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II.3.2.1 Structure and characteristics- Caste system in India

Caste System In India

         Caste system has been derived from portugese caste, meaning race, lineage. Caste is referred to ideology of social stratification in indian society. Caste have been originated in the  2nd/1st millenium B.C. and was largely in place about 500 A.D.

         In India, the caste principle is religious: castes are ranked in accordance with the degree of ritual purity ascribed to its members & to their activities ( David Jary & Julia Jary in dictionary of Sociology).

Structure of caste

Based on Varna model, there are four primary caste-

  1. Brahmin
  2. Kshtriya
  3. Vaishya
  4. Sudra

Each caste is further divided into sub- caste on the principle of ritual purity and social dominance.

Characteristics of Caste-:

Caste system is highly complex in india. According to D.G.S. Ghurye an attempt to describe caste is bound to fail, because of complexity of phenomenon. He describes 6 main characteristics of caste in his work  “ Caste & Race in India”.

  • a. socio-religious hierachy
  • b. endogamy
  • c. association with hereditary occupation
  • d. restrictions on food and social intercourse
  • e. distiction in custom, dress and speech
  • f. civil and religious disabilities and priviledges enjoyed by the different sections of the society

Characteristics of caste are-

  1. Caste has a name-:

              Castes are names, there is no castes without unnamed. Castes help in maintaining identity & boundaries. They are names according to their occupational, ancestral region or places and has their own identification like dress,,decoration etc. Tracing of geneological is not possible.

2. Caste membership is by ascription-:

        Caste membership is by birth, inherent & permanent. It is a closed unit that is ascribed by a recruitment and even person change his occupation caste membership won’t undergo any change. Thus caste membership is hereditary and  compulsory and not a matter of choice. However, there are no purely closed castes.

3. Caste- As a segmental division of society-:

         Hindu society is a caste ridden society and it divided into number of segments called castes. It is not a homogeneous society and it has a  well defined boundary of their own.Status of individual is determined by his birth and not by selection nor accomplishments. Caste membership is unchangeable, unacquirable, unattainable, non transferable. Caste has own way of life and also it has their own customs,traditions etc.

4. Caste – As Hierarchial Division of society-:

          Hindu society is divided into graditional one and divided into several small groups called castes & Sub-castes. Highness and lowness is associated  with  gradation. Brahmans are at the top of the hierarchy and are called as pure,supreme , superior. The degraded castes are called as untouchables occupies the l;ast postiion of hierarchy.

5. Restrictions on Marriages-:

           Caste is an endogamous group and  every individual in his caste has to marry within his or her group. Even at present intermarriage have not become any popular and violation of rule of endogamy was strictly in older days. The rule of endogamy is close in breeding.Hutton regards endogamy as very essence of the caste system.Exception of endogamy is seen in Malabar & Hills of punjab. Caste also supports Exogamy Marriage.

6. Restrictions on occupations -:

           Restrictions on occupational choice in caste-ridden society, there is gradation of occupation also. Some pccupations are considered to be superior and some degraded & inferior. Every caste has their specific occupation and almost hereditary.

7. Restrictions on feeding & Social Intercourse-:

       Caste system has imposed  certain restrictions on food habits .In north india, Brahmin would accept “Pakka “ food( prepared in ghee) and also Kaehacha(prepared with the use of water), but wont accept Kacheba(prepered by inferior castes).

            Idea of pollution makes clear about restrictions on social relations. It means a touch of a lower caste man would pollute a man of higher caste. Tiyan was explained to maintain a distance from Brahmins.

   8. Social & Religious disabilities-:

             In the traditional caste society, lower caste people ssuffered from cewrtain civil or social and religious disabilities. Generally, Lower castes people are made to l;ive in outskirts. The reason was that their bodies would caste too long shadows, if they falls on brahmins it make them impure.

9. Caste Panchayat and its functions-:

         In Olden days, every village have its own caste panchayat for every caste. It consists of five choosen senior members who enjoy much privelage and respect. They perform many functions-:

    • Make the members to comply with the rules & regulation in settling caste disputes.
    • Gives punishment who violates caste rules

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