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Caste System in India

What is Caste?
Caste come from
Latin word Castus pure
Portuguese word Casta inherited status

In India caste has been since Ancient times

Caste is not Race
Caste is not Class
Caste: Varna and Jati
Caste is a unique and strange system of
stratification based on the principles of purity
and pollution
Pyramidal structure of caste

Caste as a System

Caste is ubiquitous
Caste as the most general form of organization
Varying degrees of respectability
Circles of social interrelations
Western Social Structure Class
Caste rigid, immobile, non-flexible system of
Class flexible, free mobility and freedom of
Any attempt to define caste is bound to fail
because of its complexity

Purity and Pollution

Caste as a system of:
Hereditary occupation
Status hierarchy

Difference + Equality
Difference + Inequality
Basic characteristics of Caste system
in India

(1) Segmental Division of


Nature: caste society is not a homogeneous

Membership: involuntary, determined by birth,
not by selection
Status: West (wealth, education, vocation, class),
India (the luck to be born - birth)
Polity: the governing body of caste is caste
Role of Caste Panchayat

Marriage and Divorce
Customs and Traditions
Jajmani System (rules related to profession)

Identity: We feeling and citizens moral

allegiance to their own caste
Authority: The caste is its own ruler
Legitimacy: Quasi-Sovereignty of caste
councils to try criminal offences
Feasts to caste-men

(2) Hierarchy
Hierarchy is based on the principles of
purity and pollution
Hierarchy of groups
Brahmins at top an untouchables at
the bottom
Difference, social ranking and
Functional stratification of society
Louis Dumont: Homo Hierarchicus
Homo Equalis

(3) Restrictions on Feeding and

Social Interrelations
Rules: what sort of food or drink can be
accepted by a person and from what castes
Pakka Food: all food cooked in ghee without any
addition of water
Kachha Food: any food for which water is used
to cook
A person will not eat kachha food from anyone
below his caste because this will pollute them
Castes from whom water can be taken
Castes whose touch defiles the upper caste

(4) Civil and Religious

Segregation of castes within the village:
Brahmin and other dominant castes
The Panchamas or untouchables

Certain parts of the village are inaccessible to

certain castes
Low castes cant spit on the road
Low castes are debarred from drawing water
from wells
Low caste shadow should not defile Brahmins

Schools did not allow low caste students

In south, untouchables are not allowed to build certain
kind of houses and more than one storey
Izhavas (toddy tappers)- not allowed to carry umbrellas,
use shoes or golden ornaments or milk cows
Members of all castes, except Brahmins, forbidden to
cover the upper part of their body
For women, it was till 1865
Punishment for low caste: hard labour or death
Low castes not allowed to enter temple
Brahmins were highly privileged by the State and the

(5) Lack of Unrestricted Choice of

Caste has a traditional/hereditary calling
Members are not allowed to leave their
Brahmins as priest
No one not born as Brahmin being allowed to
be a priest
To restrict maintain status quo and purity
and prevent intermixing
Division of labour and structural functioning
of society

(6) Restrictions on Marriage

Endogamy is the essence of caste system
Caste does not allow its members to marry
Each sub-caste is also endogamous
Hypergamy (anuloma): man of higher caste
marrying a girl from one of the lower castes
Hypogamy (pratiloma): man of lower caste
marrying a boy from upper castes
Punishment: expulsion from the membership
of caste group

Khap Panchayats

Khap social and political group based on territoriality

Inter-caste marriage
Honour killing
Continuing the system of traditional authority and justice
Killing in the name of saving the purity and honour of the
family and community
Justifying in the name of preserving the tradition and old
Dont recognize the modern justice and Court system
Caste war and caste rivalry
Political implications: political power is derived from caste