India's Caste System

The origins of India's Caste System, having existed more than 3,000 years, are lost in antiquity, but the word caste originates from the Portuguese word for breed (India's Caste 1). India's caste system is perhaps the most rigid and defining social structure in the world. The caste system dictates the lives and roles of much of India's population, a hierarchical grading of castes. Among scholars and historians, the origins of the caste system stem from the Divine Theory, which proclaims that "the four castes, Brahman, Ksshatryas, Vaisyas, and the Sudras, came from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of the Hindu figure of Brahma respectively" (The Castes 1).

The castes are comprised of individuals based on Varna, i.e., a person's natural and rightful position in society. According to the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, a caste represents an "endogenous and hereditary subdivision of an ethnic group occupying a position of superior or inferior rank or social esteem in comparison with such other divisions" (India's Caste 1). The hierarchical caste system views those at the top as superior to those at the bottom. While "untouchability" was outlawed by the Constitution in 1950, entire villages remain completely segregated and perceptions of lower castes being "untouchable" still exist, "In various kinds of contact, a member of a high caste is liable to be polluted by either direct or indirect contact with a member of a low caste" (F



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