Understanding India's caste system
Indian citizens

Understanding India’s caste system

You’ve probably heard of India’s caste system, but you don’t really know what it’s all about ? Well, castes are based on the ideology of human inequality. It is the core concept of Indian society. Understanding Indian castes’ system is equivalent to understanding India and Indian people. Let’s explain further.

India’s society is divided into 4 castes

India’s castes system appears in the most ancient founding texts of Hinduism, including Vedas, which depict the division of Indian society where people are born and remain unequal. This division is made in Varna, which is a four-party division of society. It serves as a base for the castes’ constitution.

At the top of this hierachy, we find Brahmanes (priests), followed by Kshatrias (warriors), then Vaishas (traders), and finally, at the bottom of the social ladder, Sudra (the remaining of the population, except the Untouchables). Untouchables are excluded from the castes’ system as they practice impure or degrading jobs, like butchers, midwifes, fishermen or hunters, which are in direct contact with blood.

India’s caste system, or Jati

There are several castes and each caste need the other ones to survive. This mutual dependency is the core of the castes’ system concept. However, in the Indian reality, there isn’t a priests’ caste, a warriors’ caste, etc. There are rather several priests’ castes, warriors’ castes, traders’ castes. That’s what we call Jati, which are kind of species, like in organic and animal life. We could call them sub-castes. In fact, Indian people define themselves rather in function of their Jati than their Varna.

Castes vary geographically

All castes and sub-castes aren’t present in the whole of India. Some specific castes exist only in some regions, but most of them are still represented on a major part of the country.

Castes are hereditarily transmissible

The castes’ ideology implies that humans are fundamentally unequals and that each person must accomplish its task, which is attributed to it in function of its rank and its birth. It is born in this cast and can’t change for another one.

About endogamy

To this day, India people prefer marrying someone in the same caste as themselves, even in the same sub-caste.

The ideology of purity and impurity

This castes’ hierarchy is coupled with work conception, human behavior and the person’s way of life, which is measured in function of it purity. This way, the Brahmane, which practices a religious and intellectual activity and is vegan, is supposed purer than a person from the warriors’ caste, as the latter eats meat, fights and kills. But the latter is also purer than a fabric trader for example, as this one belongs to an inferior caste.

Today’s evolution of castes

In reality, this ideology on heredity and mutual dependence has been altered with time. Nowadays, Even if one belongs to the traders’ caste, it doesn’t have to be a trader. It can practice a more qualified job. There isn’t any radical match between job and caste. Social mobility had led to disparities between a caste and its associated profession, which has totally shaken the castes’ mutual dependence and its hierarchy.

Competition between castes

Each caste’ member searches for its socioeconomic ascension. Today, castes tend to get closer to ethnic groups, lobbies, political parties or else to constitute social classes which try to break through in the political and media scene. All these movements show clearly the castes’ capacity to renew and revive while adapting to contemporary Indian situations.

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