Caste – Social Groups Ranked Hierarchically by Birth, Marriage or Occupation

The origin of the word caste is from the Portuguese casta, meaning “race, lineage, or breed”. In South Asia, it refers to a system of social stratification in which people are grouped into hierarchical categories on the basis of their occupation, tribe, religion, or other factors.

The caste system is a form of social inequality that is based on birth. Castes are hierarchical social groups that people are born into and cannot change. They have a significant impact on people’s lives, dictating where they live, what jobs they can do, who they can marry, and what social events they can participate in.

Castes are often based on hereditary factors, such as profession or race. People in a caste are usually expected to perform the same job or live in the same area. They may also have specific dietary restrictions and customs that they must follow.

This form of social stratification can be found in various societies worldwide in the form of inequalities relating to factors such as class or race. However, the term caste is used mainly to describe the social strata in Hindu societies, where it is rooted in religious beliefs. It is a form of social stratification that is based on jati (the Indian word for caste), which is a system of endogamous groups. This means that people can only marry within their own jati, or caste.

The caste system is a rigid social hierarchy that includes four main classes:

  1. The Brahmins (priests and scholars)
  2. The Kshatriyas (warriors and nobility)
  3. The Vaishyas (farmers, merchants, and artisans)
  4. Rhe Shudras (labourers and servants)

There is also a fifth class, the Dalits (untouchables), who are considered to be outside of the caste system. They have the lowest status and do the most menial jobs, such as cleaning toilets and handling garbage.

Castes and Marriage

Castes often have strict rules about who people within the social grouping can marry. People within the same caste are usually expected to marry each other. In fact, marriage between different castes is often frowned upon.

Marriages within a caste are often based on tradition and mutual interests. The bride and groom usually have similar backgrounds, and they may be from the same village.

Marriages between castes do occasionally happen if both families are willing to accept the union. However such unions face difficulties, particularly if the families are from different social backgrounds. This is because they may not agree on things like education, occupation, or lifestyle. In some cases, the couple may even face discrimination from their relatives or the wider community.

Castes and Social Mobility

While people are born into castes, which in theory they cannot change, in practice it is possible to move up the caste system by getting an education, changing occupation, and acquiring more wealth or power. That said the shift in many cases happens over generations and not in one lifetime.

It must be said, however, that moving up the caste system is not easy. This is because people who are born into a lower caste often have fewer opportunities for social mobility. They may not be able to afford an education or get a good job, and they often face discrimination from people in higher castes.

The impact of the caste system on society

The caste system is a complex social hierarchy that has been the source of much conflict in India. While it has existed for centuries, it continues to have a significant impact on the lives of many people today, and is linked to many significant social issues, ranging from poverty and inequality to violence and discrimination. The caste system has also been blamed for fuelling communal tensions and religious violence.

In addition, the caste system has also proven to be a hindrance to economic development, since the rigid hierarchy makes it difficult for talented people from lower castes to get ahead, regardless of their abilities or qualifications.

The Indian Constitution officially outlawed the caste system in 1950, but its effects are still felt to this day.

Related terms:

Social stratification: The division of society into distinct social classes based on economic status, power, and prestige.

Endogamy: The practice of marrying within one’s own social group.

Exogamy: The practice of marrying outside of one’s social group.

Glossary Terms starting with C

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