Classes, castes and tribes in India

Ground Report | New Delhi: Classes, castes and tribes in India; The caste system of India divides the society of the country into hierarchical groups. Many sociologists agree that it is practically impossible to define this system due to its complexity.

Essentially its origin is historical and religious and is influenced by the social and economic development of colonial times. The word “caste” comes from the Portuguese caste which means “race, lineage, lineage”. Inequality determined by social class or birth still exists in India.

The adoption of the Indian constitution and its implementation in 1950 overturned the previous caste system that had prevailed for decades. Specifically, article 15, which made discrimination against lower castes illegal. 

On paper, steps would begin to be taken to avoid a form of social stratification typical of the Middle Ages, but in practice it only highlighted one of the most deeply rooted problems in the population, causing a wave of violence against the Dalits, those belonging to the lower classes. 

Despite the fact that the strength of this caste system has not completely disappeared, the Indian government has officially prohibited the discrimination caused by it, applying reforms in a multitude of areas. 

Classes, castes and tribes in India

There is an opinion that Indian society is divided into castes by social class (since ancient Vedic society, known as Varna) or by birth (usually by hereditary occupations or professions, referred to as Jat). Castes by birth or occupation are usually also linked to social class.

The current castes are the result of social changes that began in the second half of the 19th century and were reinforced by the British colonization, which initially associated certain tasks of the colonial administration with certain social classes.

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Varna caste system

The word Varna means color. The system is based on Hindu literature and classifies Indians into four main classes originating from the Indian Vedic society.

  • Religious or teachers (Brahmins)
  • Rulers or warriors (Kshatriyas)
  • Artisans or merchants (Vaishyas)
  • And workers or servants (Shudras).

Those who cannot be classified in any category are the “untouchables” (Dalit). In some languages ​​they are also called “pariahs”, which in Tamil means drummer but they hate this name because it has negative connotations.

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The three upper castes begin at the end of puberty and this action is considered as a second birth. Shudras have no initiation because they are only born once.

What is the effect of the caste system?

The caste system governs the interaction between members of society, especially from different positions in the hierarchy. The restrictions include:

  • Social connections of the higher castes living in the center, lower classes living on the periphery.
  • The more prosperous hierarchical groups exploit the groups lower on the scale.

India must cope with a resurgence of caste-related violence, according to a United Nations report. More than 31,000 acts of violence against Dalits occurred in 1996.

Nine states accounted for 84% of all crimes against Dalits in India in 2019, though they only accounted for 54% of the country’s SC population, according to data released by the National Bureau of Criminal Records. The highest rates (number of crimes per lakh of the Dalit population) were recorded in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat. The others with rates above the national average were Telangana, UP, Kerala, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh.

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How is India currently managing this caste system?

  • The country’s constitution makes discrimination against lower castes illegal.
  • With Indian independence, various state policies were implemented to address caste barriers and improve social mobility.
  • These policies include affirmative action such as government quotas, employment, and education for members of the lower castes.
  • To properly apply these policies, local governments have classified thousands of communities and castes.
  • The lower castes have the status of the so-called Registered Castes, from English Scheduled Caste (SC)
  • The Registered Scheduled Tribe (ST) tribes, one higher but also poorer is the Other Backward Classes ( OBC ) (other “lower” classes)
  • In this system, the lower one is in social status, the more benefits can be obtained, so curiously the castes struggle to preserve or achieve the lowest possible classification.

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