Characteristics of Caste




Characteristics of Caste:

1. Segmental Division of Society:

The society is divided into various small social groups called castes. Each of these castes is a well developed social group, the membership of which is determined by the consideration of birth. The children belong to the caste of their parents.

2. Hierarchy:

Hierarchy is a ladder of command in which the lower rungs are encompassed in the higher ones in regular succession. The castes teach us a fundamental social principle of hierarchy. Castes form a hierarchy, being arranged in an order of superiority and inferiority. At the top of this hierarchy is the Brahmin caste and at the bottom is the untouchable caste. In between are the intermediate castes, the relative positions of which are not always clear. As such disputes among the members of these castes over the social precedence of their respective castes are not very uncommon.

3. Endogamy:

The most fundamental characteristic of the caste system is endogamy. All the thinkers are of the opinion that the endogamy is the chief characteristic of caste, i.e. the members of a caste or sub-caste should marry within their own caste or sub-caste. The violation of the rule of endogamy would mean ostracism and loss of caste. Although endogamy is the common rule for a caste, Anomie, and Pratiloma marriage, i.e. hypergamy and hypogamy were also prevalent in exceptional cases.

4. Hereditary Status:

Generally speaking, the membership of a caste is determined by birth and the man acquires the status of a caste in which he is born. In this connection, Ketkar has written that the caste is limited to only those persons who are born as members of that caste. Thus, membership in the caste is hereditary, and once membership does not undergo any change even if the change takes place in his status, occupation, education and wealth, etc.

5. Hereditary Occupation:

The traditional caste system is characterised by a hereditary occupation. Members of a particular caste are expected to follow the occupation meant for the caste. Traditionally a Brahmin was allowed to function as a priest. In some casts the name of caste is dependent upon the very occupation as for instance, Napita (barber), Dhobi, Mochi, Mali, etc.

6. Restriction on Food and Drink:

There are rules, for example, what short of food or drink can be accepted by a person and from what castes. Usually, a caste would not accept cooked food from any other caste that stands lower than itself in the social scale. A person belonging to a higher caste believes that he gets polluted even by the shadow of a person belonging to the low caste or by accepting food or drink from him.

7. The Concept of Pollution:

The concept of pollution plays a crucial part in maintaining the required distance between different castes. “A high caste man may not touch a low caste man, let alone accept cooked food and water from him. Where the two castes involved belong to either extreme of the hierarchy, the lower caste man may be required to keep a minimum distance between himself and the high caste man”. The pollution distance varies from caste to caste and from place to place.

8. Jati Panchayat:

The status of each caste is carefully protected, not only by caste laws but also by the conventions. These are openly enforced by the community. In every region of India, there is a governing body or board called Jati Panchayat. These Panchayats in different regions and castes are named in a particular fashion such as Kuldriya in Madhya Pradesh and Jokhila in South Rajasthan. Some of the offenses dealt with by it are adultery, violation of any of the prescribed taboos, the killing of sacred animals (the cow), insulting a Brahmin, and the punishments awarded are outcasting, fines, feasts to be given to the caste men, etc.

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