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Caste and Politics

The Hindu caste system reflects Indian occupational and socially defined hierarchies. Ancient Sanskrit sources divide society into four major categories, priests (Brahmin), warriors (Kshatriya), traders (Vaishya) and farmers/laborers (Shudra). Although these categories are understood throughout India, they describe reality only in the most general terms. They omit, for example, the tribes and those once known as "untouchables." In reality, Indian society is divided into thousands of jatis--local, endogamous groups based on occupation--and organized hierarchically according to complex ideas of purity and pollution.

Break-up of India’s Religions

  • Despite economic modernisation and laws countering discrimination against the lower end of the caste structure and outlawing "untouchability," the caste system remains an important source of social identification and a potent factor in the political life of the country.
  • The government has made strong efforts to minimize the importance of caste through active affirmative action and social policies.
  • Caste has been diluted if not subsumed in the economically prosperous and heterogeneous cities, where an increasing percentage of India's population lives.
  • In the countryside, expanding education, land reform and economic opportunity through access to information, communication, transport, and credit have lessened the harshest elements of the caste system.

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