HISTORY OF THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM AND ITS IMPACT ON INDIA TODAY By
Manali S. Deshpande Advised by Dr. Harold Kerbo
SOCS 461, 462 Senior Project Social Sciences Department College of Liberal Arts CALIFORNIA POLYTHECHNIC STATE UNIVERSITY, San Luis Obispo Fall, 2010
Table of Contents
I. II. III. IV.
Research Proposal Annotated Bibliography Outline Final Paper i. Introduction ii. Caste Structure and Characteristics iii. Origins and History iv. Religion, Culture, and Caste v. Movements and Political Policies against Caste vi. Modern India vii. Conclusion
The Indian Caste System is historically one of the main dimensions where people in India are socially differentiated through class, religion, region, tribe, gender, and language. Although this or other forms of differentiation exist in all human societies, it becomes a problem when one or more of these dimensions overlap each other and become the sole basis of systematic ranking and unequal access to valued resources like wealth, income, power and prestige. The Indian Caste System is considered a closed system of stratification, which means that a person’s social status is obligated to which caste they were born into. There are limits on interaction and behavior with people from another social status. This paper will be exploring the various aspects of the Indian caste system and its effects on India today. The caste system is a classification of people into four hierarchically ranked castes called varnas. They are classified according to occupation and determine access to wealth, power, and privilege. The Brahmans, usually priests and scholars, are at the top. Next are the Kshatriyas, or political rulers and soldiers. They are followed by the Vaishyas, or merchants, and the fourth are the Shudras, who are usually laborers, peasants, artisans, and servants. At the very bottom are those considered the untouchables. These individuals perform occupations that are considered unclean and polluting, such as scavenging and skinning dead animals and are considered outcastes. They are not considered to be included in the ranked castes. The varnas are then divided into specialized sub-castes called jatis. Each jati is composed of a group deriving its livelihood primarily from a specific occupation. People are born into a certain caste and become members. They then acquire the appropriate occupation according to their jati. Maintaining this hereditary occupational specialization and hierarchical ranking of
occupations is said to be done through an elaborate ritual system regulating the nature of social interactions between the jatis. Vedic texts from the Hindu religion, which have been compiled, legitimized, and interpreted by the Brahmans, provide the rationale for the hierarchical classification and the rituals governing social behavior. There were, and still are, rules that are laid down concerning appropriate occupational pursuit, appropriate behavior within and between castes, as well as rules related to marriage. Since India’s independence from Britain in 1947, there has been considerable relaxation of rules related to the caste system. There was more sharing between members of the middle and upper castes, but those in the lowest castes continued to eat separately from the rest. There was also a significant change in occupational goals and pursuits among men from 1954 to 1992. Earlier, most men were dedicated to their traditional caste related jobs, but by 1992, most had taken up newer occupations. Although some caste-based prejudice and ranking still existed, wealth and power was now less associated with caste. Caste became a lot less significant part of daily lives of people who lived in urban areas compared to rural areas, but its significance still varies by social class and occupation. Among urban middle-class professionals, caste is not openly discussed and is pretty insignificant, except when it comes to marital...
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