The Indian Caste System

Anvita Devineni pd. 2


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-Over 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes in India

History & Reforms


-dates back to 1200 BC

-the Greek Megasthenes (350 – 290 BCE) described ancient Indian society as being made up of seven castes... different than what is modernly used

-The caste system is connected to the Hindu concept of the four varnas, which order and rank humanity by innate spiritual purity

-caste system was rigid; only birth determined one's placement in the system

-reflected economic status, culture, and professions


- During the early to mid 1900's, the caste system was increasingly criticized as a discriminatory and unjust system of social stratification - especially in regards to the untouchables

-Indian constitution now bans the use of the term "untouchable"

-Indian government has instituted affirmative action programs to give Dalits potential for success

-Still complain of violent discrimination

Urbanization, economic development, and industrialization have benefited Untouchables by breaking down caste barriers, but social and religious aspects remain a significant part of the culture in India.

11:50 - 13:00
Satyamev Jayate - Untouchability - Dignity for All

Discrimination & Violence against Untouchables

"India's hidden apartheid"

-Forbidden to enter temples

-Were rejected an education

-Were not allowed to live inside the village/town

-No rights

  • 110,000 cases of violent acts committed against Dalits were reported in 2005
  • As of 2010, total number of cases pending in various courts of India, on Dalit related and non-Dalit related matters were 31.28 million

-So far, DNA studies have failed to prove any racial origins behind the caste system


B.R. Ambedkar (1891 - 1956):

-Overcame many social and financial obstacles - became one of the first Dalits to obtain a college education in India.

-Earned a law degree and PhD for his study and research in law, economics and political science from Columbia University and London School of Ec.

-Gained reputation as a scholar; later campaigned by publishing journals advocating political rights and social freedom for India's untouchables

-worked with Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

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Mahatma Gandhi visited Madras (Chennai) in 1933 on an India-wide tour for social causes. His speeches during such tours discussed the discriminated-against castes of India and appealed for the eradication of untouchability.


Endogamy - marriage in the same caste; an ancient tradition

If it is found that a man or woman of a higher caste has had an affair with someone of a lower caste, they can be disowned from the family and caste, and in some areas, killed.

“It’s the defining consideration in all Indian politics, in all Indian marriages… The lines are blurring. India exists in several centuries simultaneously. So there are those of us like me, or people that I know for instance, to whom it means nothing… It’s a very strange situation where there’s sort of a gap between… sometimes it’s urban and rural, but it’s really a time warp.”

-Arundhati Roy on the Indian Caste System

Connection: The God of Small Things

-the caste system was very much present during the late 1900's in India (Kerala specifically) even though they are not Hindu

-Kerala Caste System among Indian Christians:

  • Divided into: Syrian Christians and Latin Christians
  • During the Pre-Independence period, untouchability was prevalent in order for the Syrian Christians to keep their status
  • Endogamous

Ammu: mother of Rahel and Estha

Velutha: worker at Paradise Pickles and Preserves

-Ammu and Velutha share a forbidden relationship which breaks an ancient taboo

*Velutha is referred to as a paravan, or untouchable; Ammu (and the whole Ipe family) is of a higher caste, most likely a Syrian Christian

--the mindset of Inferiority is evident in the interactions between Untouchables and Touchables in Ayemenem

  • Vellya Paapen (Velutha's father) is so grateful to the Touchable class that he is willing to kill his son when he discovers that his son has broken the most important rule of caste segregation - no inter-caste sexual relations

Arundhati Roy shows that discrimination against untouchables is not fair or right. Through her character of Velutha, we can see that him being an untouchable doesn't change his heart; He is an innocent man who had no reason to be killed. However, he was killed to fulfill the hatred of people of the higher castes.