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History of the Indian Castes Essay

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Updated: Mar 17th, 2020


Every country has its own culture and traditions. India is interesting for its unique social structure. It involves the complex system of social classes named the castes. The stratification of Indian society facilitates economic and social inequality. Indian society is often described as “the unity in diversity” due to its numerous cultural and social dimensions.

The aim of this essay is to describe the system of castes in India as well as to characterize the diversity of Indian society.

The Economic Dimension of the Caste System

In general, the caste system in India represents the stratified hierarchy of the differences of the Indian social structure. It has a long and rich history. The first mentions of the caste system in India trace back to 1200 BC. The division on castes was based on the social division of labor.

Caste can be described as “a group of people having a specific social rank” (History of the caste system, n.d., part. 1). The Indians still believe that if the person does not violate the rules of their caste, they will transit to the higher caste in the next life.

If they do violate the rules of their caste, they will transit to the lower social layer. The castes in India can be described by the term of jati, which unites more than 3 000 social groups in the country (Jati: the caste system, n.d.). Although the system of castes exists all over the country, each region has its specific features of the social structure.

People are divided into castes according to their occupation. In turn, the caste determines their “access to wealth, power, and privilege” (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010, n.pag.). As a result, the caste system facilitates economic inequality in Indian society.

The Brahmas represent the highest caste, including clergymen and scholars (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010). It is believed that they have already achieved a substantial level of spiritual development. The Brahmas are followed by the Kshatriyas. This caste includes politicians and military men. The Vaishyas from the next caste in the hierarchy. This group includes merchants.

They are followed by the Shudras who are represented by the workers, peasants, and servants (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010). And the last social layer in the hierarchy is the untouchables who “perform the occupations, which are considered unclean and polluting” (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010, n.pag.).

Nowadays, they represent approximately 16% of the Indian population. The Untouchables do not form a separate caste, and they are called the outcasts. It can be said that they are out of not only the caste system but the Indian society as a whole.

Undoubtedly, such hierarchy divides the society unequally and unfairly, depriving the people of the lower social layers of the opportunity of being the full members of society. The Indian caste system is characterized by “the endogamy and the occupational restriction” (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010, n.pag.)

Taking into account these characteristics, it becomes clear that the transition from one caste to another is, essentially, impossible. That makes the social structure inflexible and prevents economic development. Overall, the caste system widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

Indian Society as the “Unity in Diversity”

Mohandas Gandhi said, “I consider myself a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist and Confucian” (Unity in diversity, n.d., part. 7). These words perfectly describe India and its social structure.

The country is represented by numerous social groups, religions, languages, customs, and traditions. “The Indian Caste System is historically one of the main dimensions where people in India are socially differentiated through class, religion, tribe, gender, and language” (Deshpande & Kerbo, 2010, n.pag.).

The diversity of Indian society is represented in different dimensions. The national festivals and holidays are one of them. India has the old traditions of celebrations. Also, each region of the country has its holidays and festivals. It is interesting to note that even the New Year’s Day is celebrated by the different communities on different dates (Festivals in India, n.d., part. 2). Each region has its symbolic colors.

For instance, the white clothes with the scarlet decorations are worn by women from the eastern states, whereas the women from the western regions prefer the bright and colorful shades, which reflect the climate peculiarities of the desert areas (Festivals in India, n.d.).

The traditional dances also differ across the country. For example, “Bharatnatyam is from South India, Kathak from Northern India, and Kathakali from the South Indian state of Kerala” (India – a county with, 2010, par. 6). It is not surprising that music also differs in various parts of the country.

Indian art is one more dimension of Indian diversity. It is represented by the numerous techniques and materials. The art of every region shows the cultural and religious peculiarities of its people. It reflects their beliefs and history as well as the economic and social conditions.

The art traditions are closely connected with the philosophical views prevailing in the region. The drawings of the Indian artists depict the scenes from the Indian sacred texts. They provide an insight into the religious customs of the Indians.

The traditional Indian cuisine deserves special attention. It encompasses the various dishes embodying the traditions of the Indian culture as well as the impacts of its colonial past. Spices are the important ingredients of Indian cuisine. Perhaps, they are the symbols of the country and its cultural traditions.

It should also be emphasized that India is the country of numerous languages. Their number accounts to 30 distinct languages and the thousands of the local dialects. Although most of them are historically based on Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, many involve the peculiarities of Farsi, Hindi, and other languages (Unity in diversity, n.d.).

Overall, the “unity in diversity” of the Indian society is obvious in its various dimensions. In particular, the country is substantially differentiated, and each community has its language, religion, holidays, music, and art. Undoubtedly, these features make the Indian culture stand out in the world.


To summarize all the above mentioned, it should be said that India has a unique culture and social structure. The Indian Caste System represents the diversified social hierarchy, which restricts access to welfare and social benefits. The caste system widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

Indian society is described as the “unity in diversity.” Each region of the county has its own linguistic, religious, and cultural peculiarities, which are substantially different from other regions.


Deshpande, M. S. & Dr. Kerbo, H. (2010). History of the Indian Caste System and its impact on India today. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1043&context=socssp

Festivals in India – the unity in diversity. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.india.tm/show_nia_article-0/FESTIVALS-IN-INDIA-UNITY-IN-DIVERSITY.html?nia_id=13

History of the caste system in India. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~epandit/page2.html

India – a county with unity in diversity. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.prlog.org/10654991-india-country-with-unity-in-diversity.html

Jati: the caste system in India. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://asiasociety.org/countries/traditions/jati-caste-system-india

Unity in diversity in India. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://horatio2398.hubpages.com/hub/Unity-in-Diversity-in-India

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