Travel in India

Understanding the Social Stratification of India's Classes and Castes

If you are visiting or living in India for the first time, it's likely that you might be confused by the country's elaborate class and caste system. Although the caste system is a feature of almost every Buddhist or Hindu country, it tends to be much more complicated in India. In India, people are always extremely aware of the overall social order, as well as how their own status compares with others. The caste system in India is the result of the Hindu religion, as well as many traditions which have been passed down over time.

The Basis of the Caste and Class System

When you study the Hindu religion, you'll discover that it recognizes four distinct stages in a person's life. Basically, these stages translate to student, householder, retirement and ascetism. Indian society in general was divided into four classes, which are referred to as Varnas. These four classes consist of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Starting at the top and working towards the bottom of the classes, the Brahmins consist of priests and teachers. Next in line are the Kshatriyas, which consist of kings, nobles and warriors. The Vaishyas are further down the class system, consisting of businessmen, merchants and farmers. The Shudras, which consist of laborers and servants, are at the bottom of the class hierarchy. Over time, these classes evolved into today's rigid caste system. Although there have been numerous reform movements throughout the 19th century and continuing into the early 20th century, the caste and class systems are still quite central to India's society. Although the more liberal nature of today's modern Hinduism has tempered this caste and class system somewhat, it's still an extremely important factor in the average India citizen's life. These factors tend to become even more important in areas such as politics, social norms, and marriage.

The Importance of Hierarchy

In India, the overall concept of hierarchy is seen in every kind of relationship. This strict hierarchy system is considered to be absolutely vital to the overall maintenance of social order. For example, teachers are referred to as gurus, and are viewed in schools as the ultimate source of knowledge. In the family, the father is considered to be the family's leader. In the world of business, the boss is viewed as being ultimately responsible. Even in the case of family and friends, hierarchy and social order are extremely important. You'll even find that hierarchy plays a role in the case of total strangers.

Visual Evidence of Social Stratification

If you observe the actions and methods of personal interactions among India citizens, you'll be able to recognize many signs of the class and caste system. Some of these identifying features include the deities that are worshipped, local dialect, names, manner of dress, occupation, and housing location. The social class and caste system also controls who a person will eat with while in public. If you put all these identifying features together, you can often determine where a person and their family rank in the overall hierarchy of India's society.

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