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A caste is a combined social system of occupation, endogamy, culture, social class, and political power. Caste should not be confused with class, in that members of a caste are deemed to be alike in function or culture, whereas not all members of a defined class may be so alike. Although Indian society is often now associated with the word "caste", it was first used by the Portuguese to describe inherited class status in their own European society. English caste is from Latin castus "pure, cut off, segregated", the participle of carere "to cut off". Application to Hindu social groups originates in the 17th century, via Portuguese casta "breed, race, caste".

Discrimination based on caste, as perceived by UNICEF, is prevalent mainly in parts of Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan) and Africa. UNICEF estimates that such perceived discrimination based on caste affects 250 million people worldwide.[1]


In Eurasia

The Indo-European Caste System

The Indo-Europeans who settled Europe, Western Asia and the Indian Sub-Continent conceived their societies to be ordered (not divided) in a tripartite fashion, the three parts being castes [2]. Castes came to be further divided, perhaps as a result of greater specialisation.

The 'classic' formulation of the caste system as largely described by Georges Dumézil was that of a priestly or religiously occupied caste, a warrior caste, and a worker caste. This caste system can be seen to be that which flourished on the Indian Sub-Continent and amongst the Italic peoples. However, an alternative version of the system developed later to supplant it, that of Nobles, Bourgeois and Peasants, the last two being a split of the original worker caste, and the warrior and priestly function being subsumed into all three castes to a degree. This alternative caste formulation may have existed side-by-side in proto-Indo-European society as the Edda does not seem to hold to the 'classic' formulation.

In Europe the system came to be known as that of Three Estates, in England the Three Orders.

Examples of the Indo-European Castes:

Kings were born out of the warrior or noble class.

The end of the Caste system and its replacement by the Class system

The revolutions in British America and France and then elsewhere directly challenged Indo-European culture and swept away the native caste system and replaced it with a system based on class. But it is noticeable that in many countries the class system then followed a tripartite division like the caste system: for example the upper, middle and lower class used in Britain and the Dreiklassen system in Germany.

In South Asia and the Indian Sub-continent


Indian society has consisted since ancient times, of several thousands of tribal and occupational groups, castes or communities called Jāti. The phrase "Hindu Caste System" mixes up two different schemes - the Varna (class/group)[3], theoretical scheme based on idealized Brahminical traditions and some medieval codes, and the Jāti system prevalent in Indian society since historical times.

Faced with a bewildering array of thousands of autonomous and hierarchically fluid communities (Jatis), the late 19th century British colonial administration decided to categorise and rank the entire Hindu population of India by placing each of the Jatis within the theoretical Varna scheme for the purposes of the decennial Census, and ostensibly for eventual administrative convenience.[citation needed] The 1901 Census was led by Herbert Hope Risley, an ICS officer with strong pet racial beliefs about the Indian population. Simultaneous with this first ever codification into secular law of Varna-based caste identities during the British empire, communities (Jatis) sought to place themselves on higher levels of Varna categories. On the other hand, most of the Jatis grouped into the lower caste categories rejected the Varna categories as they found this arbitrary classification unreasonable, unfair and unacceptable, as it did not reflect the reality. This newly frozen materialization of caste created a growing resentment firstly against the system itself and secondly against the Brahmins, who were seen to be the beneficiaries of the arrangement which now officially anointed their place at the top of the social hierarchy. The revolt of the Justice Party and Periyar in the south, by the Maharaja of Kolhapur and the outstanding scholar Dr Ambedkar in western India against this, in the early decades of the twentieth century, has had a profound, long-lasting impact on the Indian society and politics, which continues to this date.

The British Colonial melding of the ubiquitous and fluid Jati with the theoretical and rigid Varna scheme starting from the 1901 Census has resulted in many people erroneously assuming that the entire Hindu society was organized according to the Varna scheme since ancient times. In fact, India's diverse population viewed the artificially rigid scheme as unjust and arbitrary. Modern Indian society has struggled with this flawed, inflexible imposition of caste implemented by the British since the 1901 Census.

Some activists, most prominently at the UN conference at Durban, have asserted that the caste is a form of racial discrimination.[23][24] This view has been disputed by some sociologists such as Andre Béteille, who writes that treating caste as a form of racism is "politically mischievous" and worse, "scientifically nonsense" since there is no discernible difference in the racial characteristics between Brahmins and Scheduled Castes such as the Jatav. He writes that "Every social group cannot be regarded as a race simply because we want to protect it against prejudice and discrimination."[25]

The Indian government, too, has denied the claims of equivalence between caste and racial discrimination, pointing out that the issues of social status is essentially intra-racial and intra-cultural. The view of the caste system as "static and unchanging" has also been disputed. The Indian government has been working towards creating equality between castes with guaranteed seats in educational institutions, government jobs (and promotions) and even in the parliament for those of the Scheduled Untouchable castes and tribes. Scholarships have also been available to all of these groups, so that they can go on to further education more easily and this has raised their social status.Sociologists describe how the perception of the caste system as a static and textual stratification has given way to the perception of the caste system as a more processional, empirical and contextual stratification. Others have applied theoretical models to explain mobility and flexibility in the caste system in India.[26] According to these scholars, groups of lower-caste individuals could seek to elevate the status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes. The eminent Socio-anthropologistM. N. Srinivas has also questioned the rigidity of caste and introduced the concept of Sanskritisation.[27][28].

In any event, now in modern India, with rapid urbanization and large scale migration, the ensuing crowded living arrangements and public transport, and the broad-based mix of workplace colleagues, there has been a significant change in social attitudes, at least in the larger towns and certainly in the metros. Associations of occupations with caste have also been changing, especially as new occupations are developing.


Early Indian texts like the Manusmriti and the Puranas speak of 'Varna,' which means order, category, type, colour (of things), and groups the society into four main types as follows. Brahmins (scholar, teacher, priest) Kshatriyas (warrior, king), [Soldiers]) Vaishyas (merchant, agriculturist) Shudras (worker, service provider)

All others who did not subscribe to the norms of this Hindu society, including foreigners, tribals and nomads, or even those who had been excommunicated, were called Mlechhas or "Anaryas" and were to be treated as contagious and untouchables. The fear of banishment from the society was seen as a major disincentive against violating its norms by its members. A late section of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata suggests an origin of this practice: " He who becomes harsh in speech, or violent in temper, he who seduces or abducts other people's women or robs the wealth that belongs to others, should be cast off by us".

The Varna system being a Utopian scheme should however be differentiated from the ubiquitous socio-cultural Jati-caste-system pervasive throughout India since ancient times. According to the Varna system, Brahmins are enjoined to live in poverty and their primary vocation was to learn the Vedas, sacred texts and secular subjects, teach others and pray for the well-being of all. The Kshatriya's chief occupation was martial skills and kingship. The Vaishyas were those occupied with trade and agrarian activities including cattle raising, while the Sudras were workers and service providers of all types. All the Varnas were urged, without exception, to inculcate non-possessiveness, non-stealing, truthfulness, non-violence and benevolence. These too were the very attributes propounded by the Jain and Buddhist doctrines.

As the historian Romila Thapar has pointed out in her 'The Past and Prejudice': "The dynamic of Indian society was the juxtaposition of precept to practice, of the organisation of life as it should be, to the organisation of life as it is. For every aspect of life, from the most mundane to the most exhilarating, there was a theory of functioning which did not necessarily reflect the reality. The theory was the ideal image.....The resulting dichotomies were not forced into confrontation but were adjusted...Such adjustments seem easier in pre-industrial societies whose cultures invariably appear to be more gentle, meditative and less competitive,..".

It may also be noted that although Brahmins have usually been described as the priestly class, this is not entirely accurate, as a temple priest need not have been a Brahmin, in fact very few could have been, given the vast number of temples and the sparse population of Brahmins; however, the performers of a Vedic Yajna for others or a public Yajna fire sacrifice usually were Brahmins. All the Dvija (Twice Born) ie Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas could and did perform the Homa fire sacrifice for themselves. Even this has not always been followed by all sects within Hinduism - for example, in the Arya Samaj, all castes including Shudras can perform the fire sacrifice. There were several categories among the Brahmins and temple priests were usually at the lower end of the Brahmin social scale. The ancient Greeks, e.g., Megasthenes in his Indika, and the Muslims, e.g. Alberuni (1030 CE) described Brahmins as philosophers. Megasthenes calls them Brachmanes and characterizes them thus:

"The philosophers are first in rank, but form the smallest class in point of number. Their services are employed privately by persons who wish to offer sacrifices or perform other sacred rites, and also publicly by the kings at what is called the Great Synod, wherein at the beginning of the new year all the philosophers are gathered together before the king at the gates, when any philosopher who may have committed any useful suggestion to writing, or observed any means for improving the crops and the cattle, or for promoting the public interests, declares it publicly."

According to some researchers, by the 4th century AD, and certainly by the 7th century AD, [19] there were people excluded from society altogether - the group of outcastes now referred to by themselves as Dalits or the "downtrodden." Thus, an untouchable, or an "outcaste", was a person who was deemed to not have any "Varna by those who claimed to possess it."[20][21][22]


Professor Madhav Gadgil (1983) has described the reality of castes, which are called Jatis, in India, based on his research in rural Maharashtra: "The Indian society is even today an agglomeration of numerous castes, tribes and religious communities. The tribal and caste groups are endogamous, reproductively isolated populations traditionally distributed over a restricted geographical range. The different caste populations, unlike tribes, have extensive geographical overlap and members of several castes generally constitute the complex village society. In such a village society, each caste, traditionally self regulated by a caste council, used to lead a relatively autonomous existence. Each caste used to pursue a hereditarily prescribed occupation; this was particularly true of the artisan and service castes and the pastoral and nomadic castes. The several castes were linked to each other through a traditionally determined barter of services and produce (Ghurye 1961, Karve 1961). These caste groups retained their identity even after conversion to Islam or Christianity. Each of the caste groups was thus the unit within which cultural and perhaps genetic evolution occurred, at least for the last 1500 years when the system was fully crystallized and probably much longer. Over this period the various castes had come to exhibit striking differences in cultural traits like skills possessed, food habits, dress, language, religious observances, as well as in a number of genetic traits." [1]

In "A New History of India," Stanley Wolpert states," a process of expansion, settled agricultural production, and pluralistic integration of new people led to the development of India's uniquely complex system of social organization by occupation...."

Under the Jati system, a person is born into a Jati with ascribed social roles and endogamy, i.e. marriages take place only within that Jati. The Jati provided identity, security and status and has historically been open to change based on economic, social and political influences (see Sanskritization). In the course of early Indian history, various tribal, economic, political and social factors led to a continuous closing, consolidation and variation in the prevailing social ranks which tended to become traditional, hereditary system of social structuring. This system of thousands of exclusive, endogamous groups, is called Jāti. Though there were several kinds of variations across the breadth of India, the Jati was the effective community within which one married and spent most of one's personal life. Often it was the community (Jati) which one turned to for support, for resolution of disputes and it was also the community which one sought to promote.

The Untouchables - Pariahs or Antyajas, were at the bottom of the social scale and even now perform the jobs nobody else wants such as raw sewage handling, killing animals or execution of criminals; They lived in special areas and were not allowed to read holy books. It is, however, rather interesting that people of all Jatis across the spectrum, from the so-called upper castes to the lowest of castes, including the Untouchables, tended to avoid intermarriage, sharing of food and drinks, or even close social interaction with a Jati other than their own. Indeed, most of the Jati castes did not see themselves as socially inferior to the others in any way. If at all, it was the other way round and most of them had folk narratives, traditions, myths and legends to bolster their sense of identity and cultural uniqueness.

An interesting perspective on ancient North Indian society is provided by the Greek Megasthenes, who, in his Indika, described the society as being made up of "seven classes":

"The whole population of India is divided into seven classes, of which the first is formed by the collective body of the Philosophers, which in point of number is inferior to the other classes, but in point of dignity preeminent over all. For the philosophers, being exempted from all public duties, are neither the masters nor the servants of others. They are, however, engaged by private persons to offer the sacrifices due in lifetime, and to celebrate the obsequies of the dead: for they are believed to be most dear to the gods, and to be the most conversant with matters pertaining to Hades. In requital of such services they receive valuable gifts and privileges. To the people of India at large they also render great benefits, when, gathered together at the beginning of the year, they forewarn the assembled multitudes about droughts and wet weather, and also about propitious winds, and diseases, and other topics capable of profiting-the hearers. Thus the people and the sovereign, learning beforehand what is to happen, always make adequate provision against a coming deficiency, and never fail to prepare beforehand what will help in a time of need. The philosopher who errs in his predictions incurs no other penalty than obloquy, and he then observes silence for the rest of his life."[4]

The other classes are also described by Arrian, in The Anabasis Alexandrae, Book VIII: Indica (2nd c. CE) relying on the account of Megasthenes:

"Then next to these come the farmers, these being the most numerous class of Indians; they have no use for warlike arms or warlike deeds, but they till the land; and they pay the taxes to the kings and to the cities, such as are self-governing; and if there is internal war among the Indians, they may not touch these workers, and not even devastate the land itself; but some are making war and slaying all comers, and others close by are peacefully ploughing or gathering the fruits or shaking down apples or harvesting.

The third class of Indians are the herdsmen, pasturers of sheep and cattle, and these dwell neither by cities nor in the villages. They are nomads and get their living on the hillsides, and they pay taxes from their animals; they hunt also birds and wild game in the country.

The fourth class is of artisans and shopkeepers; these are workers, and pay tribute from their works, save such as make weapons of war; these are paid by the community. In this class are the shipwrights and sailors, who navigate the rivers.

The fifth class of Indians is the soldiers' class, next after the farmers in number; these have the greatest freedom and the most spirit. They practise military pursuits only. Their weapons others forge for them, and again others provide horses; others too serve in the camps, those who groom their horses and polish their weapons, guide the elephants, and keep in order and drive the chariots. They themselves, when there is need of war, go to war, but in time of peace they make merry; and they receive so much pay from the community that they can easily from their pay support others.

The sixth class of Indians are those called overlookers. They oversee everything that goes on in the country or in the cities; and this they report to the King, where the Indians are governed by kings, or to the authorities, where they are independent. To these it is illegal to make any false report; nor was any Indian ever accused of such falsification.

The seventh class is those who deliberate about the community together with the King, or, in such cities as are self-governing, with the authorities. In number this class is small, but in wisdom and uprightness it bears the palm from all others; from this class are selected their governors, district governors, and deputies, custodians of the treasures, officers of army and navy, financial officers, and overseers of agricultural works.

To marry out of any class is unlawful -- as, for instance, into the farmer class from the artisans, or the other way; nor must the same man practise two pursuits; nor change from one class into another, as to turn farmer from shepherd, or shepherd from artisan. It is only permitted to join the wise men out of any class; for their business is not an easy one, but of all most laborious."


The Nepalese caste system resembles that of the Indian Jāti system with numerous Jāti divisions with a Varna system superimposed. But since the culture and the society is different some of the things are different. The caste system in Nepal was introduced by King Prithivi Narayan shah. He divided the caste system to make easy for division of work. He divided people into 4 caste and 36 verna.


In Pakistan, the tribes, clans and baradaris (Brotherhoods) follow social stratification especially in marriages. The concept of equality of humanity of Islam is tempered with clanish system. In the absence of "classical" castes, typically the proxies used are ethnic background (Sindhis, Punjabis, Pashtuns, Balochis, Muhajirs, etc.), Muslim sects (Sunnis, Shias, Ismailis, Bohras) and minority religions Qadyanis, Christianity, Hinduism.

Sri Lanka

In Bali

The caste system in Bali is similar to the Indian caste system; however, India's caste system is far more complicated than Bali's, and there are only four Balinese castes:

  • Brahmins - holy men and priests
  • Kshatrias - the warrior caste, it also included some nobility and kings
  • Vaishyas - the caste of merchants
  • Shudras - peasants making up more than 90% of Bali's population

Different dialects of the Balinese language are used to address members of a different caste. The Balinese caste system does not have untouchables. And there is mobility within the castes. So a family may have persons of all castes.

In East Asia


The Southern and Northern Dynasties showed such a high level of polarization between North and South that northerners and southerners referred to each other as barbarians. The Mongol Yuan Dynasty also made use of the concept; Yuan subjects were divided into four castes, with northern Han Chinese occupying the second-lowest caste and southern Han Chinese occupying the lowest one.[5]

Traditional Yi society in Yunnan was caste based. People were split into the Black Yi (nobles, 5% of the population), White Yi (commoners), Ajia (33% of the Yi population) and the Xiaxi (10%). Ajia and Xiaxi were slave castes. The White Yi were not slaves but had no freedom of movement. The Black Yi were famous for their slave-raids on Han Chinese communities. After 1959, some 700,000 slaves were freed.[6][7][8]


The two main castes in Japan were samurai and peasants. Only the samurai caste was allowed to bear arms. A samurai had a right to kill any peasant whom he felt was disrespectful.

Japan historically subscribed to a feudal caste system. While modern law has officially abolished the caste hierarchy, there are reports of discrimination against the Buraku or Burakumin undercastes, historically referred to by the insulting term Eta.[9] Studies comparing the caste systems in India and Japan have been performed, with similar discriminations against the Burakumin as the Dalits. The Burakumin are regarded as "ostracised."[10] The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō and those of residents of Korean and Chinese descent.


The Baekjeong were an "untouchable" outcaste group of Korea, often compared with the burakumin of Japan and the dalits of India and Nepal. The term baekjeong itself means "a butcher," but later changed into "common citizens" to change the caste system so that the system would be without untouchables. In the early part of the Goryeo period (918 - 1392), the outcaste groups were largely settled in fixed communities. However, the Mongol invasion left Korea in disarray and anomie, and these groups began to become nomadic. Other subgroups of the baekjeong are the chaein and the hwachae.[citation needed] During the Joseon dynasty, they were specific professions like basket weaving and performing executions. They were also considered in moral violation of Buddhist principles, which lead Koreans to see work involving meat as polluting and sinful, even if they saw the consumption as acceptable.

With the unification of the three kingdoms in the seventh century and the foundation of the Goryeo dynasty in the Middle Ages, Koreans systemised its own native caste system. At the top was the two official classes, the Yangban. Yangban means "two classes." It was composed of scholars (Munban) and warriors (Muban). Within the Yangban class, the Scholars (Munban) enjoyed a significant social advantage over the warrior (Muban) class, until the Muban Rebellion in 1170. Muban ruled Korea under successive Warrior Leaders until the Mongol Conquest in 1253. Sambyeolcho, the private Army of the ruling Choe dynasty, carried on the struggle against the Mongols until 1273, when they were finally wiped out to the last man in Chejudo. With the destruction of the warrior class, the Munban gained ascendancy. In 1392, with the foundation of Joseon dynasty, the full ascendancy of munban over muban was final. With the establishment of Confucianism as the state philosophy of Joseon, the Muban would never again gain its former social standing in Korean society.

Beneath the Yangban class were the Jung-in. They were the technicians. They served in lower level government bureaucracy. They were literate, yet were unable to rise into full bureaucratic positions despite passing the gwageo (central government entrance) exam. This class was small and specialised.

Beneath the Jung-in were the Sangmin also called Ssangnom in the vernacular. These were the servant class.

Beneath the Sangmin were the Chunmin. They were the landless peasants. These people composed the majority of Korean society until the 1600s. They were illiterate, and forbidden from marrying into the Yangban class. During the Japanese invasion of 1592, as many government genealogical record was burnt, many of them fabricated their social origin and moved into the Yangban class. With the Manchu invasion of Korea in the 1627 and 1637 and numerous peasant rebellions that followed, the ranks of Yangban families swelled up to more than 60% of the whole country by the late 1800s.

Underneath them all were the Baekjeong. The meaning today is that of butcher. They originate from the Khitan invasion of Korea in the 1000s. As they were defeated, instead of sending them back to Manchuria, The Goryeo government retained them as warriors, spread out throughout Korea. As they were nomads skilled in hunting and tanning of leather, their skill was initially valued by Koreans. Over the centuries, their foreign origins were forgotten, and were only remembered as butchers and tanners.

Korea had a very large slave population, nobi, ranging from a third to half of the entire population for most of the millennium between the Silla period and the Joseon Dynasty. Slavery was legally abolished in Korea in 1894 but remained extant in reality until 1930.[11][12][13]

The opening of Korea to foreign Christian missionary activity in the late 19th century saw some improvement in the status of the baekjeong; However, everyone was not equal under the Christian congregation, and protests erupted when missionaries attempted to integrate them into worship services, with non-baekjeong finding such an attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage.[citation needed] Also around the same time, the baekjeong began to resist the open social discrimination that existed against them.[14] They focused on social and economic injustices affecting the baekjeong, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by the upper class, authorities, and "commoners" and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.[15]

With the Gabo reform of 1896, the caste system of Korea was officially abolished. However, the Yangban families carried on traditional education and formal mannerisms into the 20th century. With the democratization of 1990s in South Korea, remnant of such mannerisms and classism is now heavily frowned upon in the South Korean society, replaced by a belief in egalitarianism. However in North Korea, there is still a caste system.

In Hawaiʻi

Ancient Hawaiʻi was a caste society. People were born into specific social classes; social mobility was not unknown, but it was extremely rare. The main classes were:

  • Aliʻi, the royal suuwop class. This class consisted of the high and lesser chiefs of the realms. They governed with divine power called mana.
  • Kahuna, the priestly and professional class. Priests conducted religious ceremonies, at the heiau and elsewhere. Professionals included master carpenters and boat builders, chanters, dancers, genealogists, and physicians and healers.
  • Makaʻāinana, the commoner class. Commoners farmed, fished, and exercised the simpler crafts. They labored not only for themselves and their families, but to support the chiefs and kahuna.
  • Kauwa, the outcast or slave class. They are believed to have been war captives, or the descendants of war captives. Marriage between higher castes and the kauwa was strictly forbidden. The kauwa worked for the chiefs and were often used as human sacrifices at the luakini heiau. (They were not the only sacrifices; law-breakers of all castes or defeated political opponents were also acceptable as victims.[16]

In Spanish and Portuguese America

The Spanish and Portuguese colonists of the Americas instituted a relatively loose system of racial and social stratification and segregation based on a person's heritage. The system remained in place in most areas of Spanish America up to the time independence was achieved from Spain. Castes were used to identify classes of people with specific racial or ethnic heritage. However, privileges or restrictions were more related to race and wealth than to a clearly defined system of castes.

Among the caste / racial classifications used then in Spanish America are: Peninsular, Criollo, Castizo, Mestizo, Cholo, Mulato, Indio, Zambo and Negro.

In Africa

Countries in Africa who have societies with caste systems within their borders include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

West Africa

In West Africa, the osu caste systems of eastern Nigeria and southern Cameroon are derived from indigenous religious beliefs and discriminate against the "Osus" people as "owned by deities" and outcasts.

Similarly, the Mandé societies in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone have caste systems that divide society by occupation and ethnic ties. The Mande caste system regards the jonow slave castes as inferior. Similarly, the Wolof caste system in Senegal is divided into three main groups, the geer (freeborn/nobles), jaam (slaves and slave descendants) and the outcast neeno (people of caste). In various parts of West Africa, Fulani societies also have caste divisions.

Central Africa

Caste systems in Central Africa include the ubuhake castes in Rwanda and Burundi.

Horn of Africa

The Borana Oromo of southern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa also have a caste system, where the Watta, an acculturated Bantu group, represent the lowest caste.

The traditionally nomadic Somali people are divided into clans, wherein the Rahanweyn agro-pastoral clans and the occupational clans such as the Madhiban are sometimes treated as outcasts.[17]

North Africa

Caste systems in North Africa include the Tuareg caste system.

Sahrawi-Moorish society in Northwest Africa was traditionally (and still is, to some extent) stratified into several tribal castes, with the Hassane warrior tribes ruling and extracting tribute - horma - from the subservient Znaga tribes. Although lines were blurred by intermarriage and tribal re-affiliation, the Hassane were considered descendants of the Arab Maqil tribe Beni Hassan, and held power over Sanhadja Berber-descended zawiya (religious) and znaga (servant) tribes. The so-called Haratin lower class, largely sedentary oasis-dwelling black people, have been considered natural slaves in Sahrawi-Moorish society.[18][19]

In Algeria, "desert Berbers and Arabs usually have a rigid caste, or class, system, with social ranks ranging from nobles down to an underclass of menial workers (mostly ethnic Africans)"[20]

In the Arabian Peninsula

Mainstream Arab society can be conceived of comprising of three castes, Bedouin (nomads), farmers fellahin (villagers), and hadar (townspeople), though these are often little more than descriptive. Tribe is regarded as more important in Arabian society.


In Yemen there exists a further caste, the Al-Akhdam who are kept as perennial manual workers through practices that mirror untouchability.[21] A traditional saying in the region goes: "Clean your plate if it is touched by a dog, but break it if it's touched by a Khadem."[22] Though conditions have improved somewhat over the past few years, the Khadem are still stereotyped by mainstream Yemenese society, considering them lowly, dirty, ill-mannered and immoral.


  1. ^ Discrimination, UNICEF
  2. ^ Mallory, J.P. In search of the Indo-Europeans Thames & Hudson (1991) p131
  3. ^ varna, or Varna (Hinduism)
  4. ^ Mgasthenes's Indika, see section 40.
  5. ^ The 'Four Class System'
  6. ^ Black Bone Yi (people)
  7. ^ General Profile of the Yi
  8. ^ The Yi ethnic minority
  9. ^ Caste, Ethnicity and Nationality: Japan Finds Plenty of Space for Discrimination
  10. ^ William H. Newell (December 1961). "The Comparative Study of Caste in India and Japan". Asian Survey 1 (10): 3–10. doi:10.1525/as.1961.1.10.01p15082. 
  11. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica - Slavery
  12. ^ Edward Willett Wagner - The Harvard University Gazette
  13. ^ Korean Nobi
  14. ^ Kim, Joong-Seop (1999). "In Search of Human Rights: The Paekchŏng Movement in Colonial Korea". in Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Robinson. Colonial Modernity in Korea. pp. 326. 
  15. ^ Kim, Joong-Seop (2003). The Korean Paekjŏng under Japanese rule: the quest for equality and human rights. pp. 147. 
  16. ^ Kapu System and Caste System of Ancient Hawai'i
  17. ^ I. M. Lewis, A pastoral democracy: a study of pastoralism and politics among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa, (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster: 1999), pp.13-14
  18. ^ Fair elections haunted by racial imbalance
  19. ^ Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law by BBC News
  20. ^ Oxfam by 'ethnic Africans' it is meant negro
  21. ^ Akhdam: Ongoing suffering for lost identity Yemen Mirror
  22. ^ IRIN


  • Spectres of Agrarian Territory by David Ludden December 11, 2001
  • "Early Evidence for Caste in South India," p. 467-492 in Dimensions of Social Life: Essays in honor of David G. Mandelbaum, Edited by Paul Hockings and Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, Amsterdam, 1987.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

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From LoveToKnow 1911

CASTE (through the Fr. from Span. and Port. casta, lineage, Lat. castus, pure). There are not many forms of social organization on a large scale to which the name " caste " has not been applied in a good or in a bad sense. Its Portuguese origin simply suggests the idea of family; but before the word came to be extensively used in modern European languages, it had been for some time identified with the Brahmanic division of Hindu society into classes. The corresponding Hindu word is varna, or colour, and the words gati, hula, gotra, pravara and karana are also used with different shades of meaning. Wherever, therefore, a writer has seen something which reminds him of any part of the extremely indeterminate notion, Indian caste, he has used the word, without regard to any particular age, race, locality or set of social institutions. Thus Palgrave' maintains that the colleges of operatives, which inscriptions prove to have existed in Britain during the Roman period, were practically castes, because by the Theodosian code the son was compelled to follow the father's employment, and marriage into a family involved adoption of the family employment. But these collegia opificum seem to be just the forerunners of the voluntary associations for the regulation of industry and trade, the frithgilds, and craft-gilds of later times, in which, no doubt, sons had great advantages as apprentices, but which admitted qualified strangers, and for which intermarriage was a matter of social feeling. The history of the formation of gilds shows, in fact, that they were really protests against the authoritative regulation of life from without and above. In the Saxon period, at any rate, there was nothing resembling caste in the strict sense.

The ceorl who had thriven so well as to have five hides of land rose to the rank of a thegn; his wergild became 1200 shillings; the value of his oath and the penalty of trespass against him increased in proportion; his descendants in the third generation became gesithcund. Nor was the character of the thriving defined; it might, so far as the terms of the custom went, be either purchase, or inheritance, or the receipt of royal bounty. The successful merchant might also thrive to thegn-right. The thegn himself might also rise to the rank, the estimation and status of an earl." 2 It has been said that early German history is, as regards this matter, in contrast with English, and that true castes are to be found in the military associations (Genossenschaften) which arose from the older class of Dienstmannen, and in which every member - page, squire or knight - must prove his knightly descent; the Bauernstand, or rural non-military population; the Biirgerstand, or merchant-class. The ministry of the Catholic Church in the West, was, however, never restricted 1 History of Rise and Progress of the English Constitution, i. 332.

2 Stubbs' Constitutional History of England, i. p. 162.

by blood relation. There is no doubt that at some time or other professions were in most countries hereditary. Thus Prescott3 tells us that in Peru, notwithstanding the general rule that every man should make himself acquainted with the various arts, " there were certain individuals carefully trained to those occupations which minister to the wants of the more opulent classes. These occupations, like every other calling and office in Peru, always descended from father to son. The division of castes was in this particular as precise as that which existed in Hindustan or Egypt." Again, Zurita 4 says that in Mexico no one could carry on trade except by right of inheritance, or by public permission. The Fiji carpenters form a separate caste, and in the Tonga Islands all the trades, except tattoo-markers, barbers and club-carvers are hereditary, - the separate classes being named matabooles, mooas and tooas. Nothing is more natural than that a father should teach his son his handicraft, especially if there be no organized system of public instruction; it gives the father help at a cheap rate, it is the easiest introduction to life for the son, and the custom or reputation of the father as a craftsman is often the most important legacy he has to leave. The value of transmitted skill in the simple crafts was very great; and what was once universal in communities still survives in outlying portions of communities which have not been brought within the general market of exchange. But so long as this process remains natural, there can be no question of caste, which implies that the adoption of a new profession is not merely unusual, but wrong and punishable. Then, the word caste has been applied to sacred corporations. A family or a tribe is consecrated to the service of a particular altar, or all the altars of a particular god. Or a semi-sacred class, such as the Brehons or the Bards, is formed, and these, and perhaps some specially dignified professions, become hereditary, the others remaining free. Thus in Peru, the priests of the Sun at Cuzco transmitted their office to their^sons; so did the Quipu-camayoc, or public registrars, and the amantas and haravecs, the learned men and singers.' In many countries political considerations, or distinctions of race, have prevented intermarriage between classes. Take, for example, the patricians and the plebeians at Rome, or the /7raprtiiraa, AaKwvES or 7repioLKoL, and the E`'XurrES at Sparta. In Guatemala it was the law that if any noble married a plebeian woman he should be degraded to the caste of mazequal, or plebeian, and be subject to the duties and services imposed on that class, and that the bulk of his estate should be sequestered to the king. 6 In Madagascar marriage is strictly forbidden between the four classes of Nobles, Hovas, Zarahovas and Andevos, - the lowest of whom, however, are apparently mere slaves. In a sense slavery might be called the lowest of castes, because in most of its forms it does permit some small customary rights to the slave. In a sense, too, the survival in European royalty of the idea of " equality of birth " (Ebenbiirtigkeit) is that of a caste conception, and the marriage of one of the members of a European royal family with a person not of royal blood might be described as an infraction of caste rule.

Caste in India is a question of more than historical interest. It is the great obstacle to government in accordance with modern History of Peru, i. 143.

4 Rapport sur les differentes classes de chefs dans la nouvelle Espagne (1840), p. 223.

5 Something like this is to be found in the Russian notion of chin, or status according to official hierarchy of ranks, as modified by the custom of myestnichestvo, by which no one entering the public service could be placed beneath a person who had been subject to his father's orders. Hereditary nobility at one time belonged to every servant, military or civil, above a certain rank, and a family remaining out of office for two generations lost its rights of nobility; but in 1854 the privilege was confined to arm y colonels and state councillors of the 4th class. At one time, therefore, the razryadniya knighi, or special registers, superseded by Peter the Great's barkhatnaya kniga, or Velvet Book, contained a complete code of social privilege and precedence. Peter's "tabel o rangakh" contained fourteen classes. The subject is treated of in the 1600 articles of the ninth volume of the Russian Code Svod Zakonov. The Russian Nobility, though deprived of their exemptions from conscription, personal taxation and corporal punishment, still retain many advantages in the public service.

s Juarros, Hist. of Guatemala, Tr. (London, 1823).

ideas, and to the work of native religious reformers as well as of Christian missionaries. By some writers caste has been regarded as the great safeguard of social tranquillity, and therefore as the indispensable condition of the progress in certain arts and industries which the Hindus have made. Others, such as James Mill, have denounced it as fatal to the principle of free competition and opposed to individual happiness. The latter view assumes a state of facts which was denied by Colebrooke, one of the highest authorities on Indian matters. Writing in 1798 he says,' after pointing out that any person unable to earn a subsistence by the exercise of his profession may follow the trade of a lower caste or even of a higher: " Daily observation shows even Brahmans exercising the menial profession of a Sudra. We are aware that every caste forms itself into clubs or lodges, consisting of the several individuals of that caste residing within a small distance, and that these clubs or lodges govern themselves by particular rules or customs or by-laws. But though some restrictions and limitations, not founded on religious prejudices, are found among their by-laws, it may be received as a general maxim that the occupation appointed for each tribe is entitled merely to a preference. Every profession, with few exceptions, is open to every description of persons; and the discouragement arising from religious prejudices is not greater than what exists in Great Britain from the effects of municipal and corporation laws. In Bengal the numbers of people actually willing to apply to any particular occupation are sufficient for the unlimited extension of any manufacture." This was corroborated by Elphinstone, 2 who states that, during a long experience of India, he never heard of a single case of degradation from caste; and it is illustrated by the experience of the Indian army, in which men of all castes unite.3 The ordinary notion of modern caste is that it involves certain restrictions on marriage, on profession, and on social intercourse, especially that implied in eating and drinking together. How far intermarriage is permitted, what are the effects of a marriage permitted but looked on as irregular, what are the penalties of a marriage forbidden, whether the rules protecting trades and occupations are in effect more than a kind of unionism grown inveterate through custom, by what means caste is lost, and in what circumstances it may be regained, - these are questions on which very little real or definite knowledge exists. Sir H. Risley regards the absolute prohibition of mixed marriages as now the essential and most prominent characteristic. It is very remarkable that the Vedas, on which the whole structure of Brahmanic faith and morals professes to rest, give no countenance to the later regulations of caste. The only passage bearing on the subject is in the Purusha Sukta, the 90th Hymn of the 10th Book of the Rigveda Samhita. " When they divided man, how many did they make him? What was his mouth? what his arms? what are called his thighs and feet? The Brahmana was his mouth, the Raganya was made his arms, the Vaisya became his thighs, the Sudra was born from his feet." Martin Haug finds in this a subtle allegory that the Brahmans were teachers, the Kshatriyas the warriors of mankind. But this is opposed to the simple and direct language of the Vedic hymns, and to the fact that in the accounts of creation there the origin of many things besides classes of men is attributed in the same fanciful manner to parts of the divine person. It is in the Puranas and the Laws of Manu, neither of which claims direct inspiration, where they 1 Life and Essays of H. T. Colebrooke, i. p. 104.

History of India. " The crudities and cruelties of the caste system need not blind us to its other aspects. There is no doubt that it is the main cause of the fundamental stability and contentment by which Indian society has been braced up for centuries against the shocks of politics and the cataclysms of Nature. It provides every man with his place, his career, his occupation, his circle of friends. It makes him, at the outset, a member of a corporate body: it protects him through life from the canker of social jealousy and unfulfilled aspirations; it ensures him companionship and a sense of community with others in like case with himself. The caste organization is to the Hindu his club, his trade union, his benefit society, his philanthropic society. An Indian without caste, as things stand at present, is not quite easy to imagine." (Sidney Low, Vision of India, 1906, ch. xv. p. 263).

differ from the letter of the Veda, that the texts are to be found on which all that is objectionable in caste has been based. Even in the Vishnu Purana, however, the legend of caste speaks of the four classes as being at first " perfectly inclined to conduct springing from religious faith." It is not till after the whole human race has fallen into sin that separate social duties are assigned to the classes. The same hymn speaks of the evolution of qualities of Brahma. Sattva, or goodness, sprang from the mouth of Brahma; Rajas, or passion, came from his breast; Tamas, or darkness, from his thighs; others he created from his feet. For each one of these gunas, or primitive differences of quality, a thousand couples, male and female, have been created, to which the distinct heavens, or places of perfection of Prajapati, Indra, Maruts and Gandharvas are assigned. To the gunas are related the yugas, or ages: 1st, the Krita, or glorious age of truth and piety, in which apparently no distinctions, at least no grades of excellence were known; 2nd, the Treta, or period of knowledge; 3rd, the Dvapara, or period of sacrifice; 4th, the Kali, or period of darkness. Bunsen supposes there may be an historical element in the legend that Pururava, a great conqueror of the Treta age, founded caste. The yugas are hardly periods of historical chronology, but there is no doubt that the Vayu Purana assigns the definite origin of caste to the Treta period. " The perfect beings of the first age, some tranquil, some fiery, some active and some distressed, were again born in the Treta, as Brahmans, &c., governed by the good and bad actions performed in former births." The same hymn proceeds to explain that the first arrangement did not work well, and that a second was made, by which force, criminal justice and war were declared to be the business of the Kshatriyas; officiating at sacrifices, sacred study and the receipt of presents to belong to the Brahmans; traffic, cattle and agriculture to the Vaisyas; the mechanical arts and service to the Sudras. The Ramayana hymn suggests that in the four great periods the castes successively arrive at the state of dharma or righteousness. Thus, a Sudra cannot, even by the most rigorous self-mortification, become righteous in the period proper to the salvation of the Vaisyas. As the hymn speaks in the Dvapara age, it speaks of the salvation of Sudras as future, and not yet possible. Wholly in opposition to the story of a fourfold birth from Brahma is the legend that the castes sprang from Manu himself, who is removed by several generations of gods and demi-gods from Brahma. Then, again, the Santiparvan alleges that the world, at first entirely Brahmanic, was separated into castes merely by the evil works of man. Castehood consists in the exercise of certain virtues or vices. Munis, or persons born indiscriminately, frequently rise to the caste of Brahmans, and the offspring of Brahmans sink to a lower level. The serpent observes: " If a man is regarded by you as being a Brahman only in consequence of his conduct, then birth is vain, until action is shown." But this change of caste takes place only through a second birth, and not during the life which is spent in virtue. Another poetical conception of caste birth is expressed in the Harivamsa. The Brahmans were formed from an imperishable element (Akshara), the Kshatriyas from a perishable element (Kshara), the Vaisyas from alteration, and the Sudras from a modification of smoke.

The general result of the foregoing texts is that several contradictory accounts have been given of the origin of caste, and that these are for the most part unintelligible. Caste is described as a late episode in creation, and as born from different parts of different gods, from the mortal Manu, from abstract principles, and from non-entity. It is also described as coeval with creation, as existing in perfection during the Krita period, and subsequently falling into sin. It is also said that only Brahmans existed at first, the others only at later periods. Then the rationalistic theories of the Santiparvan upset the very foundation of caste,viz. hereditary transmission of the caste character. 4 It seems clear that when the Vedas were composed, many persons who were not Brahmans acted as priests, and saints, the " preceptors of gods," by their " austere fervour," rose from a lower rank to the dignity of Brahmanhood. Originally, indeed, access to the gods by prayer 4 Muir's Sanskrit Texts, vol. i. (1868).

and sacrifice was open to all classes of the community. As the Brahmans grow in political importance, they make religion an exclusive and sacred business. We find them deciding questions of succession to the throne, and enforcing their decisions. While in the earlier literature there are several instances of Brahmans receiving instruction from the hands of Kshatriyas, in the Puranas and Manu death is made to overtake Kshatriyas who are not submissive to the Brahmans; and in one case Visvamitra, the son of Gadhi, actually obtains Brahmanhood as a reward for his submission. It seems certain that many of the ancient myths were expressly manufactured by the Brahmans to show their superiority in birth and in the favour of'Heaven to the Kshatriyas - a poetical effect which is sometimes spoiled by their claiming descent from their rivals. This brings us to a consideration of the theories which have been started to account for the appearance of Brahmanic caste, as it is stereotyped in the Laws of Manu. James Mill, who invariably underestimated the influence on history of " previous states of society," suggested that the original division must have been the work of some inspired individual, a legislator or a social reformer, who perceived the advantages which would result from a systematic division of labour. The subordination of castes he accounts for by the superstitious terror and the designing lust of power which have so frequently been invoked to explain the natural supremacy of the religious class. Because the ravages of war were dreaded most after the calamities sent by heaven, he finds that the military class properly occupy the second place. This arrangement he apparently contemplates as at no time either necessary or wholesome, and as finally destroyed by the selfish jealousies of caste, and by the degradations which the multiplication of trades made inevitable. Heeren l and Klaproth have contended that the division into castes is founded on an original diversity of race, and that the higher castes are possessed of superior beauty. The clear complexion and regular features of the Brahmans are said to distinguish them as completely from the Sudras as the Spanish Creoles were distinguished from the Peruvians. " The high forehead, stout build, and light copper colour of the Brahmins and other castes allied to them, appear in strong contrast with the somewhat low and wide heads, slight make, and dark bronze of the low castes" (Stevenson, quoted by Max Miller, Chips, ii. p. 327). 2 This explanation is, however, generally conjoined with that founded on the tradition of conquest by the higher castes. There is no doubt that the three castes of lighter colour (traivarnika), the white Brahmans, the red Kshatriyas, the yellow Vaisyas, are, at least in the early hymns and Brahmanas, spoken of as the Aryas, the Sanskrit-speaking conquerors, in contradistinction to the dark cloud of the Turanian aborigines Dasyus. In fact arya, which means noble, is derived from arya, which means householder, and was the original name of the largest caste, now called Vaisyas. The great Sanscrit scholar, Rudolf von Roth (1821-1895), in his Brahma and die Brahmanan 3 held that the Vedic people advanced from their home in the Punjab, drove the aborigines into the hills, and took possession of the country lying between the Ganges, the Jumna and the Vindhya range. " In this stage of complication and disturbance," he said, " power naturally fell into the hands of those who did not possess any direct authority," i.e. the domestic priests of the numerous tribal kings. The Sudras he regarded as a conquered race, perhaps a branch of the Aryan stock, which immigrated at an earlier period into India, perhaps an autochthonous 1 Ideen, i. 610.

2 The idea of a conquering white race is strangely repeated in the later history of India. The Raj puts and Brahmans are succeeded by the Mussulmans, the Turks, the Afghans. There was an aristocracy of colour under the Mogul dynasty. But under an Indian climate it could not last many generations. The Brahmans of southern India were as black as the lowest castes; the Chandalas are said to be descended from Brahmans. According to Manu the Chandala must not dwell within town; his sole wealth must be dogs and asses; his clothes must consist of the mantles of deceased persons; his dishes must be broken pots. Surely this vituperative description must apply to an aboriginal race.

3 Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, Band i. (quoted by Muir, ubi supra). Indian tribe. The latter hypothesis is opposed to the fact that, while the Sudra is debarred from sharing three important Vedic sacrifices, the Bhagasata Purana expressly permits him to sacrifice " without mantras," and imposes on him duties with reference to Brahmans and cows which one would not expect in the case of a nation strange in blood. But unless a previous subordination of castes among the conquering race be supposed, it seems difficult to see why the warrior-class, who having contributed most to the conquest must have been masters of the situation, should have consented to degradation below the class of Brahmans. The position of the Sudra certainly suggests conquest. But are there sound historical reasons for supposing that Brahmans and Sudras belonged to different nations, or that either class was confined to one nation? The hypothesis was held in a somewhat modified form by Meiners, 4 who supposed that instead of one conquest there may have been two successive immigrations, - the first immigrants being subdued by the second, and then forming an intermediate class between their conquerors and the aborigines; or, if there were no aborigines, the mixture of the two immigrant races would form an intermediate class. In the same way Talboys Wheeler 5 suggested that the Sudra may be the original conquerors of the race now represented by the Pariahs. Most of these explanations seem rather to describe the mode in which the existing institutions of caste might be transplanted from one land to another, from a motherland to its colonies, and altered by its new conditions. Military conquest, though it often introduces servitude, does not naturally lead to the elevation of the priesthood. It is unscientific to assume large historical events, or large ethnological facts, or the existence of some creator of social order.6 As Benjamin Constant' points out, caste rests on the religious idea of an indelible stain resting on certain men, and the social idea of certain functions being committed to certain classes. The idea of physical purity was largely developed under the Mosaic legislation; in fact the internal regulations of the Essenes (who were divided into four classes) resemble the frivolous prohibitions of Brahmanism. As the daily intercourse of men in trade and industry presents numberless occasions on which the stain of real or fancied impurity might be caught, the power of the religious class who define the rules of purity and the penalties of their violation becomes very great. Moreover, the Hindus are deeply religious, and therefore naturally prepared for Purohiti or priest-rule. They were also passionately attached to their national hymns, some of which had led them to victory, while others were associated with the benign influences of nature. Only the priest could chant or teach these hymns, and it was believed that the smallest mistake in pronunciation would draw down the anger of the gods. But however favourable the conditions of spiritual dominion might be, it seems to have been by no more natural process than hard fighting that the Brahmans finally asserted their supremacy. We are told that Parasurama, the great hero of the Brahmans, " cleared the earth thrice seven times of the Kshatriya caste, and filled with their blood the five large lakes of Samauta." Wheeler thinks that the substitution of blood-sacrifices for offerings of parched grain, clarified butter and soma wine marks an adaptation by the Brahmans of the great military banquets to the purposes of political supremacy. It is not, therefore, till the Brahmanic period of Indian history, which ends with the coming of Sakya Muni, in boo B.C., that we find the caste-definitions of Manu realized as facts. These are - " To Brahmans he (i.e. Brahma) assigned the duties of reading 4 De Origine Castarum (Göttingen).

6 History of India, vol. i. (1867-1871).

6 For a characteristic appreciation of caste see Comte, Cours de philosophie positive, vi. c. 8. He regards the hereditary transmission of functions under the rule of a sacerdotal class as a necessary and universal stage of social progress, greatly modified by war and colonization. The morality of caste was, he contends, an improvement on what preceded; but its permanence was impossible, because " the political rule of intelligence is hostile to human progress." The seclusion of women and the preservation of industrial inventions were features of caste; and the higher priests were also magistrates, philosophers, artists, engineers, and physicians.

De la religion, ii. 8.

the Vedas, of teaching, of sacrificing, of assisting others to sacrifice, of giving alms if they be rich, and if indigent of receiving gifts." 1 The duties of the Kshatriya are " to defend the people, to give alms, to sacrifice, to read the Veda, to shun the allurements of sensual gratification." The duties of a Vaisya are " to keep herds of cattle, to bestow largesses, to sacrifice, to read the scripture, to carry on trade, to lend at interest, and to cultivate land." These three castes (the twice born) wear the sacred thread. The one duty of a Sudra is " to serve the beforementioned classes without depreciating their worth." 2 The Brahman is entitled by primogeniture to the whole universe; he may eat no flesh but that of victims; he has his peculiar clothes. He is bound to help military and commercial men in distress. He may seize the goods of a Sudra, and whatever the latter acquires by labour or succession beyond a certain amount. The Sudra is to serve the twice born; and even when emancipated cannot be anything but a Sudra. He may not learn the Vedas, and in sacrifice he must omit the sacred texts. A Sudra in distress may turn to a handicraft; and in the same circumstances a Vaisya may stoop to service. Whatever crime a Brahman might commit, his person and property were not to be injured; but whoever struck a Brahman with a blade of grass would become an inferior quadruped during twenty-one transmigrations. In the state the Brahman was above all the ministers; he was the raja's priest, exempt from taxation, the performer of public sacrifices, the expounder of Manu, and at one time the physician of bodies as well as of souls. He is more liable than less holy persons to pollution, and his ablutions are therefore more frequent. A Kshatriya who slandered a Brahman was to be fined too panas (a copper weight of 200 grains); a Vaisya was fined 200 panas; a Sudra was to be whipped. A Brahman slandering any of the lower castes pays 50, 25 or 12 panas. In ordinary salutations a Brahman is asked whether his devotion has prospered; a Kshatriya, whether he has suffered from his wounds; a Vaisya whether his health is secure; a Sudra whether he is in good health. 3 In administering oaths a Brahman is asked to swear by his veracity; a Kshatriya by his weapons, house or elephant; a Vaisya by his kine, grain or goods; a Sudra by all the most frightful penalties of perjury. The Hindu mind is fertile in oaths; before the caste assembly the Dhurm, or caste custom, is sometimes appealed to, or the feet of Brahma, or some cow or god or sacred river, or the bel (the sacred creeper), or the roots of the turmeric plant. The castes are also distinguished by their modes of marriage. Those peculiar to Brahmans seem to be-1st, Brahma, when a daughter, clothed only with a single robe, is given to a man learned in the Veda whom her father has voluntarily invited and respectfully receives; 2nd, Devas or Daiva, when a daughter, in gay attire is given, when the sacrifice is already begun, to the officiating 1 The great mass of the Brahmans were in reality mendicants, who lived on the festivals of birth, marriage, and death, and on the fines exacted for infractions of caste rule. Others had establishments called Muths, endowed with',Jagir villages. There were two distinct orders of officiating priests - the Purohita, or family priest, who performed all the domestic rites, and probably gave advice in secular matters, and the Guru, who is the head of a religious sect, making tours of superintendence and exaction, and having the power to degrade from caste and to restore. In some cases the Guru is recognized as the Mehitra or officer of the caste assembly, from whom he receives Huks, or salary, and an exemption from house and stamp taxes, and service as begarree (Steele's Law and Customs of Hindoo Castes within the Dekhan Provinces, 1826; later edition, 1868). Expulsion from caste follows on a number of moral offences (e.g. assault, murder, &c.), as well as ceremonial offences (e.g. eating prohibited food, eating with persons of lower caste, abstaining from funeral rites, having connexion with a low-caste woman). Exclusion means that it is not allowed to eat with or enter the houses of the members of the caste, the offender being in theory not degraded but dead. For some heinous offences, i.e. against the express letter of the Shasters, no readmission is possible. But generally this depends on the ability of the out-caste to pay a fine, and to supply the caste with an expiatory feast of sweetmeats. He has also to go through the Sashtanyam, or prostration of eight members, and to drink the Panchakaryam, i.e. drink of the five products of the cow (Description of People of India, Abbe J. A. Dubois, Missionary in Mysore, Eng. Trans., London, 1817; edition by Pope, Madras, 1862).

Mann, x. 88-90.3 Wheeler ii. 533.

priest. The primitive marriage forms of Rashasas or Rachasa, when a maiden is seized by force from home, while she weeps and calls for help, is said to be appropriate to Kshatriyas. To the two lower castes the ceremony of Asura is open, in which the bridegroom, having given as much wealth as he can afford to the father and paternal kinsman and to the damsel herself, takes her voluntarily as his bride. A Kshatriya woman on her marriage with a Brahman must hold an arrow in her hand; a Vaisya woman marrying one of the sacerdotal or military classes must hold a whip; a Sudra woman marrying one of the upper castes must hold the skirt of a mantle.

How little the system described by Manu applies to the existing. castes of India may be seen in these facts - (I) that there is no artisan caste mentioned by Manu; (2) that eating with another caste, or eating food prepared by another caste, is not said by him to involve loss of caste, though these are now among the most frequent sources of degradation. The system must have been profoundly modified by the teaching of Buddha: " As the four rivers which fall into the Ganges lose their names as soon as they mingle their waters with the holy river, so all who believe in Buddha cease to be Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras." After Buddha, Sudra dynasties ruled in many parts of India, and under the Mogul dynasty the Cayets, a race of Sudras, had almost a monopoly of public offices. But Buddha did not wish to abolish caste. Thus it is related that a Brahman Pundit who had embraced the doctrines of Buddha nevertheless found it necessary, when his king touched him, to wash from head to foot. 4 Alexander the Great found no castes in the Punjab, but Megasthenes had left an account of the ryots and tradesmen, the military order and the gymnosophists (including the Buddhist Germanes) whom he found in the country of the Ganges.' From his use of the word gymnosophist it is probable that Megasthenes confounded the Brahmans with the hermits or fakirs; and this explains his statement that any Hindu might become a Brahman. Megasthenes spent some time at the court of Sandracottus (Chandragupta Maurya), a contemporary of Seleucus Nicator. All the later Greeks 6 follow his statement and concur in enumerating seven Indian castes - sophists, agriculturists, herdsmen, artisans, warriors, inspectors, councillors. On the revival of Brahmanism it was found that the second and third castes had disappeared, and that the field was now occupied by the Brahmans, the Sudras, and a host of mixed castes, sprung from the original twelve, Unulum and Prutilum, left-hand and right-hand, which were formed by the crossing of the four original castes. Manu himself gives a list of these impure castes, and the Ain-i-Akbari (1556-1605) makes the positive statement that there were then Soo tribes bearing the name of Kshatriya, while the real caste no longer existed. Most of these subdivisions are really tradeorganizations, many of them living in village-communities, which trace descent from a pure caste. Thus in Bengal there are the Vaidya or Baidya, the physicians, who, Manu says, originated in the marriage of a Brahman father and a Vaisya mother.

As Colebrooke said, Brahmans and Sudras enter into all trades, but Brahmans (who are profoundly ignorant even of their own scriptures) have succeeded in maintaining their monopoly of Vedic learning, which really means a superficial acquaintance With the Puranas and Manu. Though they have succeeded in excluding others from sacred employment, only a portion of the caste are actually engaged in religious ceremonies, in sacred study, or even in religious begging. Many are privates in the army, many water-carriers, many domestic servants. And they have, like other castes, many subdivisions which prevent intimate association and intermarriage. The ideal Brahman is gone: the priest " with his hair and beard clipped, his passions subdued, his mantle white, his body pure, golden rings in his ear." But the hold which caste has on the Hindu minds may, perhaps, be most clearly seen in the history of the Christian missions and in comparatively recent times. The Jesuits Xavier and Fra dei Travels of Fah Hian, c. 27. s Strabo, Ind. sec. 59.

6 Arrian, Indic. c. I I, 12; Diod. Sic. ii. c. 40, 41; and Strabo xv. I .

Nobili did everything but become Brahmans in order to convert the south of India - they put on a dress of cavy or yellow colour, they made frequent ablutions, they lived on vegetables and milk, they put on their foreheads the sandalwood paste used by the Brahmans - and Gregory XV. published a bull sanctioning caste regulations in the Christian churches of India. The Danish mission of Tranquebar, the German mission of the heroic Schwarz, whose headquarters were Tanjore, also permitted caste to be retained by their followers. Even the priests of Buddha, whose life was a protest against caste, re-erected the system in the island of Ceylon, where the radis or radias were reduced to much the same state as the Pariahs.' Protestant missions have made but little progress, even in recent years. The number of native converts to Christianity rose from 1,246,000 in 1872 to 2,664,000 in 1901; these figures, however, are by themselves rather misleading, for Christianity appears to have touched the higher classes in India not at all, only the out-castes.

It is still the general law that to constitute a good marriage the parties must belong to the same caste, but to unconnected families. Undoubtedly, however, the three higher castes were always permitted to intermarry with the caste next below their own, the issue taking the lower caste or sometimes forming a new class. A Sudra need not marry a wife of the same caste or sect as himself. In 1871 it was decided by the judicial committee of the privy council that a marriage between a zemindar (landowner) of the Malavar class, a subdivision of the Sudra caste, with a woman of the Vellala class of Sudras is lawful. Generally also a woman may not marry beneath her own caste. The feeling is not so strong against a man marrying even in the lowest caste, for Manu permits the son of a Brahman and a Sudra mother to raise his family to the highest caste in the seventh generation. The illegitimacy resulting from an invalid marriage does not render incapable of caste; at least it does not so disqualify the lawful children of the bastard. On a forfeiture of caste by either spouse intercourse ceases between the spouses: if the out-caste be a sonless woman, she is accounted dead, and funeral rites are performed for her; if she have a son, he is bound to maintain her. It is remarkable that the professional concubinage of the dancing-girl does not involve degradation, if it be with a person of the same caste. This suggests that whatever may be the function of caste, it is not a safe guardian of public morality. The rules as to prohibited degrees in marriage used to be very strict, but they are now relaxed. An act of 1856 legalized remarriage by widows in all the castes, with a conditional forfeiture of the deceased husband's estate, unless the husband has expressly sanctioned the second marriage. The later Indian Marriage Act was directed against the iniquitous child marriages; it requires a minimum age. In many ways the theoretical inferiority of the Sudra absolves him from the restraints which the letter of the law lays on the higher castes. Thus a Sudra may adopt a daughter's or sister's son, though this is contrary to the general rule that the adopter should be able to marry the mother of the adopted person. The rule requiring the person adopted to be of the same caste and gotra or family as the adopter is also dispensed with in the case of Sudras. In fact, it is only a married person whom a Sudra may not adopt. As regards inheritance the Sudra does not come off so well in competition with the other castes. " The sons of a Brahamana in the several tribes have four shares or three or two or one; the children of a Kshatriya have three portions or two or one; and those of a Vaisya take two parts or one." This refers to the case permitted by law, and not unknown in practice, of a Brahman having four wives of different castes, a Kshatriya three, and so on. But all sons of inferior caste are excluded from property coming by gift to the father; and a Sudra son is also excluded from land acquired by purchase. It must be recollected, however, that under an act of 1850, loss of caste no longer affects the capacity to inherit or to be adopted. In cases of succession ab intestato on failure of the preceptor, pupil, and fellow-student (heirs called by the Hindu law after relatives), a priest, or any Brahman, many succeed. Where a Sudra is the only son of a ' Irving, Theory and Practice of Caste (London, 1859).

Brahman, the Sapinda, or next of kin, would take two-thirds of the inheritance; where he is the only son of any other twiceborn father, the Sapinda would take one-half. Possibly, the rule of equal division among sons of equal caste did not at first apply to Brahmans, who, as the eldest sons of God, would perhaps observe the custom of primogeniture among themselves. On the other hand it was laid down in the judicial committee in 1869, contrary to the collected opinions of the Pundits of the Sudder court, that, in default of lawful children, the illegitimate children of the Sudra caste inherit their putative father's estate, and, even if there be lawful children, are entitled to maintenance out of the estate. It had previously been decided by Sir Edward Ryan in 1857 that the illegitimate children of a Rajput, or of any other member of a superior caste, have no right of inheritance even under will, but a mere right to maintenance, provided the children are docile. It seems then that the Kshatriya and Vaisya castes, though in one sense non-existent, still control Hindu succession. With regard to Persia the Zend Avesta speaks of a fourfold division of the ancient inhabitants of Iran into priests, warriors, agriculturists and artificers; and also of a sevenfold division corresponding to the seven amschespands, or servants of Ormuzd. This was no invention of Zoroaster, but a tradition from. the golden age of Jemshid or Diemschid. The priestly caste of Magi was divided into Herbeds or disciples, Mobeds or masters, and Destur Mobeds or complete masters. The last-named were alone entitled to read the liturgies of Ormuzd; they alone predicted the future and carried the sacred costi, or girdle, havan, or cup, and barsom, or bunch of twigs. The Zend word baresma is supposed to be connected with Brahma, or sacred element, of which the symbol was a bunch of kusa grass, generally called veda. The Persian and Hindu religions are further connected by the ceremony called Homa in the one and Soma in the other. Haug, in his Tract on the Origin of Brahmanism (quoted by Muir, ubi supra), maintains that the division in the Zend Avesta of the followers of Ahura Mazda into Atharvas, Rathaesvas, and Vastrya was precisely equivalent to the three superior Indian castes. He also asserts that only the sons of priests (Atharvas) could become priests, a rule still in force among the Parsis. The Book of Daniel rather suggests that the Magi were an elective body; and as regards the secular classes there does not seem to be a trace of hereditary employment or religious subordination. There is a legend in the Dabistan of a great conqueror, Mahabad, who divided the Abyssinians into the usual four castes; and Strabo mentions a similar classification of the Iberians into kings, priests, soldiers, husbandmen and menials.

At one time it was the universal opinion that in Egypt there were at least two great castes, priests and warriors, the functions of which were transmitted from father to son, the minor professions grouped under the great castes being also subject to hereditary transmission. This opinion was held by Otfried Miiller, 2 Meiners of Göttingen, and others. Doubts were first suggested by Rossellini, and after Champollion had deciphered the hieroglyphic inscriptions, J. J. Ampere boldly announced that there were in Egypt no castes strictly so called; that in particular the professions of priest, soldier, judge, &c., were not hereditary; and that the division of Egyptian society was merely that which is generally found in certain stages of social growth between the liberal professions and the mechanical arts and trades. No difference of colour, or indeed of any feature, has been observed in the monumental pictures of the different Egyptian castes. From an inspection of numerous tombs, sarcophagi, and funeral stones, which frequently enumerate the names and professions of several kinsfolk of the deceased, Ampere concluded that sacerdotal and military functions were sometimes united in the same person, and might even be combined with civil functions; that intermarriage might certainly take place between the sacred and military orders; and that the members of the same natural family did frequently adoptthedifferentoccupations which had been supposed to be the exclusive property of the castes. The tombs of Beni Hassan show in a striking manner the Manual of Archaeology. Revue des deux mondes, 15th September 1848.

Egyptian tendency to accumulate, rather than to separate, employments. Occasionally families were set apart for the worship of a particular divinity. An interesting " section " of Egyptian society is afforded by a granite monument preserved in the museum at Naples. Nine figures in bas-relief represent the deceased, his father, three brothers, a paternal uncle, and the father and two brothers of his wife. Another side contains the mother, wife, wife's mother and maternal aunts. The deceased is described as a military officer and superintendent of buildings; his elder brother as a priest and architect; his third brother as a provincial governor, and his father as a priest of Ammon. The family of the wife is exclusively sacerdotal. Egyptian caste, therefore, permitted two brothers to be of different castes, and one person to be of more castes than one, and of different castes from those to which his father or wife belonged. The lower employments, commerce, agriculture, even medicine, are never mentioned on the tombs. The absolute statements about caste in Egypt, circulated by such writers as Reynier and De Goguet, have, no doubt, been founded on passages in Herodotus (ii. 143, 164), who mentions seven classes, and makes war an hereditary profession; in Diodorus Siculus (i. 2-8), who mentions five classes and a hereditary priesthood; and in Plato, who, anxious to illustrate the principle of compulsory division of labour, on which his republic was based, speaks in the Timaeus of a total separation of the six classes - priests, soldiers, husbandmen, artisans, hunters and shepherds. Heeren (ii. 594) does not hesitate to ascribe the formation of Egyptian caste to the meeting of different races. According to the chronology constructed by Bunsen the division into castes began in the period 10,0009000, and was completed along with the introduction of animal worship and the improvement of writing under the third dynasty in the 6th or 7th century of the Old Empire. The Scholiast of Apollonius Rhodius, on the authority of Dicaearchus, in the Second Book of Hellas, mentions a king, Sesonchosis, who, about 3712 B.C., " enacted that no one should abandon his father's trade, for this he considered as leading to avarice." Bunsen conjectures that this may refer to Sesostoris, the lawgiver of Manetho's third or Memphite dynasty, the eighth from Menes, who introduced writing, building with hewn stone, and medicine; possibly, also, to Sesostris, who, Aristotle says (Polit. vii. I), introduced caste to Crete. He further observes that in Egypt there was never a conquered indigenous race. There was one nation with one language and one religion; the public panegyrics embraced the whole people; every Egyptian was the child and friend of the gods. The kings were generally warriors, and latterly adopted into the sacerdotal caste. Intermarriage was the rule, except between the swineherds and all other classes. " Every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians " (Gen. xlvi. 34) The comprehensive essay by Sir H. H. Risley in the introductory volume of the Indian Census Report for 1901 is the best recent account of caste in India. See also, besides the works mentioned in the text, Sir Denzil Ibbetson's Report on the Punjab Census (1881); V. Crooke, Things Indian (1905) and other books by this author on Indian religion and caste; Sevort, Les Castes dans l'Inde (1896); Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya, Hindu Castes and Sects (1896). There is an interesting chapter on the subject in Sidney Low's Vision of India (1906). See also India, Indian Law, and Hinduism.

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Simple English

The caste system is a system in India that was once mainly used by Hindus. It started as a job system. It later became a social class system. There are four castes in this system.

  • Brahmin - teacher, doctor, religious person
  • Kshatriya - warrior, ruler, politician, administrative worker
  • Vaishya - trader, merchant
  • Shudra - servants
  • "Untochables" - came much later after the other four groups and consisted of sweeping ashes after creamations or tanning animals skins.

Caste: Group of people who are born into a certain position in society, as in Hinduism that restricts the occupation and assiociations of their numbers.

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