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Caste is only in India!

Probably every tourist who goes to India has probably heard or read something about the division of the population of this country into castes. This is a purely Indian social phenomenon, there is nothing like this in other countries, so the topic is worth knowing about it.

Caste is only in India!

Indians themselves are reluctant to discuss the caste topic, since inter-caste relations are a serious and painful problem for modern India.

Castes big and small

The word “caste” itself is not of Indian origin, in relation to the structure of Indian society, European colonialists began to use it no earlier than the 19th century. In the Indian classification system of members of society, the concepts of varna and jati are used.

Varna is the “big caste”, four kind of classes or estates of Indian society: the brahmans (clergy), the kshatriyas (warriors), the vaishyas (merchants, herders, farmers) and the sudras (servants and workers).

Castes in india

Within each of these four categories, there is a division into castes proper, or, as the Indians themselves call them, the Jati. These are estates on a professional basis, there are jati potters, jati weavers, jati souvenir dealers, jati postal employees and even jati thieves.

Since there is no strict graduation of professions, Jati divisions may exist within one of them. So, wild elephants are caught and tamed by representatives of one jati, and they constantly work with them – another. Each Jati has its own advice, it solves “general caste” issues, in particular, related to the transition from one caste to another, which, according to Indian terms, is strongly condemned and most often not allowed, and inter-caste marriages, which is also not welcome.

There are a lot of different castes and podcasts in India, in every state, besides the generally recognized ones, there are also several dozen local castes.

The attitude to the caste division on the part of the state is cautious and somewhat controversial. The existence of castes is fixed by the Indian constitution, the list of main castes is attached to it as a separate table. At the same time, any caste-based discrimination is prohibited and criminalized.

This controversial approach has already led to many complex conflicts between castes and within them, and in relation to Indians living outside the castes, or “untouchables.” They are Dalits, outcasts of Indian society.


The group of untouchable castes, also called Dalits (oppressed), originated in ancient times from local tribes and occupies the lowest place in the caste hierarchy of India. About 16-17% of the Indian population belongs to this group.

The untouchables are not part of the system of the four varnas, since they are believed to be able to defile the members of those castes, especially the brahmans.

The Untouchables, India. Photo 1
Dalits are divided by the activities of their representatives, as well as by area of ​​residence. The most common categories of untouchables are Chamari (tanners), Dhobi (laundresses) and pariahs.

The untouchables live in isolation even in small settlements. Their lot is dirty and hard work. They all profess Hinduism, but they are not allowed into temples. Millions of untouchable Dalits have converted to other religions – Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, but this does not always save them from discrimination. And in rural areas, acts of violence, including sexual violence, are often committed against Dalits. The fact is that sexual intercourse is the only one that, according to Indian customs, is allowed in relation to the “untouchables”.

Those untouchables whose profession requires physical contact with representatives of higher castes (for example, hairdressers) can serve only members of the castes above their own, and blacksmiths and potters work for the whole village, regardless of which caste the client belongs to.

And such activities as the slaughter of animals and leather dressing are considered to be clearly profane, and although this work is very important for the communities involved in it, it is considered untouchable.

Dalits are not allowed to visit the homes of members of “pure” castes, as well as take water from their wells.

Mumbai slum district, most of whose residents belong to the untouchables!

For more than a hundred years in India, there has been a struggle for the granting of equal rights to untouchables, its time being led by an eminent humanist and public figure Mahatma Gandhi. The government of India allocates special quotas for the admission of Dalits to work and study, all known cases of violence are investigated and condemned by them, but the problem remains.

What caste are you from?

Tourists who came to India, local inter-caste problems, most likely, will not be affected. But this does not mean that knowing about them is not necessary. Growing up in a society with a tough caste division and forced to remember it all their lives, Indians and European tourists carefully study and evaluate primarily by their affiliation to one or another social stratum. And relate to them in accordance with their estimates.

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For almost a month of my stay, I was able to visit four states of India, experience all the delights of Indian cuisine, meet amazing people, Buddhist monks, travelers who…