Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

India’s Confusing Castes

Location: India
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D / lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 1600 • f 10 • 1/32o sec

I might have felt bad about invading this guy’s bedroom for a picture if it wasn’t in the middle of the street. But there he was every day, sleeping on the sidewalk across from our hotel. From what I learned, he was either from the Dalit (“downtrodden”) caste, or a manual laborer that didn’t make enough money to have a home. I first mentioned the caste system in an earlier post, but I wanted to take a closer look at it this week.

The Indian caste system is very complicated, but many have tried to simplify things, like in this infographic. Each major category, or Varna, is divided into many communities or castes, called Jatis or Jats. The four major Varna are Brahmin (priest), Kshatriya (administrator/warrior), Vaishya (merchants/businessmen), and Shudra (artisans, farmers, unskilled laborers). The Dalits, also called Harijans (“Children of God”) form a fifth “untouchable” caste. Even the lower classes are divided into subgroups, including the Scheduled Castes (modern Dalits), Scheduled Tribes (jungle tribes or those who reject the caste system), and Other Backward Classes (converts to other religions, criminals, and nomads, among others). Traditionalists consider foreigners untouchable as well since they are outside the caste system. Each caste has certain duties and rights for work, diet, marriage, and other areas. However, in today’s society, these definitions can be very fluid.

The caste system is traditionally a Hindu invention, but other religions in India practice it as well, since it has become so ingrained in the culture. In 1950, the concept of “untouchables” was outlawed by the Constitution of India. However, in some rural areas, it is still practiced heavily and Dalits are persecuted. In other areas, the lower classes are given positive discrimination, allowing them admittance to universities and government jobs even before upper classes can claim them. I wonder if this sleepy guy in the picture knows about that.

If you lived in India, which caste do you think you would belong to? Would you be happy with that place in society?

One response

  1. Very informative, Nicole! Thanks for sharing this. Now perhaps I can understand my friend’s background.

    August 1, 2011 at 8:36 am

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