Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Is There Today Caste System or There Is Only Caste in India?

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

Is There Today Caste System or There Is Only Caste in India?

Article excerpt

Abstract: The main focus of the paper is that caste system has always been resilient and dynamic due to its inner inconsistencies and contradictions on the one hand, and due to its interpenetration into economy, polity and culture on the other. The aim of this paper is to understand continuity and change in the caste system. Caste has engaged people, hence it has acquired a meta-legal approval. Caste has never been a simple ritual hierarchy because it has encompassed the entire matrix of socio-economic and political relations.

It has been argued that there is a need to reconceptualize caste. Caste is no more simply a system of idea and values. More important is to see actual behaviour of the people vis-à-vis the role of caste as a system. Caste has become a matter of interpretation rather than substantialization. It refers to a purposive rationality. Its discrete use provides a description of the problems of Indian society, polity and economy. However, besides caste, there are new status groups, varied forms of social mobility, and structural processes of change and dominance. In such a situation, "family" and "individual" are emerging as agencies of reproduction of inequality/equality.

Caste is becoming more of a state of mind of an individual. Contemporary changes have reshaped caste. The policy of reservations based on caste has kept it alive and vibrant. Protests against caste-based reservations have also contributed to the continuity of caste. Caste may be elusive for some who have distanced from their social and cultural roots, but for others, who continue to be there in villages and towns, caste is enduring, and it is there in practice in one way or other. At times, caste-based outbursts surface, though in everyday life, caste is not so visible as a means of social control.

Keywords: Caste System, Caste Society, Stratification, Social mobility, Caste-free areas.


The question about caste as a "system" has always remained in vogue as it has been projected mistakenly as a sort of absolute institution relating to prescription and proscription of practice and behaviour of people, particularly among Hindus in Indian society. Available authentic sources indicate that caste system has always been resilient and dynamic as it has been affected by its inner logical inconsistencies and contradictions on the one hand, and it has also affected economy, polity, culture and religion on the other, and due to this dual process, it has never been a static and stagnant system.

In a comprehensive historical analysis of caste, Susan Bayly (2000: 4) rightly states that not a single static system of caste has dominated Indian life since ancient times. Though important scriptural writings have extolled generalized caste ideals. Bayly also mentions that no so-called caste society was formed out of the castelike observances of the medieval realms. Today, manifestations of caste are far more generalized than before. She observes that caste as we now recognize has been endangered, shaped and perpetuated by recent political and social developments. The elements of "traditional" castes as we know today, Bayly says, have their roots in the early 18th century.

The main objective of this paper is to understand and analyze continuity and change in the caste system as a social force, having varying forms, manifestations and activities. Caste has always engaged people, often directly, with varied functions and obligations. Based on a set of norms, which acquired a sort of meta-legal approval, people have been grouped as Jatis, and arranged as higher and lower entities.

As Bayly (2000: 1-24) mentions that the British rule significantly expanded and sharpened caste norms and conventions, recreated many manifestations of caste language and ideology as a source of power and authority, Nicholas B. Dirks (2003) also considers caste as a modern political phenomenon, a creation of the British colonialism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.