Castes are hereditary systems of , endogamy, social culture, social class, and political power. In a caste society, the assignment of individuals to places in the social hierarchy is determined by social group and cultural heritage. Although India is often now associated with the word "caste", it was first used by the Portuguese to describe inherited class status in their own European society.

Discrimination based on caste is prevalent mainly in parts of Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan) and Africa. UNICEF estimates that discrimination based on caste affects 250 million people worldwide. [ [ Discrimination] , UNICEF]

ociological meaning

According to Max Weber, a caste system is created when a status group develops into a “legal privilege and is easily traveled as soon as a certain stratification of the social order has in fact been ‘lived in’ and has achieved stability by virtue of a stable distribution of economic power”. [Miller, S.M. 1963. Max Weber: Selections from His Work. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.]

“Caste structure is an extreme form of status inequality in that relationships between the groups involved are said to be fixed and supported by ideology and/or law”. [Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Sixth Edition.] Membership in a specific caste is often hereditary, marriage within one’s caste is mandatory, mobility is impossible, and occupation is determined by caste position. Mobility is possible within one’s caste, but not between castes. Each caste system must abide by specific codes in which certain behaviors and positions are expected by each group. In Gunnar Myrdal's "An American Dilemma", he argued that “the scientifically important difference between the terms ‘caste’ and ‘class’… is … a relatively large difference in freedom of movement between groups”. [Myrdal, Gunnar. 1944. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.]

Caste in Europe

Ancient Greek society was divided into free people and slaves. Only free, land owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a Greek city-state (later Pericles introduced exceptions to the native-born restriction). In most city-states, unlike Rome, social prominence did not allow special rights. In Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on wealth. People could change classes if they made more money.

In Sparta, all male citizens were given the title of equal if they finished their education. Slaves had no power or status. Sparta had a special type of serf-like "helots". Their masters treated them harshly and helots often resorted to rebellions. [ [ Sparta - A Military City-State] ] According to Herodotus (IX, 28–29), helots were seven times as numerous as Spartans. Every autumn, according to Plutarch ("Life of Lycurgus", 28, 3–7), the Spartan "ephors" would pro forma declare war on the helot population so that any Spartan citizen could kill a helot without fear of blood or guilt ("crypteia").

Social class in ancient Rome played a major role in the lives of Romans. Ancient Roman society was hierarchical. [ [ The Roman Republic] ] Free-born Roman citizens were divided into several classes, both by ancestry and by property. The broadest division was by ancestry, between patricians, those who could trace their ancestry to the first Senate established by Romulus, [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita" [ 1:8] ] and plebeians, all other citizens. Originally, all public offices were open only to patricians, and the classes could not intermarry. There were also several classes of non-citizens with different legal rights, along with slaves who had none.

According to an English cleric of the late 10th century, society was composed of the three orders: "those who fight" (nobles, knights), "those who pray" (priests, monks) and "those who work" (peasants, serfs).

In medieval Europe, the estates of the realm were a caste system. The population was divided into nobility, clergy, and the commoners. In some regions, the commoners were divided into burghers, peasants or serfs, and the estateless. Although originally based on occupation, one's estate was eventually inherited, because of low social mobility. [ [ Medieval Society] ] [] Poland's nobility were more numerous than those of all other European countries, forming some 8% of the total population in 1791, and almost 16% among ethnic Poles. By contrast, the nobilities of other European countries, except for Spain and Hungary, amounted to a mere 1-3%. [ [ Polish Nobility and Its Heraldry: An Introduction] ] In France, serfdom lasted legally until 1789. It persisted in Austria-Hungary till 1848 and was abolished in Russia only in 1861. [ [ Serf. A Dictionary of World History] ]

Caste in Africa

Countries in Africa who have societies with caste systems within their borders include Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

The Osu caste systems in Nigeria and southern Cameroon are derived from indigenous religious beliefs and discriminate against the "Osus" people as "owned by deities" and outcasts.

Similarly, the Mande societies in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone have caste systems that divide society by occupation and ethnic ties. The Mande caste system regards the "jonow" slave castes as inferior. Similarly, the Wolof caste system in Senegal is divided into three main groups, the "geer" (freeborn/nobles), "jaam" (slaves and slave descendants) and the outcast "neeno" (people of caste). In various parts of West Africa, Fulani societies also have caste divisions.

Other caste systems in Africa include the Borana caste system of northeast Kenya with the Watta as the lowest caste, the Tuareg caste system, the "ubuhake" castes in Rwanda and Burundi, and the Hutu undercastes in Rwanda who committed genocide on the Tutsi overlords in the now infamous Rwandan Genocide.

Sahrawi-Moorish society in Northwest Africa was traditionally (and still is, to some extent) stratified into several tribal castes, with the Hassane warrior tribes ruling and extracting tribute - horma - from the subservient Znaga tribes. Although lines were blurred by intermarriage and tribal re-affiliation, the Hassane were considered descendants of the Arab Maqil tribe Beni Hassan, and held power over Sanhadja Berber-descended zawiya (religious) and znaga (servant) tribes. The so-called Haratin lower class, largely sedentary oasis-dwelling black people, have been considered natural slaves in Sahrawi-Moorish society. [ [ Fair elections haunted by racial imbalance] ] [ [ Mauritanian MPs pass slavery law] by BBC News]

The Somali clans are divided into "noble clans," the Rahanweyn agro-pastoral clans and the lower castes such as Somali Bantus and Midgan, sometimes treated as outcasts. [ [ Africa's Lost Tribe Discovers American Way] ]

Caste in Spanish America

The Spanish colonists of the Americas instituted a system of racial and social stratification and segregation based on a person's heritage. The system remained in place in most areas of Spanish America through the time independence was achieved from Spain. Castes were used to identify classes of people with specific racial or ethnic heritage. Each caste had its own set of privileges or restrictions.

Among the caste classifications used in Spanish America are: Peninsular, Criollo, Castizo, Mestizo, Cholo, Mulatto, Indio, Zambo and Negro.

Caste in China

The Southern and Northern Dynasties showed such a high level of polarization between North and South that northerners and southerners referred to each other as barbarians; the Mongol Yuan Dynasty also made use of the concept: Yuan subjects were divided into four castes, with northern Han Chinese occupying the second-lowest caste and southern Han Chinese occupying the lowest one. [ [ The 'Four Class System'] ]

During several dynasties in period of Northern and Southern China,especially in Southern dynasities (the East Jin, Song,Qi), the social configuration was divided mainly into two classes in a politic and cultural view. The dominant noble class Shizu, which literarily means Noble Family, controlled most of the offered offices and functions in the court, most time they also had kinship linked with the Emperor. The other opposite class Hanmen, literarily means The Austere Family, had been expelled from aspects of politic and cultural life.Fact|date=September 2008

Traditional Yi society in Yunnan was caste based. People were split into the Black Yi (nobles, 5% of the population), White Yi (commoners), Ajia (33% of the Yi population) and the Xiaxi (10%). Ajia and Xiaxi were slave castes. The White Yi were not slaves but had no freedom of movement. The Black Yi were famous for their slave-raids on Han Chinese communities. After 1959, some 700,000 slaves were freed. [ [ Black Bone Yi (people)] ] [ [ General Profile of the Yi] ] [ [ The Yi ethnic minority] ]

Caste in Hawaii

Ancient Hawaii was a caste society. People were born into specific social classes; social mobility was not unknown, but it was extremely rare. The main classes were:

* Aliokinai, the royal class. This class consisted of the high and lesser chiefs of the realms. They governed with divine power called "mana".

* Kahuna, the priestly and professional class. Priests conducted religious ceremonies, at the "heiau" and elsewhere. Professionals included master carpenters and boat builders, chanters, dancers, genealogists, and physicians and healers.

* Makaokinaāinana, the commoner class. Commoners farmed, fished, and exercised the simpler crafts. They labored not only for themselves and their families, but to support the chiefs and kahuna.

* Kauwa, the outcast or slave class. They are believed to have been war captives, or the descendants of war captives. Marriage between higher castes and the kauwa was strictly forbidden. The kauwa worked for the chiefs and were often used as human sacrifices at the "luakini heiau". (They were not the only sacrifices; law-breakers of all castes or defeated political opponents were also acceptable as victims.) [ [ Kapu System and Caste System of Ancient Hawai'i] ]

Caste in Bali

The caste system in Bali is similar to the Indian caste system; however, India's caste system is far more complicated than Bali's, and there are only four Balinese castes:

* Sudras - peasants making up more than 90% of Bali's population
* Vaishyas - the caste of merchants
* Kshatrias - the warrior caste, it also included some nobility and kings
* Brahmans - holy men and priests

Different dialects of the Balinese language are used to address members of a different caste. The Balinese caste system does not have untouchables.

Caste in India

Caste system among Hindus

Hindu society has traditionally been divided into several thousands of castes called Jatis. The phrase "Hindu Caste System" mixes up two different schemes - the Varna (class/group) [ [ varna, or Varna (Hinduism)] ] , which is the theoretical system of grouping found in Brahminical traditions and some medieval codes, and the Jati system prevalent in Indian society since historical times. Despite the present day use of the same phrase to describe both Varna and Jati, some observers have claimed that

::"The "Varna" system is of no significance to an understanding of the present day caste situation except in broad ideological terms. Any attempt to examine the caste system by fitting it into the classical "Varna" model would be of limited relevance in understanding its role in the socio-political processes of contemporary India." [ [ Caste, Class and Social Articulation in Andhra Pradesh:Mapping Differential Regional Trajectories, K. Srinivasulu] ]

Varna:Early Indian texts speak of 'Varna,' which means order, category, type, color (of things), and groups the human society into four main types (Varnas) as follows.

# Brahmins (intelligentsia, priests)
# Kshatriyas (kings, nobility)
# Vaishyas (merchants, cultivators),
# Sudras (artisans, workers and service providers)

Varna as enunciated in the Brahminical texts e.g. the Rigveda (10.90.12) or the Manusmriti, categorized the people in the Indian society into 4 categories and is also referred to as "the caste system." Broadly speaking, the 4 Varnas include Brahmins (priests, scholars and teachers), Kshatriya (kings, warriors), Vaisya (merchants, agriculturists), and Sudra (tradesmen, artisans& craftsmen, workers and service providers). The Brahmins' primary vocation is to learn the Vedas and other sacred texts, teach and pray. The Kshatriya's chief occupation is managing their kingdoms and military service. The Vaishyas are occupied with economic activities (agrarian and trade) and the Shudras are skilled workers and service providers of all types.

It should be noted that although Brahmins have usually been described as the priestly class, this is not entirely accurate, as a temple priest need not have been a Brahmin; however, the performer of a Yajna or fire sacrifice priest always was, although even this has not always been followed by all sects within Hinduism - for example, in the Arya Samaj. There were several categories among the Brahmins and the priests are usually at the lower end of the Brahmin social scale. The ancient Greeks, e.g. Megasthenes in his "Indika", and the Muslims, e.g. Alberuni (1030 CE) described Brahmins as philosophers. Megasthenes calls them "Brachmanes" and describes them thus:

::"The philosophers are first in rank, but form the smallest class in point of number. Their services are employed privately by persons who wish to offer sacrifices or perform other sacred rites, and also publicly by the kings at what is called the Great Synod, wherein at the beginning of the new year all the philosophers are gathered together before the king at the gates, when any philosopher who may have committed any useful suggestion to writing, or observed any means for improving the crops and the cattle, or for promoting the public interests, declares it publicly."

All others, including foreigners, tribals and nomads, who did not subscribe to the norms of Hindu society were called Mlechhas and were treated as contagious and untouchables.

According to some researchers, by the 4th century AD, and certainly by the 7th century AD, [ [ The Origin of Untouchability] ] there were people excluded from society altogether - the group of outcastes now referred to as Dalits or the "downtrodden." Thus, an "untouchable", or an "outcaste", was a person who was deemed to not have any "Varna by those who claimed to possess it." [ [ India: ‘Hidden Apartheid’ of Discrimination Against Dalits (Human Rights Watch, 13-2-2007)] ] [ [ UN report slams India for caste discrimination] ] [ [ India Criticized for Discrimination Against Untouchables] ]

But now, in modern India, with rapid urbanization and large scale migration, the ensuing crowded living arrangements and public transport, and the broad-based mix of workplace colleagues, there has been a significant change in social attitudes, at least in the larger towns and certainly in the metros. Associations of occupations with caste have also been changing, especially as new occupations are developing.


In "A New History of India," by Stanley Wolpert states." a process of expansion, settled agricultural production, and pluralistic integration of new people led to the development of India's uniquely complex system of social organization by occupation...."

Under the Jati system, a person is born into a Jati with ascribed social roles and endogamy, i.e. marriages take place only within that Jati. The Jati provided identity, security and status and has historically been open to change based on economic, social and political influences (see Sanskritization). In the course of early Indian history, various tribal, economic, political and social factors led to the closing and consolidation of the existing social ranks which became a traditional, hereditary system of social structuring. It operated through thousands of exclusive, endogamous groups, termed "jāti". Though there were several kinds of variations across the breadth of India, the jati was the effective community within which one married and spent most of one's personal life. Often it was the community ("Jati") which one turned to for support, for resolution of disputes and it was also the community which one sought to promote. People of different Jatis across the spectrum, from the upper castes to the lowest of castes, tended to avoid intermarriage, sharing of food and drinks, or even close social interaction with other Jatis. An interesting perspective on ancient North Indian society is provided by the Greek Megasthenes, who described the society as being made up of "seven classes":

::"The whole population of India is divided into seven castes, of which the first is formed by the collective body of the Philosophers, which in point of number is inferior to the other classes, but in point of dignity preeminent over all. For the philosophers, being exempted from all public duties, are neither the masters nor the servants of others. They are, however, engaged by private persons to offer the sacrifices due in lifetime, and to celebrate the obsequies of the dead: for they are believed to be most dear to the gods, and to be the most conversant with matters pertaining to Hades. In requital of such services they receive valuable gifts and privileges. To the people of India at large they also render great benefits, when, gathered together at the beginning of the year, they forewarn the assembled multitudes about droughts and wet weather, and also about propitious winds, and diseases, and other topics capable of profiting-the hearers. Thus the people and the sovereign, learning beforehand what is to happen, always make adequate provision against a coming deficiency, and never fail to prepare beforehand what will help in a time of need. The philosopher who errs in his predictions incurs no other penalty than obloquy, and he then observes silence for the rest of his life."Fact|date=July 2008

Modern Caste: Faced with a bewildering array of communities (Jatis), the late 19th century British colonial administration decided to categorize the entire Hindu population of India by placing each of the Jatis within the Varna system for the purposes of the decennial Census, and eventually for administrative convenience.Fact|date=July 2008 Simultaneous with the codification into law of Varna-based caste identities during the British empire, communities (Jatis) sought to place themselves on higher levels of Varna categories. On the other hand, most of the Jatis grouped into the lower caste categories found this classification arbitrary, unfair and unacceptable. This created a growing resentment firstly against the caste system and secondly against the Brahmins, who were seen to be the beneficiaries of the arrangement. The revolt of the Justice Party and Periyar in the south, by the Maharaja of Kolhapur and the outstanding scholar Dr Ambedkar in western India against this, in the early decades of the twentieth century, has had a profound, long-lasting impact on the Indian society and politics, which continues to this date.

Some activists, most prominently at the UN conference at Durban, have asserted that the caste is a form of racial discrimination. [ An Untouchable Subject?] ] [ [ Final Declaration of the Global Conference Against Racism and Caste-based Discrimination] ] This view has been disputed by some sociologists such as Andre Béteille, who writes that treating caste as a form of racism is "politically mischievous" and worse, "scientifically nonsense" since there is no discernible difference in the racial characteristics between Brahmins and Scheduled Castes such as the Jatav. He writes that "Every social group cannot be regarded as a race simply because we want to protect it against prejudice and discrimination." [ [ Discrimination that must be cast away] ,"The Hindu"]

The Indian government, too, has denied the claims of equivalence between caste and racial discrimination, pointing out that the issues of social status is essentially intra-racial and intra-cultural. The view of the caste system as "static and unchanging" has also been disputed. The Indian government has been working towards creating equality between castes with guaranteed seats in educational institutions, government jobs (and promotions) and even in the parliament for those of the Scheduled Untouchable castes and tribes. Scholarships have also been available to all of these groups, so that they can go on to further education more easily and this has raised their social status.Sociologists describe how the perception of the caste system as a static and textual stratification has given way to the perception of the caste system as a more processional, empirical and contextual stratification. Others have applied theoretical models to explain mobility and flexibility in the caste system in India.cite journal
author = James Silverberg
date=November 1969
year = 1969
month = Nov
title = Social Mobility in the Caste System in India: An Interdisciplinary Symposium
journal = The American Journal of Sociology
volume = 75
issue = 3
pages = 443–444
] According to these scholars, groups of lower-caste individuals could seek to elevate the status of their caste by attempting to emulate the practices of higher castes.

The eminent Socio-anthropologistM. N. Srinivas has also questioned the rigidity of caste and introduced the concept of Sanskritisation. [Srinivas, M.N, Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India by MN Srinivas, Page 32 (Oxford, 1952)] [Caste in Modern India; And other essays: Page 48. (Media Promoters & Publishers Pvt. Ltd, Bombay; First Published: 1962, 11th Reprint: 1994)] .

Caste system among Indian Christians

Caste system among South Asian Muslims

Modern status

In rural areas and small towns, the Jati-caste system is part of the rural cultural values. Many argue rural cultural values and history should be respected, just like rural society respects city culture. The Jati-caste system is part of the multicultural heritage of South Asia, but was distorted by the British Colonial policy, when it was cast into the theoretical Varna mould. In this artificial Varna-caste system mutual respect seems a difficult proposition and a distant, if ever possible goal, due to caste politics.Fact|date=February 2008

The Government of India has officially documented castes and subcastes, primarily to determine those deserving reservation (positive discrimination in education and jobs) through the census. The Indian reservation system, though limited in scope, relies entirely on quotas. The Government lists consist of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes:

; Scheduled castes (SC): Scheduled castes generally consist of former "untouchables" (the term "Dalit" is now preferred). Present population is 16% of total population of India i.e. around 160 million. For example, the Delhi state has 49 castes listed as SC. [ List of Scheduled Castes] Delhi Govt.]

; Scheduled tribes (ST): Scheduled tribes generally consist of tribal groups. Present population is 7% of total population of India i.e. around 70 million.

; Other Backward Classes (OBC): The Mandal Commission covered more than 3000 castes under Other Backward Classes Category and stated that OBCs form around 52% of the Indian population. However, the National Sample Survey puts the figure at 32%. [ [ Reply to SC daunting task for government] , "Tribune India"] . There is substantial debate over the exact number of OBCs in India. It is generally estimated to be sizable, but many believe that it is lower than the figures quoted by either the Mandal Commission or the National Sample Survey [ [ What is India's population of other backward classes?] ,"Yahoo News"]

The Supreme Court of India on Apr 10 , 2008 upheld the law for 27% OBC quota the law enacted by the Centre in 2006 providing a quota of 27 per cent for candidates belonging to the Other Backward Classes in Central higher educational institutions . [ [ SC allows 27% quota for OBCs-India-The Times of India ] ] [ [ SC okays 27% quota for OBCs in higher studies- Politics/Nation-News-The Economic Times ] ] [ [ SC upholds 27 per cent OBC quota in educational institutions ] ] [ ] [ [ Breaking News Online: Breaking News! Supreme Court upholds OBC Quota in Educational Institutions ] ] [ [ » Supreme Court upholds Governments OBC quota in higher educational institutions - Thaindian News ] ] [ [ The Hindu : Front Page : Supreme Court upholds law for 27% OBC quota ] ] [’s-obc-quota-in-higher-educational-institutions-24625]

Caste politics

Mahatma Gandhi, B. R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru had radically different approaches to caste especially over constitutional politics and the status of "untouchables."cite web
title=Book review of Caste, Society and Politics in India: From the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age
author=Danny Yee
] Till the mid-1970s, the politics of independent India was largely dominated by economic issues and questions of corruption. But since the 1980s, caste has emerged as a major issue in the Politics of India.cite web
title=Caste Politics in India
author=Aditya Nigam

The Mandal Commission was established in 1979 to "identify the socially or educationally backward," Bhattacharya, Amit. cite web|url=|title="Who are the OBCs?"|accessdate=2006-04-19 "Times of India", April 8, 2006.] and to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination. In 1980, the commission's report affirmed the affirmative action practice under Indian law whereby members of lower castes were given exclusive access to a certain portion of government jobs and slots in public universities. When V. P. Singh Government tried to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission in 1989, massive protests were held throughout the country. Many alleged that the politicians were trying to benefit personally from caste-based reservations for purely pragmatic electoral purposes.

Many political parties in India have openly indulged in caste-based politics. Parties such as Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) relies on the Dalits, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal rely primarily on the support of Other Backward Castes, and Muslims to win elections.cite web
title=Caste-Based Parties
publisher= Country Studies US

Caste in Japan

Two main castes in Japan were Samurai warrior castes and peasants. Only samurai caste was allowed to bear arms. A samurai had a right to kill any peasant who he felt was disrespectful.

Japan historically subscribed to a feudal caste system. While modern law has officially abolished the caste hierarchy, there are reports of discrimination against the Buraku or Burakumin undercastes, historically referred to by the insulting term "Eta". [ [ Caste, Ethnicity and Nationality: Japan Finds Plenty of Space for Discrimination ] ] Studies comparing the caste systems in India and Japan have been performed, with similar discriminations against the Burakumin as the Dalits. The Burakumin are regarded as "ostracized." [cite journal
author = William H. Newell
year = 1961
month = December
title = The Comparative Study of Caste in India and Japan
journal = Asian Survey
volume = 1
issue = 10
pages = 3–10
url =
doi = 10.1525/as.1961.1.10.01p15082
] The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō and residents of Korean and Chinese descent.

Caste in Korea

The "baekjeong" were an "untouchable" outcaste group of Korea, often compared with the burakumin of Japan and the dalits of India and Nepal. The term "baekjeong" itself means "a butcher," but later changed into "common citizens" to change the caste system so that the system would be without untouchables. In the early part of the Goryeo period (918 - 1392), the outcaste groups were largely settled in fixed communities. However, the Mongol invasion left Korea in disarray and anomie, and these groups began to become nomadic. Other subgroups of the baekjeong are the "chaein" and the "hwachae".Fact|date=September 2007 During the Joseon dynasty, they were specific professions like basket weaving and performing executions. They were also considered in moral violation of Buddhist principles, which lead Koreans to see work involving meat as polluting and sinful, even if they saw the consumption as acceptable.

The opening of Korea to foreign Christian missionary activity in the late 19th century saw some improvement in the status of the "baekjeong"; However, everyone was not equal under the Christian congregation, and protests erupted when missionaries attempted to integrate them into worship services, with non-"baekjeong" finding such an attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage.Fact|date=September 2007 Also around the same time, the baekjeong began to resist the open social discrimination that existed against them. [cite book|chapter=In Search of Human Rights: The Paekchŏng Movement in Colonial Korea|title=Colonial Modernity in Korea|first=Joong-Seop|last=Kim|editor=Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Robinson|year=1999|pages=326] They focused on social and economic injustices affecting the baekjeong, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by the upper class, authorities, and "commoners" and the use of degrading language against children in public schools. [cite book|title=The Korean Paekjŏng under Japanese rule: the quest for equality and human rights|first=Joong-Seop|last=Kim|year=2003|pages=147]

With the unification of the three kingdoms in the seventh century and the foundation of the Goryeo dynasty in the Middle Ages, Koreans systemized its own native caste system. At the top was the two official classes, the Yangban. Yangban means "two classes." It was composed of scholars (Munban) and warriors (Muban). Within the Yangban class, the Scholars (Munban) enjoyed a significant social advantage over the warrior (Muban) class, until the Muban Rebellion in 1170. Muban ruled Korea under successive Warrior Leaders until the Mongol Conquest in 1253. Sambyeolcho, the private Army of the ruling Choe dynasty, carried on the struggle against the Mongols until 1273, when they were finally wiped out to the last man in Chejudo. With the destruction of the warrior class, the Munban gained ascendancy. In 1392, with the foundation of Joseon dynasty, the full ascendancy of munban over muban was final. With the establishment of Confucianism as the state philosophy of Joseon, the Muban would never again gain its former social standing in Korean society.

Beneath the Yangban class were the "Jung-in". They were the technicians. They served in lower level government bureaucracy. They were literate, yet were unable to rise into full bureaucratic positions despite passing the gwageo (central government entrance) exam. This class was small and specialized.

Beneath the Jung-in were the Chun min. They were the landless peasants. These people composed the majority of Korean society until the 1600s. They were illiterate, and forbidden from marrying into the Yangban class. During the Japanese invasion of 1592, as many government genealogical record was burnt, many of them fabricated their social origin and moved into the Yangban class. With the Manchu invasion of Korea in the 1627 and 1637 and numerous peasant rebellions that followed, the ranks of Yangban families swelled up to more than 60% of the whole country by the late 1800s.

Beneath the Cheonmin were the Sangmin, also called "Ssangnom" in the vernacular. These were the servant class.

Underneath them all were the Baekjeong. The meaning today is that of butcher. They originate from the Khitan invasion of Korea in the 1000s. As they were defeated, instead of sending them back to Manchuria, The Goryeo government retianed them as warriors, spread out throughout Korea. As they were nomads skilled in hunting and tanning of leather, their skill was initially valued by Koreans. Over the centuries, their foreign origins were forgotten, and were only remembered as butchers and tanners.

Korea had a very large slave population, "nobi", ranging from a third to half of the entire population for most of the millennium between the Silla period and the Joseon Dynasty. Slavery was legally abolished in Korea in 1894 but remained extant in reality until 1930. [ [ Encyclopædia Britannica - Slavery] ] [ [ Edward Willett Wagner - The Harvard University Gazette] ] [ [ Korean Nobi] ]

With Gabo reform of 1896, the caste system of Korea was officially abolished. However, the Yangban families carried on traditional education and formal mannerisms into the 20th century. With the democratization of 1990s in South Korea, remnant of such mannerisms and classism is now heavily frowned upon in the South Korean society, replaced by the myth of egalitarianism. However, with rampant capitalism, a new aristocracy is slowly developing, caused by a major gap in income among the people of Korea, with the resulting differences in education and mannerism.

Caste in Nepal

The Nepalese caste system resembles that of the Indian Jāti system with numerous Jāti divisions with a Varna system superimposed.

Caste in Pakistan

A caste system similar to that in India is practiced in Pakistan. In the absence of "classical" castes, typically the proxies used are ethnic background (Sindhi, Punjabi, Pusthun, Balochi, Mohajir etc.), tribal affiliations and religious denominations or sects (Sunni, Shia, Ahmadiyya, Ismaili, Christian, Hindu etc.).

While caste/social stratification information can be found relating to specific areas in Pakistan, it is not known if any studies have compared how relatively prevalent such attitudes are amongst the various ethnic groups, religious sects and geographies. Also, it is not known if any tracking studies have documented changes in these social attitudes.

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that there are quite significant differences in how social stratification is practised within, and between, the various ethnic/religious groups in Pakistan.

The social stratification among Muslims in the "Swat" area of North Pakistan has been meaningfully compared to the Caste system in India. The society is rigidly divided into subgroups where each Quom (meaning tribe or nation) is assigned a profession. Different Quoms are not permitted to intermarry or live in the same community. [cite book
last = Leach
first = Edmund Ronald
authorlink = E.R. Leach
title = Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon and North-West Pakistan (Pg 113)
publisher = Cambridge University Press
date = November 24, 1971
] These tribes practice a ritual-based system of social stratification. The Quoms who deal with human emissions are ranked the lowest. [cite book
last = Leach
first = Edmund Ronald
authorlink = E.R. Leach
title = Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon and North-West Pakistan (Pg 113)
publisher = Cambridge University Press
date = November 24, 1971
] .

The caste system in Pakistan creates sectarian divide and strong issues. Lower castes (or classes) are often severely persecuted by the upper castes (or classes). Lower castes are denied privileges in many communities and violence is committed against them. A particularly infamous example of such incidents is that of Mukhtaran Mai in Pakistan, a low caste woman who was gang raped by upper caste men. [ [ - Six men found guilty in gang rape - Dec. 12, 2002 ] ] In addition, educated Pakistani women from the lower castes maybe at risk to be persecuted by the higher castes for attempting to break the shackles of the local, restrictive system (that traditionally denied education to the lower castes, particularly the women).

A recent example of this is the case of Ghazala Shaheen, a low caste Muslim woman in Pakistan who, in addition to getting a higher education, had an uncle who eloped with a woman of a high caste family. She was accosted and gang-raped by the upper-caste family. The chances of any legal action are low due to the Pakistani Government's inability to repeal the Hudood ordinance against women in Pakistan, [ [,,2089-2372124,00.html Pakistani graduate raped to punish her low-caste family] The Sunday Times - September 24, 2006] though, in 2006, Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf proposed laws against Hudood making rape a punishable offense, [ [ Pakistan senate backs rape bill] ,"BBC"] which were ratified by the Pakistani senate. The law is meeting considerable opposition from the Islamist parties in Pakistan, who insist that amending the laws to make them more civilized towards women is against the mandate of Islamic religious law. [ [ Strong feelings over Pakistan rape laws] ,"BBC"] . Despite these difficulties, the law passed and is now expected to help the situation in regards to women.

The late Nawab Akbar Bugti, the leader of his tribe and fighting for the Balochistan Liberation Army, criticised Punjabi attitudes to women when he said, "What respect we give to a woman, irrespective of her caste, religion or ethnicity, no Punjabi can understand." [ [ Tribals looking down a barrel in Balochistan] ]

Caste in Sri Lanka

Caste in Yemen

In Yemen there exists a caste-like system that keeps the Al-Akhdam as perennial manual workers for the society through practices that mirror untouchability. [ Akhdam: Ongoing suffering for lost identity "Yemen Mirror"] ] The "Al-Akhdam" (literally "servants", plural "Khadem") are the lowest rung in the Yemeni caste system and by far the poorest. According to official estimates, the total number of Khadem countrywide is in the neighborhood of 500,000, some 100,000 of which live in the outskirts of the capital Sana'a, while according to a New York Times article from February 27, 2008 there are more than a million. [ [ Despite caste-less society in Yemen, generations languish at bottom of ladder] ] The remainder are dispersed mainly in and around the cities of Aden, Taiz, Lahj, Abyan, Hodeidah and Mukalla. [ YEMEN: Akhdam people suffer history of discrimination] ,]


The Khadem are not members of the three castes, "Bedouin" (nomads), "fellahin" (villagers), and "hadarrin" (townspeople), that comprise mainstream Arab society. They are believed to be of Ethiopian ancestry. Some sociologistswho theorize that the Khadem are descendants of Ethiopian soldiers who had occupied Yemen in the 5th century but were driven out in the 6th century. According to this theory the al-Akhdham are descended from the soldiers who stayed behind and were forced into menial labor as a punitive measure.


The Khadem live in small shanty towns and are marginalized and shunned by mainstream society in Yemen. Khadem slums exist mostly in big cities, including the capital, Sana'a. Their segregated communities have poor housing conditions. As a result of their low position in society, very few children in the Khadem community are enrolled in school and often have little choice but to beg for money and intoxicate themselves with crushed glass. [ Caste In Yemen] by Marguerite Abadjian,"" archive of "The Baltimore Sun"]

A traditional saying in the region goes: "Clean your plate if it is touched by a dog, but break it if it's touched by a Khadem." Though conditions have improved somewhat over the past few years, the Khadem are still stereotyped by mainstream Yemenese society, considering them lowly, dirty, ill-mannered and immoral.

Many NGO's and charitable organizations from other countries such as CARE International are working towards their emancipation, while the Yemenese government denies that there is any discrimination against the Khadem. [ [ "Yemen Times"] ]

Caste in the United States

Many, including W. Lloyd Warner, Gunnar Myrdal, and John Dollard, believe that there is a caste system in the United States based on the color of a person’s skin. However, somewho hold that this relationship should not be referred to as a full-fledge caste system. Caste systems are supported by ritual, convention, and law. Status can influence and determine class, which also determines the caste system where a person belongs. Weber stressed that class, status, and political power relate and affect each other.

“Caste structure is an extreme form of status inequality in that relationships between the groups involved are said to be fixed and supported by ideology and/or law”. [Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Sixth Edition.] In the US, membership in a specific caste is often hereditary, marriage within one’s caste is mandatory, mobility is impossible, and occupation is determined by caste position. Mobility is possible within one’s caste but not between castes. Race and ethnic stratification is evident throughout US caste systems. Each caste system must abide by specific codes of race relations in which certain behaviors and positions are expected by each group. Caste as metaphor for race relations was developed academically by Lloyd Warner 's “American Caste and Class”, Gunnar Myrdal 's An American Dilemma, and John Dollard 's Caste and Class in a Southern Town. Myrdal argued that “the scientifically important difference between the terms ‘caste’ and ‘class’… is … a relatively large difference in freedom of movement between groups”. [Myrdal, Gunnar. 1944. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.]

See also

* Class society
* Elitism
* Feudal society
* Multiculturalism
* Noble lie
* Segregation
* Social stratification



* "Spectres of Agrarian Territory" by David Ludden December 11, 2001
* "Early Evidence for Caste in South India," p. 467-492 in "Dimensions of Social Life: Essays in honor of David G. Mandelbaum", Edited by Paul Hockings and Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, Amsterdam, 1987.

External links

* [ Caste system in India.]
* [ Caste system in Bali]
* [ Caste In Yemen] by Marguerite Abadjian (Archive of the Baltimore Sun)
* [ India Together on Caste]
* [ Varna Ashram and Hindu Scriptures (pdf)]
* [ The Caste System in India]
* [ Jati system in India]
* "Articles on Caste by Koenraad Elst:" [ Caste in India] , [ Buddhism and Caste] , [ Indian tribals and Caste] ,
* [ Physical anthropology and Caste] , [ Etymology of Varna]
* [ Is Caste System Intrinsic to Hinduism?]
* [ Caste & the Tamil Nation - Brahmins, Non Brahmins & Dalits]
* [ Hindu Caste System & Hinduism: Vedic vocations (Hindu castes) were not related to heredity (birth)]
* [ ISKCON view of caste and behavior]
* [ Information about Velama Caste]
* [ These documented Results of 4-Varn system can make you Proud of your Hindu heritage]
* [ Historic Leaders of Velama Caste]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • caste — caste …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • caste — [ kast ] n. f. • 1659; port. casta (XVIe) « caste hindoue »; fém. de casto « pur » 1 ♦ Classe sociale fermée, observée d abord en Inde. La caste des prêtres (⇒ brahmane) , celles des guerriers, des bourgeois, des artisans. Les parias étaient hors …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Caste — Caste, n. [Pg. casta race, lineage, fr. L. castus pure, chaste: cf. F. caste, of same origin.] 1. One of the hereditary classes into which the Hindu are divided according to the laws of Brahmanism. [1913 Webster] Note: The members of the same… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • caste — caste; caste·less; in·ter·caste; non·caste; sub·caste; …   English syllables

  • caste — CASTE. s. f. On appelle ainsi Les Tribus dans lesquelles sont divisés les Idolâtres des Indes Orientales. La Caste des Bramines. La Caste des Banians …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • caste — (n.) 1550s, a race of men, from L. castus chaste, from castus pure, cut off, separated, pp. of carere to be cut off from (and related to castration), from PIE *kas to , from root *kes to cut. Application to Hindu social groups picked up by… …   Etymology dictionary

  • caste — [kast, käst] n. [Fr < Port casta, breed, race, caste < L castus, pure, chaste, orig., cut off, separated, pp. of carere, to be cut off from < IE base * k̑es , to cut > MIr cess, spear] 1. any of the distinct, hereditary Hindu social… …   English World dictionary

  • caşte — CÁŞTE s. v. casă. Trimis de siveco, 13.09.2007. Sursa: Sinonime  cáşte s.f. – În tipografie, lumina paginii. germ. Kasten, prin intermediul pol. kaszta, sau al mag. kásta (Cihac, II, 45). Trimis de blaurb, 04.01.2007. Sursa: DER …   Dicționar Român

  • caste — [ka:st US kæst] n [U and C] [Date: 1500 1600; : Portuguese; Origin: casta race , from casto pure , from Latin castus; CHASTE] 1.) one of the fixed social classes, which cannot be changed, into which people are born in India ▪ the caste system 2.) …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Caste — Porté en Provence (84, 13), le nom correspond à l adjectif chaste , sans doute employé comme nom de personne (voir Casto). On ne le confondra pas avec Casté (Sud Ouest), qui est pour sa part une probable variante de Castet (voir ce nom) …   Noms de famille

  • caste — caste. См. каста. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

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