, states that the colonial government hardened the caste-driven divisions in India not only through its caste census, but with a series of laws in the early 20th century.[][] Colonial officials, for instance, enacted laws such as the Land Alienation Act in and Punjab Pre-Emption Act in , listing castes that could legally own land and denying equivalent property rights to other census-determined castes. These acts prohibited the inter-generational and intra-generational transfer of land from land-owning castes to any non-agricultural castes, thereby preventing economic mobility of property and creating consequent caste barriers in India.[][]

Khushwant Singh a Sikh historian, and Tony Ballantyne a professor of History, state that these colonial-era laws helped create and erect barriers within land-owning and landless castes in northwest India.[][] Caste-based discrimination and denial of human rights by the colonial state had similar impact elsewhere in India.[][][]

Social identity

Nicholas Dirks has argued that Indian caste as we know it today is a "modern phenomenon,"[c] as caste was "fundamentally transformed by British colonial rule."[d] According to Dirks, before colonial rule caste affiliation was quite loose and fluid, but colonial rule enforced caste affiliation rigorously, and constructed a much more strict hierarchy than existed previously, with some castes being criminalised and others being given preferential treatment.[][]

De Zwart notes that the caste system used to be thought of as an ancient fact of Hindu life and that contemporary scholars argue instead that the system was constructed by the colonial authorities. He says that "jobs and education opportunities were allotted based on caste, and people rallied and adopted a caste system that maximized their opportunity". De Zwart also notes that post-colonial affirmative action only reinforced the "British colonial project that ex hypothesi constructed the caste system".

Sweetman notes that the European conception of caste dismissed former political configurations and insisted upon an "essentially religious character" of India. During the colonial period, caste was defined as a religious system and was divorced from political powers. This made it possible for the colonial rulers to portray India as a society characterised by spiritual harmony in contrast to the former Indian states which they criticised as "despotic and epiphenomenal",[e] with the colonial powers providing the necessary "benevolent, paternalistic rule by a more 'advanced' nation".

Further development

Assumptions about the caste system in Indian society, along with its nature, evolved during colonial rule.[f] Corbridge concludes that British policies towards India's numerous princely sovereign states, as well as enumeration of the population into rigid categories during the year census, particularly with the and census, contributed towards the hardening of caste identities.

Social unrest during s led to a change in this policy. From then on, the colonial administration began a policy of positive discrimination by reserving a certain percentage of government jobs for the lower castes.[]

In the round table conference held on August , upon the request of Ambedkar, the then Prime Minister of Britain, Ramsay MacDonald made a Communal Award which awarded a provision for separate representation for the Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Dalits. These depressed classes were assigned a number of seats to be filled by election from special constituencies in which voters belonging to the depressed classes only could vote. Gandhi went on a hunger strike against this provision claiming that such an arrangement would split the Hindu community into two groups. Years later, Ambedkar wrote that Gandhi's fast was a form of coercion.[] This agreement, which saw Gandhi end his fast and Ambedkar drop his demand for a separate electorate, was called the Poona Pact.[]

After India achieved independence, the policy of caste-based reservation of jobs was formalised with lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Other theories and observations

Smelser and Lipset propose in their review of Hutton's study of caste system in colonial India the theory that individual mobility across caste lines may have been minimal in India because it was ritualistic. They state that this may be because the colonial social stratification worked with the pre-existing ritual caste system.

The emergence of a caste system in the modern form, during the early period of British colonial rule in the 18th and 19th century, was not uniform in South Asia. Claude Markovits, a French historian of colonial India, writes that Hindu society in north and west India (Sindh), in late 18th century and much of 19th century, lacked a proper caste system, their religious identities were fluid (a combination of Saivism, Vaisnavism, Sikhism), and the Brahmins were not the widespread priestly group (but the Bawas were).[] Markovits writes, "if religion was not a structuring factor, neither was caste" among the Hindu merchants group of northwest India.[]

Contemporary India

Caste politics

Main article: Caste politics

Societal stratification, and the inequality that comes with it, still exists in India,[][] and has been thoroughly criticised.[] Government policies aim at reducing this inequality by reservation, quota for backward classes, but paradoxically also have created an incentive to keep this stratification alive according to sociologist Arvind Shah.[] The Indian government officially recognises historically discriminated communities of India such as the untouchables under the designation of Scheduled Castes, and certain economically backward castes as Other Backward Class.[][]

Loosening of the caste system

Main article: Inter-caste marriages in India

The Government of India provides financial incentives to inter-caste couples under the Dr. Ambedkar Scheme for Social Integration through Inter-Caste Marriages. Various state governments such as those of Odisha, Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra also have similar schemes.[][]

A article in The Telegraph observed that inter-caste marriage and dating were common in urban India.[] But on a nationwide basis, the proportion of such practice is still small. A study in found that inter-caste marriages had nearly doubled between and but only reaching the level of %. A majority of marriages in India are still endogamous with inter-caste and inter-religious marriages found mostly among those who are "economically, educationally, culturally advanced and urban oriented".[]

Caste-related violence

Main article: Caste-related violence in India

Independent India has witnessed caste-related violence. According to a UN report, approximately 31, cases of violent acts committed against Dalits were reported in [][][page&#;needed] The UN report claimed cases of violent acts per 10, Dalit people. For context, the UN reported between 40 and 55 cases of violent acts per 10, people in developed countries in [][page&#;needed][] One example of such violence is the Khairlanji massacre of

The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, of India aims to prevent and punish atrocities and discrimination against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Examples of crimes punishable under the Act include "forcing victims to eat or drink obnoxious substances; dumping excreta, sewage, carcasses into their homes or compounds; land grabbing; humiliation; sexual abuse". The National Crime Records Bureau includes statistics of crimes reported under the law as part of it annual reports.[] There has been a growth in total number of crimes reported under the Act in recent years but conviction rates have been low. Crimes against members of Scheduled Caste communities grew by % and against Scheduled Tribes by % in [][]

Indian diaspora

Caste persists within the Indian diaspora. For example, Dalit people in the United States report experiencing discrimination and violence.[][] In the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing initiated a lawsuit against Cisco and two of its employees for alleged discrimination against an Indian engineer because he was from a lower caste than them. According to a survey by civil rights group Equality Labs cited in the lawsuit, 67% of Dalits "reported being treated unfairly at their workplace because of their caste".[][]

The Government of the United Kingdom ran a public consultation on ways to ensure legal protection against caste discrimination from March to September Based on the consultation the government decided that "the best way to provide the necessary protection against unlawful discrimination because of caste is by relying on emerging case law as developed by courts and tribunals".[][][]

Affirmative action

Main article: Reservation in India

Article 15 of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination based on caste and Article 17 declared the practice of untouchability to be illegal.[] In , India enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act (renamed in , as the Protection of Civil Rights Act). It extended the reach of law, from intent to mandatory enforcement. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was passed in India in []

  • The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes was established to investigate, monitor, advise, and evaluate the socio-economic progress of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.[]
  • A reservation system for people classified as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has existed for over 50 years. The presence of privately owned free market corporations in India is limited and public sector jobs have dominated the percentage of jobs in its economy. A report estimated that most jobs in India were in companies owned by the government or agencies of the government.[] The reservation system implemented by India over 50 years, has been partly successful, because of all jobs, nationwide, in , percent of the jobs were held by those in the lowest castes.[citation needed]
  • The Indian government classifies government jobs in four groups. The Group A jobs are senior most, high paying positions in the government, while Group D are junior most, lowest paying positions. In Group D jobs, the percentage of positions held by lowest caste classified people is 30% greater than their demographic percentage. In all jobs classified as Group C positions, the percentage of jobs held by lowest caste people is about the same as their demographic population distribution. In Group A and B jobs, the percentage of positions held by lowest caste classified people is 30% lower than their demographic percentage.[]
  • The presence of lowest caste people in highest paying, senior-most position jobs in India has increased by ten-fold, from percent of all jobs in to percent of all jobs in []


The Indian government officially recognises historically discriminated communities of India such as the untouchables under the designation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and certain economically backward Shudra castes as Other Backward Class.[][need quotation to verify] The Scheduled Castes are sometimes referred to as Dalit in contemporary literature. In , Dalits comprised percent of India's total population.[] Of the one billion Hindus in India, it is estimated that Hindu Forward caste comprises 26%, Other Backward Class comprises 43%, Hindu Scheduled Castes (Dalits) comprises 22% and Hindu Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) comprises 9%.[]

In addition to taking affirmative action for people of schedule castes and scheduled tribes, India has expanded its effort to include people from poor, backward castes in its economic and social mainstream. In , the government reservation of 27% for Backward Classes on the basis of the Mandal Commission's recommendations. Since then, India has reserved 27 percent of job opportunities in government-owned enterprises and agencies for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBCs). The 27 percent reservation is in addition to percent set aside for India's lowest castes for the last 50 years.[]

Mandal commission

The Mandal Commission was established in to "identify the socially or educationally backward" and to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination.[] In , the commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law, whereby additional members of lower castes—the other backward classes—were given exclusive access to another 27 percent of government jobs and slots in public universities, in addition to the 23 percent already reserved for the Dalits and Tribals. When V. P. Singh's administration tried to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in , massive protests were held in the country. Many alleged that the politicians were trying to cash in on caste-based reservations for purely pragmatic electoral purposes.[citation needed]

Other Backward Classes (OBC)

There is substantial debate over the exact number of OBCs in India; it is generally estimated to be sizable, but many believe that it is lower than the figures quoted by either the Mandal Commission or the National Sample Survey.[]

The reservation system has led to widespread protests, such as the Indian anti-reservation protests, with many complaining of reverse discrimination against the Forward Castes (the castes that do not qualify for the reservation).[citation needed]

In May , the government approved a poverty, religion and caste census to identify poverty in different social backgrounds.[] The census would also help the government to re-examine and possibly undo some of the policies which were formed in haste such as the Mandal Commission in order to bring more objectivity to the policies with respect to contemporary realities.[] Critics of the reservation system believe that there is actually no social stigma at all associated with belonging to a backward caste and that because of the huge constitutional incentives in the form of educational and job reservations, a large number of people will falsely identify with a backward caste to receive the benefits. This would not only result in a marked inflation of the backward castes' numbers, but also lead to enormous administrative and judicial resources being devoted to social unrest and litigation when such dubious caste declarations are challenged.[]

In 20th century India, the upper-class (Ashraf) Muslims dominated the government jobs and parliamentary representation. As a result, there have been campaigns to include the Muslim untouchable and lower castes among the groups eligible for affirmative action in India under SC and STs provision act&#;[] and have been given additional reservation based on the Sachar Committee report.

Effects of government aid

In a study, Desai et al. focussed on education attainments of children and young adults aged 6–29, from lowest caste and tribal populations of India. They completed a national survey of over , households for each of the four survey years between and [] They found a significant increase in lower caste children in their odds of completing primary school. The number of Dalit children who completed either middle-, high- or college-level education increased three times faster than the national average, and the total number were statistically same for both lower and upper castes. However, the same study found that in , the percentage of Dalit males never enrolled in a school was still more than twice the percentage of upper caste males never enrolled in schools. Moreover, only % of Dalit females were college graduates compared to % of upper caste females. The number of Dalit girls in India who attended school doubled in the same period, but was still lower than the national average. Other poor caste groups as well as ethnic groups such as Muslims in India have also made improvements over the year period, but their improvement lagged behind that of Dalits and adivasis. The net percentage school attainment for Dalits and Muslims were statistically the same in

A nationwide survey of India by the World Bank found that over 80 percent of children of historically discriminated castes were attending schools. The fastest increase in school attendance by Dalit community children occurred during the recent periods of India's economic growth.[]

A study by Darshan Singh presents data on health and other indicators of socio-economic change in India's historically discriminated castes. He claims:[]

  • In , the literacy rates in India's lowest castes was 55 percent, compared to a national average of 63 percent.
  • The childhood vaccination levels in India's lowest castes was 40 percent in , compared to a national average of 44 percent.
  • Access to drinking water within household or near the household in India's lowest castes was 80 percent in , compared to a national average of 83 percent.
  • The poverty level in India's lowest castes dropped from 49 percent to 39 percent between and , compared to a national average change from 35 to 27 percent.

The life expectancy of various caste groups in modern India has been raised; but the International Institute for Population Sciences report suggests that poverty, not caste, is the bigger differentiation in life expectancy in modern India.[]

Influence on other religions

While identified with Hinduism, caste systems are found in other religions on the Indian subcontinent, including other religions such as Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.[][][][page&#;needed]


Main article: Caste system among Indian Christians

Social stratification is found among the Christians in India based on caste as well as by their denomination and location. The caste distinction is based on their caste at the time that they or their ancestors converted to Christianity since the 16th century, they typically do not intermarry, and sit separately during prayers in Church.[]

The earliest conception of caste among Indian Christians comes from Kerala, called Saint Thomas Christians (or "Syrian Christians"). Duncan Forrester observes that "Nowhere else in India is there a large and ancient Christian community which has in time immemorial been accorded a high status in the caste hierarchy.&#; Syrian Christian community operates very much as a caste and is properly regarded as a caste or at least a very caste-like group." Amidst the Hindu society, the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala had inserted themselves within the Indian caste society by the observance of caste rules and were regarded by the Hindus as a caste occupying a high place within their caste hierarchy.[] Their traditional belief that their ancestors were high-caste Hindus such as Nambudiris and Nairs, who were evangelised by St. Thomas, has also supported their upper-caste status.[] With the arrival of European missionaries and their evangelistic mission among the lower castes in Kerala, two new groups of Christians, called Latin Rite Christians and New Protestant Christians, were formed but they continued to be considered as lower castes by higher ranked communities, including the Saint Thomas Christians.[]


Main article: Caste system among South Asian Muslims

Caste system has been observed among Muslims in India.[] They practice endogamy, hypergamy, hereditary occupations, avoid social mixing and have been stratified. There is some controversy[] if these characteristics make them social groups or castes of Islam.

Indian Muslims are a mix of Sunni (majority), Shia and other sects of Islam. From the earliest days of Islam's arrival in South Asia, the Arab, Persian and Afghan Muslims have been part of the upper, noble caste. Some upper caste Hindus converted to Islam and became part of the governing group of Sultanates and Mughal Empire, who along with Arabs, Persians and Afghans came to be known as Ashrafs (or nobles). Below them are the middle caste Muslims called Ajlafs, and the lowest status is those of the Arzals.[][] Anti-caste activists like Ambedkar called the Arzal caste among Muslims as the equivalent of Hindu untouchables,[] as did the British ethnographer Herbert Hope Risley.[]

In Bengal, some Muslims refer to the social stratification within their society as qaum (or Quoms),[] a term that is found among Muslims elsewhere in India, as well as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Qaums have patrilineal hereditary, with ranked occupations and endogamy. Membership in a qaum is inherited by birth.[] Barth identifies the origin of the stratification from the historical segregation between pak (pure) and paleed (impure)—defined by the family's social or religious status, occupation and involvement in sexual crimes. Originally, Paleed/Paleet qaum included people running or working at brothels, prostitution service providers or professional courtesan/dancers (Tawaif) and musicians. There is history of skin color defining Pak/Paleed, but that does not have historical roots, and was adopted by outsiders using analogy from Hindu Caste system.[]

Similarly, Christians in Pakistan are called "Isai", meaning followers of Isa (Jesus). But the term originates from Hindu Caste system and refers to the demeaning jobs performed by Christians in Pakistan out of poverty. Efforts are being made to replace the term with "Masihi" (Messiah), which is preferred by the Christians citizens of Pakistan.[]

Endogamy is very common in Muslims in the form of arranged consanguineous marriages among Muslims in India and Pakistan.[] Malik states that the lack of religious sanction makes qaum a quasi-caste, and something that is found in Islam outside South Asia.[]

Some assert that the Muslim castes are not as acute in their discrimination as those of the Hindus,[] while critics of Islam assert that the discrimination in South Asian Muslim society is worse.[]


Although the Sikh Gurus criticised the hierarchy of the caste system, one does exist in Sikh community. According to Sunrinder S, Jodhka, the Sikh religion does not advocate discrimination against any caste or creed, however, in practice, Sikhs belonging to the landowning dominant castes have not shed all their prejudices against the Dalits. While Dalits would be allowed entry into the village gurudwaras they would not be permitted to cook or serve langar (the communal meal). Therefore, wherever they could mobilise resources, the Dalits of Punjab have tried to construct their own gurudwara and other local level institutions in order to attain a certain degree of cultural autonomy.[]

In , the Government of India acceded to the demands of the Sikh leader, Tara Singh, to include Sikh castes of the converted untouchables in the list of scheduled castes. In the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, 20 of the seats are reserved for low-caste Sikhs.[][]

The Sikh literature from the period Islamic rule and the British colonial era mention Varna as Varan, and Jati as Zat or Zat-biradari. Eleanor Nesbitt, a professor of Religion and author of books on Sikhism, states that the Varan is described as a class system, while Zat has some caste system features in Sikh literature.[] In theory, Nesbitt states Sikh literature does not recognise caste hierarchy or differences. In practice, states Nesbitt, widespread endogamy practice among Sikhs has been prevalent in modern times, and poorer Sikhs of disadvantaged castes continue to gather in their own places of worship. Most Sikh families, writes Nesbitt, continue to check the caste of any prospective marriage partner for their children. She notes that all Gurus of Sikhs married within their Zat, and they did not condemn or break with the convention of endogamous marriages for their own children or Sikhs in general.[]


Caste system in Jainism has existed for centuries, primarily in terms of endogamy, although, per Paul Dundas, in modern times the system does not play a significant role.[] This is contradicted by Carrithers and Humphreys who describe the major Jain castes in Rajasthan with their social rank.[]


Table 1 is the distribution of population of each Religion by Caste Categories, obtained from merged sample of Schedule 1 and Schedule 10 of available data from the National Sample Survey Organisation 55th (–) and 61st Rounds (–05) Round Survey.[] The Other Backward Class (OBCs) were found[by whom?] to comprise 52% of the country's population by the Mandal Commission report of , a figure which had shrunk to 41% by when the National Sample Survey Organisation's survey took place.[]


There has been criticism of the caste system from both within and outside of India.[] Since the s, caste has become a major issue in the politics of India.[]

Indian social reformers

A stereograph of Hindu children of high caste, Bombay. This was part of Underwood & Underwood stereoscope journey of colonial world. This and related collections became controversial for staging extreme effects and constructing identities of various colonised nations. Christopher Pinney remarks such imaging was a part of surveillance and imposed identities upon Indians that were resented.[][][]

The caste system has been criticised by many Indian social reformers.


Basava (–) was one of the first social reformers.[citation needed] Basava championed devotional worship that rejected temple worship and rituals, and replaced it with personalised direct worship of Shiva through practices such as individually worn icons and symbols like a small linga. This approach brought Shiva's presence to everyone and at all times, without gender, class or caste discrimination. His teachings and verses such as Káyakavé Kailása (Work is the path to Kailash (bliss, heaven), or Work is Worship) became popular.[according to whom?][citation needed]

Jyotirao Phule

Jyotirao Phule (–) vehemently criticised any explanations that the caste system was natural and ordained by the Creator in Hindu texts. If Brahma wanted castes, argued Phule, he would have ordained the same for other creatures. There are no castes in species of animals or birds, so why should there be one among human animals.[citation needed] In his criticism Phule added, "Brahmins cannot claim superior status because of caste, because they hardly bothered with these when wining and dining with Europeans."[citation needed] Professions did not make castes, and castes did not decide one's profession. If someone does a job that is dirty, it does not make them inferior; in the same way that no mother is inferior because she cleans the excreta of her baby. Ritual occupation or tasks, argued Phule, do not make any human being superior or inferior.[]


Vivekananda similarly criticised caste as one of the many human institutions that bars the power of free thought and action of an individual. Caste or no caste, creed or no creed, any man, or class, or caste, or nation, or institution that bars the power of free thought and bars action of an individual is devilish, and must go down. Liberty of thought and action, asserted Vivekananda, is the only condition of life, of growth and of well-being.[]


In his younger years, Gandhi disagreed with some of Ambedkar's observations, rationale and interpretations about the caste system in India. "Caste," he claimed, has "saved Hinduism from disintegration. But like every other institution it has suffered from excrescences."[citation needed] He considered the four divisions of Varnas to be fundamental, natural and essential. The innumerable subcastes or Jatis he considered to be a hindrance. He advocated to fuse all the Jatis into a more global division of Varnas.[citation needed] In the s, Gandhi began to advocate for the idea of heredity in caste to be rejected, arguing that "Assumption of superiority by any person over any other is a sin against God and man. Thus caste, in so far as it connotes distinctions in status, is an evil."[]

He claimed that Varnashrama of the shastras is today nonexistent in practice. The present caste system is theory antithesis of varnashrama. Caste in its current form, claimed Gandhi, had nothing to do with religion. The discrimination and trauma of castes, argued Gandhi, was the result of custom, the origin of which is unknown. Gandhi said that the customs' origin was a moot point, because one could spiritually sense that these customs were wrong, and that any caste system is harmful to the spiritual well-being of man and economic well-being of a nation. The reality of colonial India was, Gandhi noted, that there was no significant disparity between the economic condition and earnings of members of different castes, whether it was a Brahmin or an artisan or a farmer of low caste. India was poor, and Indians of all castes were poor. Thus, he argued that the cause of trauma was not in the caste system, but elsewhere. Judged by the standards being applied to India, Gandhi claimed, every human society would fail. He acknowledged that the caste system in India spiritually blinded some Indians, then added that this did not mean that every Indian or even most Indians blindly followed the caste system, or everything from ancient Indian scriptures of doubtful authenticity and value. India, like any other society, cannot be judged by a caricature of its worst specimens. Gandhi stated that one must consider the best it produced as well, along with the vast majority in impoverished Indian villages struggling to make ends meet, with woes of which there was little knowledge.[][original research?]

B. R. Ambedkar

B. R. Ambedkar was born in a caste that was classified as untouchable, became a leader of human rights campaigns in India, a prolific writer, and a key person in drafting modern India's constitution in the s. He wrote extensively on discrimination, trauma and what he saw as the tragic effects of the caste system in India.[citation needed] He believed that the caste system originated in the practise of endogamy and that it spread through imitation by other groups. He wrote that initially, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras existed as classes whose choice of occupation was not restricted by birth and in which exogamy was prevalent. Brahmins then began to practise endogamy and enclosed themselves, hence Ambedkar defines caste as "enclosed class". He believed that traditions such as sati, enforced widowhood and child marriage developed from the need to reinforce endogamy and Shastras were used to glorify these practices so that they are observed without being questioned. Later, other caste groups imitated these customs. However, although Ambedkar uses the approach of psychologist Gabriel Tarde to indicate how the caste system spread, he also explains that Brahmins or Manu cannot be blamed for the origin of the caste system and he discredits theories which trace the origin of caste system in races.[][non-primary source needed]

KK Sarachandra Bose

Activist KK Sarachandra Bose

In KK Sarachandra Bose went on a day Bharat Yatra (Indian journey) of almost 14, kilometres (8,&#;mi) from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi along with over 30 volunteers to campaign for the end of the caste system.[] Bose also believes that using the term 'caste' conflicts with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[][] He urged the government of India for constitutional reform to remove all references to the caste system by December [][]

Caste politics

See also: Caste politics

Many political parties in India have indulged in caste-based votebank politics. Parties such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal claim that they are representing the backward castes, and rely on OBC support, often in alliance with Dalit and Muslim support, to win elections.[]

Economic inequality

Economic inequality seems to be related to the influence of inherited social-economic stratification.[citation needed] A study notes that the caste system in India is a system of exploitation of poor low-ranking groups by more prosperous high-ranking groups.[] A report published in note that in India % of people own no land at all, % own about 15% of the land, with a very wealthy % owning 15% of the land.[] A study by Haque reports that India contains both the largest number of rural poor, and the largest number of landless households on the planet.[citation needed] Haque also reports that over 90 percent of both scheduled castes (low-ranking groups) and all other castes (high-ranking groups) either do not own land or own land area capable of producing less than $ per year of food and income per household. However, over 99 percent of India's farms are less than 10 hectares, and percent of the farms are less than 20 hectares, regardless of the farmer or landowner's caste. Indian government has, in addition, vigorously pursued agricultural land ceiling laws which prohibit anyone from owning land greater than mandated limits. India has used this law to forcibly acquire land from some, then redistribute tens of millions of acres to the landless and poor of the low-caste. Haque suggests that Indian lawmakers need to reform and modernise the nation's land laws and rely less on blind adherence to land ceilings and tenancy reform.[][]

In a study, Aiyar too notes that such qualitative theories of economic exploitation and consequent land redistribution within India between and had no effect on the quality of life and poverty reduction. Instead, economic reforms since the s and resultant opportunities for non-agricultural jobs have reduced poverty and increased per capita income for all segments of Indian society.[] For specific evidence, Aiyar mentions the following

Critics believe that the economic liberalisation has benefited just a small elite and left behind the poor, especially the lowest Hindu caste of dalits. But a recent authoritative survey revealed striking improvements in living standards of dalits in the last two decades. Television ownership was up from zero to 45 percent; cellphone ownership up from zero to 36 percent; two-wheeler ownership (of motorcycles, scooters, mopeds) up from zero to percent; children eating yesterday's leftovers down from percent to percent&#; Dalits running their own businesses up from 6 percent to 37 percent; and proportion working as agricultural labourers down from percent to percent.

Cassan has studied the differential effect within two segments of India's Dalit community. He finds India's overall economic growth has produced the fastest and more significant socio-economic changes. Cassan further concludes that legal and social program initiatives are no longer India's primary constraint in further advancement of India's historically discriminated castes; further advancement are likely to come from improvements in the supply of quality schools in rural and urban India, along with India's economic growth.[]

Apartheid and discrimination

The maltreatment of Dalits in India has been described by Anand Teltumbde, Gopal Guru and others as "India's hidden apartheid".[][][] Critics of the accusations point to substantial improvements in the position of Dalits in post-independence India, consequent to the strict implementation of the rights and privileges enshrined in the Constitution of India, as implemented by the Protection of Civil rights Act, [] They also argue that the practise had disappeared in urban public life.[]

Recent research by Naveen Bharathi, Deepak Malghan and Andaleeb Rahman found that "the extent of intra-village segregation in Karnataka is greater than the local black-white segregation in the American South that continues to influence residential patterns to this day." They claim that this finding agrees with previous ethnographic research that found that residential space in rural India is segregated along caste lines.[][][]

Sociologists Kevin Reilly, Stephen Kaufman and Angela Bodino, while critical of caste system, conclude that modern India does not practice apartheid since there is no state-sanctioned discrimination.[] They write that casteism in India is presently "not apartheid. In fact, untouchables, as well as tribal people and members of the lowest castes in India benefit from broad affirmative action programmes and are enjoying greater political power."[]

A hypothesis that caste amounts to race has been rejected by some scholars.[][] Ambedkar, for example, wrote that "The Brahmin of Punjab is racially of the same stock as the Chamar of Punjab. The Caste system does not demarcate racial division. The Caste system is a social division of people of the same race."[] Various sociologists, anthropologists and historians have rejected the racial origins and racial emphasis of caste and consider the idea to be one that has purely political and economic undertones. Beteille writes that "the Scheduled Castes of India taken together are no more a race than are the Brahmins taken together. Every social group cannot be regarded as a race simply because we want to protect it against prejudice and discrimination", and that the Durban conference on racism hosted by the U.N. is "turning its back on established scientific opinion".[better&#;source&#;needed]

In popular culture

Mulk Raj Anand's debut novel, Untouchable (), is based on the theme of untouchability. The Hindi film Achhut Kannya (Untouchable Maiden, ), starring Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani, was an early reformist film.[citation needed] The debut novel of Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (), also has themes surrounding the caste system across religions. A lawyer named Sabu Thomas filed a petition to have the book published without the last chapter, which had graphic description of sexual acts between members of different castes.[][better&#;source&#;needed] Thomas claimed the alleged obscenity in the last chapter deeply hurts the Syrian Christian community, the basis of the novel.[]

See also


  1. ^Sweetman notes that the Brahmin had a strong influence on the British understanding of India, thereby also influencing the methods of British rule and western understandings of Hinduism, and gaining a stronger position in Indian society.
  2. ^Karade states, "the caste quarantine list was abolished by independent India in and criminal tribes law was formally repealed in by its first parliament".[]
  3. ^Dirks (a, p.&#;5): "Rather, I will argue that caste (again, as we know it today) is a modern phenomenon, that it is, specifically, the product of an historical encounter between India and Western colonial rule. By this I do not mean to imply that it was simply invented by the too clever British, now credited with so many imperial patents that what began as colonial critique has turned into another form of imperial adulation. But I am suggesting that it was under the British that 'caste' became a single term capable of expressing, organising, and above all 'systematising' India's diverse forms of social identity, community, and organisation. This was achieved through an identifiable (if contested) ideological canon as the result of a concrete encounter with colonial modernity during two hundred years of British domination. In short, colonialism made caste what it is today."
  4. ^Dirks, Scandal of Empire (, p.&#;27): "The institution of caste, for example, a social formation that has been seen as not only basic to India but part of its ancient constitution, was fundamentally transformed by British colonial rule."
  5. ^Sweetman cites Dirks (), The Hollow Crown, University of Michigan Press, p.xxvii
  6. ^For example, some Britons believed Indians would shun train travel because tradition-bound South Asians were too caught up in caste and religion, and that they would not sit or stand in the same coaches out of concern for close proximity to a member of higher or lower or shunned caste. After the launch of train services, Indians of all castes, classes and gender enthusiastically adopted train travel without any concern for so-called caste stereotypes.[][]


  1. ^Nehru, Jawaharlal (). The discovery of India. New Delhi: Penguin Books. ISBN&#;. OCLC&#;
  2. ^"What is India's caste system?". BBC News. 25 February Retrieved 27 May
  3. ^LeVine, Sarah (). Rebuilding Buddhism: The Theravada Movement in Twentieth-Century Nepal. Harvard University Press. p.&#; ISBN&#;.
  4. ^Omvedt, Gail (). Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste. Sage Classics. p.&#; ISBN&#;.
  5. ^"The Thai Malaise".
  6. ^Evers, Hans-Dieter (). "The Formation of a Social Class Structure: Urbanization, Bureaucratization and Social Mobility in Thailand". American Sociological Review. 31 (4): – doi/ JSTOR&#;
  7. ^Mabbett, I. W. (). "Varnas in Angkor and the Indian Caste System". The Journal of Asian Studies. 36 (3): – doi/ JSTOR&#;
  8. ^Geoffrey Robinson (). The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali. Cornell University Press. p.&#; ISBN&#;.
  9. ^Doniger, Wendy (). Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of world religions. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster. p.&#;
Caste systems in Africa - Wikipedia audio article

Under India's caste system, Dalits are considered untouchable. The coronavirus is intensifying that slur

She is nine months pregnant and has four children to feed, but at the bottom of the steps community leaders of a dominant caste force her to go back empty-handed.
Since India went into lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus on March 25, 57 families who live in Polamma's hilltop village in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, have been barred from going down the hill, even to purchase essentials such as food and medicine.
The families are part of the Yanadi community, who work mainly as waste pickers and drain cleaners and who -- even before the coronavirus -- were segregated because of their caste.
"We've been locked up here, like prisoners -- we live near a milk factory, and there is not a drop of milk for my children to drink. We are called dirty, and they say we spread the disease," said Polamma, who only goes by one name.
Pollama said she was stopped by higher caste community members as she tried to walk one kilometer to the market for food.
India's caste system was officially abolished in , but the 2,year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry.
Those at the bottom of the hierarchy, who fall outside the four main categories of Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (traders and merchants) and the Shudras (laborers), are considered "untouchables" or Dalits.
Millions of people, about 25% of India's population of billion people, are grouped under the scheduled castes (Dalits) and scheduled tribes (Adivasis) in India's constitution. Adivasis are indigenous Indians who have been socially and economically marginalized for centuries.
Both groups have long endured social isolation, but it's feared the rapid spread of the coronavirus and measures to stop it have worsened their segregation.
Jobs that Dalits and Adivasis have been forced to take for centuries -- cleaners, manual scavengers and waste pickers -- expose them to a greater risk of catching the virus.
During the pandemic, their jobs are considered essential services by the Indian government, but many say they haven't been given adequate equipment to protect themselves against Covid And if they get sick, there's no social safety net to ensure they don't fall even deeper into poverty.

Lower access to services and higher mortality

When the Spanish Flu pandemic ripped through India in killing almost 17 million people, caste played a crucial role in determining who received health care -- and who died.
Lower caste people living in crowded slums were the most exposed to the virus, and the least able to find food and medicine as the flu spread, according to historian David Arnold, who has extensively researched and written about the Spanish Flu epidemic in India.
Historian Amit Kapoor, author of "Riding the Tiger," said 61 lower caste people died for every 1, in the community. For upper caste Hindus it was 19 for every 1,, and the figure was even lower for Europeans living in India.
However, Kapoor believes that while people belonging to the lower caste were disproportionately impacted in , the situation now is different. "While caste was very predominant in , in the impact of epidemics have more to do with the economic hierarchy than the social hierarchy," said Kapoor.
There's little doubt that lower caste Indians are poorer than higher castes.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)'s global multidimensional poverty index (MPI), half of scheduled tribes were considered poor compared to 15% of higher castes.
Poverty makes lower castes more vulnerable during emergencies, according to the findings of a study by the International Dalit Solidarity Network, a network of international human rights groups fighting Dalit discrimination.
For example, after the Asian tsunami, Dalits were forced to remove bodies and debris, for very little if any pay, and weren't offered any psychological support. Many weren't compensated for their lost possessions, such as the bikes and fishing nets that were swept away, the report said.
Dalit activists fear the coronavirus will again reinforce inequality in India.
"India has , villages and almost every village a small pocket on the outskirts is meant for Dalits," said Paul Divakar, a Dalit activist from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
"This settlement is far from health care centers, banks, schools and other essential services. During times like Covid, the aid may not even reach this small pocket."
He said repeated advice on social distancing threatened to encourage the kind of behavior seen in the northern city of Bareilly when migrant workers were doused with bleach disinfectant.
"Covid is legitimizing these actions all in the name of hygiene and social distancing," said Divakar.
Dalits are forced to take up the jobs such as cleaning, manual scavenging, working at brick kilns and leather-crafting -- occupations considered "filthy" or "dishonorable" for higher-caste communities.
The sanitation and cleaning work formally and informally employs 5 million people, of which 90% belong to the lowest Dalit sub-castes, according to a five-month study of sanitation workers across India carried out in by Dalberg Advisors, a development policy and strategy firm, with the support of The Gates Foundation.
The Indian government has deemed sanitation and cleaning to be essential services, which must continue during the lockdown. India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a directive that sanitation workers in hospitals and elsewhere should be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks and gloves.
Sanitation workers clean hospitals for seven to eight hours a day, but many say they have not been given sufficient, if any, protective gear, said Suryaprakash Solanke, leader of a Dalit workers union in Mumbai.
"For years they have been cleaning and scrubbing hospitals, residential complexes, streets and railway stations. But instead of providing them with protective gear, and rewarding them, people are ostracizing them. Some have even been refused water to drink, when requested while at work," said Solanke.
Vanita Bhaskar Salvi works as a sanitation worker in a hospital in the Mumbai district of Thane. She says she and her colleagues have only been given single-layered cloth masks to protect them from the virus while at work.
"We are lesser humans. We clean and wash the entire ward. When patients soil their clothes, we clean them up. All for 8, rupees ($) a month. And now we are further at risk of disease as we have no protection gear when we touch and clean all the waste," she said.
Salvi says she is scared of contracting the virus and would prefer not to go to work, but as the only one with a job in her family, she has no option.
Kiran Dighavkar, officer at the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the civic body governing Mumbai, said: "There are enough kits with us for sanitation worker. Masks, gloves, kits, everything."
CNN reached out to officials in the Health and Labor Ministry for comment on allegation insufficient PPE had been provided to sanitation workers but did not receive a response.
Sanoj Kumar said people in his hometown yell out "corona, corona" when he ventures outside.
The work Dalits do exposes them to another risk: discrimination.
Sanoj Kumar left his job at a brick kiln in Tamil Nadu to return to his village near Bodh Gaya in Bihar before the lockdown was imposed. He said he faced ostracism as soon as he stepped off the train.
"The police started stopping the returning migrants at the railway station and sending them for checkups to the hospital. They were stopping people in a random manner. Those who well dressed and seemed like belonged to an upper class and dominant caste were not singled out. The others like me were stopped and sent to the hospital," he said.
After his checkup, Kumar was sent home and ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days. He says health workers check on him every two days. He obliges because he understands the need to fight the virus, but every time they visit, it adds to his family's social stigma.
"They should come up with a better and more sensitive way of doing this," said Kumar.

Informal workers without ID cards

Lower caste Indians are not only more exposed to the coronavirus and face more stigmatization, but they're also being left out of government subsidies.
On March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that all healthcare workers would be covered by health insurance for three months, and that sanitarian workers would receive special insurance cover. The Rs 50 lakh ($66,) measure was part of the government's $ billion stimulus package.
But to claim it, workers need an employment ID card validating their status as sanitation workers. Many sanitation workers don't have that.
According to the Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre, 22% of sanitation workers, manual scavengers and waste pickers did not have the digit, biometric national identification number and 33% did not possess ration cards to get subsidized food through the public distribution system.
The unique national identification number is required to access many government schemes including getting subsidies and direct cash transfers, and health insurance under the Prime Minister's health project, as well as to open a bank account.
"It has been seen that most Dalits and Adivasis, find it difficult to get these government ID cards or ration cards. Either the information doesn't reach them, or the enrollment camps to get biometric IDs are never set up in their villages and mostly they are asked to pay huge bribes to get these IDs made," said Alladi Devakumar, executive secretary of Dalit Bahujan Resource Centre.
Many sanitation workers who work as informal labor don't even have employment IDs. Salvi says she tried to approach the dean of the hospital where she works to ask for an employment identity card that would enable her to claim health insurance benefits and board the few buses that are running for essential service workers in Mumbai during the lockdown.
Without the ID card, she cannot get on the bus and has to walk 90 minutes each way to work. But when she approached the office, she says the Dean shouted for security.
"She threatened me and said don't you dare come inside and called the guard to take me away. She thinks we are trash, and now she has more reason to treat us like trash," says Salvi. CNN contacted the Dean, but she declined to comment.

No access to bank accounts

Estheramma doesn't have a bank account, making it very difficult to access government aid.
Estheramma lives with her husband and two children in a dump yard, five kilometers away from the densely populated city of Guntur in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. She's an Adivasi waste picker and makes a living by collecting the waste from dumps, segregating the waste and selling it. She and her community live segregated on the dump. There is no ration shop nearby nor are there any health care facilities close to her.
Like many other Dalits and Adivasis, Estheramma doesn't have an active bank account or a national ID card -- the two basic instruments needed to access direct cash transfers by the government.
Without this she won't be able to claim the Rs ($7) offered each month for the next three months to women, who are bank account holders registered under the government's financial inclusion program.
"There are people, especially Dalits and Adivasis who don't have accounts, then there are those who have accounts but are not able to operate them because the control of it is with someone else, either their upper caste literate landlord or the ration shopkeeper," says P. Sainath founding editor of People's Archive of Rural India, a digital journalism platform that archives stories from rural India.
Since many bank accounts are tied to mobile phone accounts, local shopkeepers help many illiterate Dalits and Adivasis carryout their bank transactions.
"Sometimes, the bank accounts are automatically opened when someone buys a mobile connection and the person is not even aware that this bank account exists. And according to the government, all the direct cash transfers come to the newest bank account of the beneficiary, so at times they have no clue that they have received money," adds Sainath.
Estheramma has a ration card and is eligible to receive the government benefit of 5 kilograms wheat or rice and 1 kilogram of preferred pulses for free for the next three months, but she said she can't go to the ration shop because it's run by shopkeepers of dominant castes who are not letting her come in, citing Covid She says she's living on small food packets distributed by charities.
"The relief package should not be centralized or linked to biometric IDs like Aadhar," said economist Jayati Ghosh, chairperson of the Center for Economic Studies and Planning at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"This will leave many out of the relief. This has to be done through state governments where they hand over these benefits through other beneficiary accounts of employment and food security."
More than 11, have been infected with the coronavirus in India, and more than people have died, according to the latest numbers from the John Hopkins University.
It's a staggeringly small number in a nation of billion people. The Indian government is expected to extend the nationwide lockdown beyond May 3, but it is still too early to gauge the final impact on the country's poorest.
People like Polamma, Salvi and Kumar hope they'll be offered greater protection, but it hasn't come yet.
After two weeks of lockdown, Polamma was finally able to access the grocery store after the police interfered at the request of Dalit activists. But she said no health workers were visiting her community to check on pregnant and lactating mothers.
Salvi takes a painkiller every day and walks to the hospital to clean and do her job with no protective gear. And Kumar and his family are staying indoors to comply with the lockdown order -- and to avoid abuse.
"Every time I step out, people start shouting 'corona, corona,'" he said. "Earlier they would walk at a distance because I am a Dalit, but now they call me the disease itself."

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The Caste Formerly Known As 'Untouchables' Demands A New Role In India

The man with the bandaged heads is one of the four members of the Dalit community who were flogged with iron rods and pipes on July 11 by group of self-styled "cow protectors." Hindustan Times via Getty Images hide caption

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Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The man with the bandaged heads is one of the four members of the Dalit community who were flogged with iron rods and pipes on July 11 by group of self-styled "cow protectors."

Hindustan Times via Getty Images

In an amateur video, four frightened men, stripped to the waist and tethered to a truck, are publicly flogged on a busy street in broad daylight.

Their assailants accused the four men of killing a cow — a sacred animal in India. Calling themselves protectors of the cow, they filmed themselves beating the foursome with iron rods and wooden sticks on July 11 — then posted their video on social media.

The attack in the Indian state of Gujarat, the home base of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ignited widespread revulsion — and even rumblings of a rebellion against India's Hindu caste system.

For millennia, caste has been the organizing principle of society in India. Determined by birth, caste draws distinctions between communities, determining one's profession, level of education and potential marriage partner. Privileges are reserved for the upper castes and denied the lower ones. The lowliest in this pecking order are the Dalits, once called "untouchables" as they are consigned by the Hindu hierarchy to the dirtiest occupations. It's a sizable community of some million people. The word Dalit comes from a Hindi word meaning "oppressed, suppressed, downtrodden."

The four beating victims are Dalits.

Vashram Sarvaiya was beaten for doing his job — helping dispose of the carcass of a dead cow. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

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Julie McCarthy/NPR

One of them, Vashram Sarvaiya, curls up in his hospital bed and describes how he and the other three were brutalized while they performed a job no non-Dalit would do: Disposing of dead cows. Sarvaiya insists they harmed no living cow.

"We didn't kill the cow, we just removed the skin. It's our ancestral job. Our forefathers did it," he explains.

Authorities had determined that a lion killed the cow. But the vigilantes insisted the men had slaughtered the animal, and while beating them chanted: "Dig four graves."

In Gujarat, the video went viral, kindling a smoldering sense of injustice. Dalits are denied access to temples, public wells, even barbershops. Heena Zen, a young educated Dalit woman, even testified to continued "untouchability," the practice that forbids physical contact with another caste and that was outlawed 60 years ago.

Zen says that in her rural village in Gujarat: "When we go to buy milk, they won't even take the money from our hands, we must put it down, and then they pick it up. They don't let us in their homes, we can't sit with them, we can't eat with them."

In the area near the assault, men who skin cows for a living are now on strike, and families across Gujarat are re-evaluating their centuries-old occupation. Dilip Chavda's family has skinned cows for generations. He's not repulsed by the grisly work of cleaning carcasses.

Rather he's indignant that men like him "were beaten for doing their job." He says he's inspired to find a different line of work. He and his cousin, year-old Pragnesh, represent a restless new generation that bristles at being treated as outcasts.

Pragnesh says: "We'll break this caste system where Dalits do all the dirty work. Let the owners of these dead cows clean the carcasses themselves. We're determined that our young generation moves ahead."

It's not the first time Dalits have asserted the right to be treated as equal citizens. Pragnesh invokes the name of B.R. Ambedkar, a prominent politician and Dalit reformer, who called for the abolition of caste a half a century ago. The fact that Gujarat is transforming anger into action is what's different in

With traditional skinners refusing to work, the disposal of cows risks a sanitation crisis in some areas. In the central Gujarati town of Limbdi, carcasses are being tossed untreated into open pits in the garbage dump. The stench is unbearable.

"It's the first time that Dalits aren't disposing of our dead animals," says Hasmukh Sheth, a trustee with a year-old animal shelter where cow carcasseshave piled up. "They did it all by hand and needed no supervision. The municipality has no experience," he says.

With some traditional cow skinners refusing to work as a protest their status in the cast system, cow carcasses are now being tossed into garbage dumps in Limbdi, a town in the state of Gujarat. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

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Julie McCarthy/NPR

Sheth adds that cow skinning is a billion dollar business, as everything on the cow — its hide, meat, even bones — is sold and consumed. The agents that buythe raw materials from the skinning Dalit families are typically from the higher castes.

Key sanitation jobs, like unclogging sewer drains and cleaning human excrement off the streets, also fall to Dalits. Dalit rights activist Jignesh Mevani argues that this occupational discrimination is ultimately holding India back.

"So we want to become a leading economic power but we want to continue with such obnoxious practices. Caste should be thrown into the dustbin of history. It is nothing more than the existence of feudalism," he says.

Mevani organized a rally and a march across the state in solidarity with the striking Dalits, starting on August 5 and ending on the 15th. At the opening rally, the small crowd assembled under the battle cry "Azadi" or "Freedom." "Freedom from caste-ism, freedom from social division, freedom from untouchability," they chanted.

Dalits are overwhelmingly poor and landless. One demand from the protesters: small parcels of property for community members in the name of equality.

Arjun Gohil, a retired teacher who's a member of the Dalit community, dances for joy at a march demanding a caste-free society. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

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Julie McCarthy/NPR

Arjun Gohil, a retired teacher who's a member of the Dalit community, dances for joy at a march demanding a caste-free society.

Julie McCarthy/NPR

At 78, Arjun Gohil is a Dalit who has lived through India's entire independence history. At the rally, the retired schoolteacher danced, exalting in a moment that he says is an "awakening" for a caste-free society.

Prime Minister Modi acknowledged this simmering revolt, telling the nation in his Independence Day address last Monday: "Economic progress alone does not make a strong nation, social justice is necessary."

Referencing the dispute regarding Dalits, Modi said: "Every citizen should fight against the differences in the society on the basis of caste and prevalent class differences."

But that's not yet happening in India. Jignesh Mevani reported trouble as marchers made their way to the town of Una, the site of the beating. Along the route, he says some members of higher castes hurled insults, while others assailed the marchers with sticks.


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