10 Characteristics of Caste System (With Diagram)

1. Segmental Division:

Caste system divides society into small groups. Each group is well developed. The membership of the group is based on birth. So the caste mobility is restricted. Under no circumstance one can change one’s caste. A member of the caste group is bound to follow the norms and values of the group.

2. Hierarchical Division:

Hindu society is divided into castes and sub-castes. These social groups are arranged hierarchically in the society. These groups are ranked higher and lower. Higher castes are considered as ‘pure’ and lower ‘impure’. So, there is a feeling of superiority and inferiority among these groups. Brahmins are placed at the top and untouchables in the bottom of the hierarchy.

3. Restrictions on Occupational Choice:

Gradation of caste hierarchy is closely related to gradation of occupation. Society has selected some of the occupations as ‘pure’ and some other as ‘impure’. Accordingly, ‘pure’ occupations are allotted to the higher caste groups and ‘impure’ or inferior occupations to the lower caste groups. For example, shoe-making, sweeping, scavenging, barbering etc. are considered to be inferior occupations and priesthood, teaching etc. are superior and prestigious! Whatever the gradation of the occupation may be the group members are expected to follow the same occupation. So, the occupations are hereditary.

4. Restrictions on Food Habits:

The caste system imposes restrictions on taking food and drink on its members. These restrictions differ from caste to caste. Two things are decided by the caste system in this regard.

(Schematic Presentation of Caste Restriction on Food Habits)

Firstly, who will take food from whom, and secondly, what sort of food he will take. Foods are mainly divided into two categories: Kachcha and Pakka. In Kaccha food water is added and in Pakka, ghee is added. For example, a Brahmin can take Kachcha food from his own caste members, but not from other caste groups.

5. Restrictions on Marriage:

Caste system follows the rules of endogamy at the time of marriage. Caste system is based on endogamy. The members of caste or sub-caste are forced to marry within the group. If anybody violates the rule of endogamy he gets punishment such as ex-communication from the caste.

6. Restrictions on Social Relations:

The caste system imposes restrictions in the field of social relations. While interacting with others each caste group and/or individual has to follow certain rules and regulations. Different sets of principles are prescribed for different caste groups. For example, the higher caste people do not touch lower caste people.

7. Unequal Distribution of Civil and Religious Privileges:

In the caste system the higher caste people enjoy all the privileges such as wealth, power and prestige. For example, Brahmins are considered as superior and they enjoy all types of civil and religious privileges. They are given high status in the society. The higher caste groups enjoy socio-economic, political, legal and religious privileges.

8. Social and Religious Disabilities:

The impure castes suffer from certain civil and religious disabilities. The Harijans or the untouchables are not allowed to enter into the temples or to use public places. After independence, though constitutionally and legally they are given equal rights and privileges, but in practice it is not happening. For example, caste conflicts of Bihar, U.P., Rajasthan etc.

9. Jajmani System:

It is the economic aspect of caste system. In this system the specialist castes provide services to the land owning castes. It provides scope to the villagers for the exchange of goods and services. The relationship which comes under jajmani system is usually durable, stable and multiple.

10. Caste Panchayat:

Each caste has its own panchayat. There are five members in a panchayat. They enjoy social status from their caste members. The caste panchayat looks after the caste matters and settles the internal disputes. For example, it solves the problems arising at the time of marriage or divorce or extra marital relations or land disputes etc. Now-a-days the function of caste panchayat has been reduced to a great extent.

Submitted by : Dr. Chanda, Category : Caste