Caste can be defined as hereditary endogamous group, having a common name, common traditional occupation, common culture, relatively rigid in matters of mobility, distinctiveness of status and forming a single homogenous community.
The caste system in India is mainly associated with Hinduism and has governed the Hindu society for thousands of years. Some of the features of caste system in India include the following:
- Segmental division of society: It means that social stratification is largely based on Membership to a caste group is acquired by birth, on the basis of which people are ranked in relative to other caste groups.
- Hierarchy: It indicates that various castes are categorized according to their purity and impurity of occupations. Just like a ladder, castes are ranked from higher to lower positions. Pure caste is ranked at the top and impure is ranked at the
- Civil and religious disabilities: These comprise of restrictions based on contact, dress, speech, rituals etc. and are placed on every caste group. It was done in order to maintain purity of specific caste groups. Example, lower caste groups had no access to wells, they were restricted from entering temples
- Endogamy: Members of a particular caste have to marry within their caste only. Inter- caste marriages are prohibited. However, in urban areas, the phenomenon of inter- caste marriage is
- Untouchability: It is the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social Untouchability was a corollary of the caste system, wherein the untouchables (those belonging to the lowest caste groups) were deemed impure and polluted.
- Manual scavenging: Manual scavenging eventually became a caste-based occupation, which involves the removal of untreated human excreta from bucket toilets or pit It has been officially abolished by the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
- Caste based violence in India: Increasing trend of caste based violence are related to instances of inter-caste marriage and assertion of basic rights by Dalits including land rights, freedom of expression, access to justice, access to education e.g. A group of
Dalits were attacked in Una, Gujarat when they had participated in the movement for demand of land ownership for the Dalits.
- Policy of caste based reservation: The system of caste-based reservation in India comprises of a series of affirmative action measures, such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and to enrollment in higher educational institutions. E.g. Scheduled Caste groups are given 15% reservation in government services and educational institutions.
- Trends for inter-caste marriage: Purity of blood was one of the main aim of the caste system. As a result, inter-caste marriages were socially forbidden. Due to economic and social necessities, inter-caste marriages on western lines are being performed at increased frequency
- Challenge to orthodoxy: Orthodox practices of the caste system such as child marriage, ban on widow re-marriage, ban on conversion, insensitiveness of superior class towards the low caste people are being challenged in the wake of
- New food habits: Due to frequent mixing of the people at meetings, conferences, seminars etc., food habits have changed. Moreover, people have adapted to new social norms such as eating at the same table, accepting food prepared by low caste people without any reservations
- Changes in occupation: Occupational mobility has become the new feature. Leaving behind their traditional roles, Brahmins have become traders whereas Vaishyas have joined teaching and so
- Improvement in the position of lower caste: Due to steps initiated by the government, position of lower castes have improved economically as well as socially.
- Sanskritisation: Sanskritisation as a process of change is the mobility concerned with positional change in the caste system. By changing the customs and rituals such as by adopting vegetarianism and teetotalism, people belonging to the low castes are claiming a ‘higher’ position in the caste
- Westernization: Due to changes in the spheres of education, food habits, dressing sense, style of eating, manners , and westernization has brought occupational changes cutting across the caste barriers.
- Modernization: It is a process which primarily relies on scientific outlook, rational attitudes, high social mobility, mass mobilisation and specialisation in work. It has made caste system more flexible. For instances, in the urban areas, castes are gradually becoming classes. The emergence of middle class with a rational outlook and goal orientation is a testimony to the
- Industrialization and urbanization: With the growth of industrial towns and cities, migration has spiralled up. Unlike the source regions, destination areas witness fewer adherences to caste
- Democratic decentralization: The reservation provided in the Panchayati Raj system has given the opportunity for the lower castes to empower
- Caste and politics: They both are closely linked to each other. In fact, the link has led to an empowerment among the lower castes since they ventilate their feelings through elections and power lobby. Dalit politics is one such example, where Dalits are trying to assert their identities and have become successful in capturing power in various
- Legislative measures: A variety of social legislations have been introduced in the post- independence era which aim to safeguard the interests of the down-trodden, to eradicate untouchability and to facilitate the social and economic development of the depressed castes. For instance, Untouchability (offences) Act, 1955 provided for punishment against the practice of untouchability.