The caste system in Kerala differed from that found in the rest of India. While the Indian caste system generally modelled the four-fold division of society into Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras, in Kerala the Nambudiri Brahmins formed the priestly class and only rarely recognised anyone else as being other than Shudra or untouchables outside the caste system entirely. Thus, the Kerala caste system was ritualised but it was not the varna model found elsewhere.
Origin of the caste system
One theory that explains the origins of the caste system in the Kerala region – which prior to the independence of India comprised the three areas known as Malabar District, Travancore and Cochin – is based on the actions of Jains introducing such distinctions prior to the 8th-century AD. This argues that the Jains needed protection when they arrived in the area and recruited sympathetic local people to provide it. These people were then distinguished from others in the local population by their occupation as protectors, with the others all being classed as out-caste. Cyriac Pullapilly, a Professor of History, describes that this meant they "... were given Kshatriya functions, but only Shudra status."
An alternative theory, also explained by Pullapilly, states that the system was introduced by Nambudiri Brahmins themselves. Although Brahmin influences had existed in the area since at least the 1st-century AD, there was a large influx of these people from around the 8th-century when they acted as priests, counsellors and ministers to invading northern princes. At the time of their arrival the non-aboriginal local population had been converted to Buddhism by missionaries who had come from the north of India and from Ceylon. The Brahmins used their symbiotic relationship with the invading forces to assert their beliefs and position. Buddhist temples and monasteries were either destroyed or taken over for use in Hindu practices, thus undermining the ability of the Buddhists to propagate their beliefs. The Brahmins treated almost all of those who acceded to their priestly status as Shudra, permitting only a small number to be recognised as Kshatriya, these being some of the local rulers who co-operated with them. By the 11th-century, this combination of association with kings and invaders, and with the destruction or take-over of Buddhist temples, made the Brahmins by far the largest land-owning group in the region and they remained so until very recent times. The origins of Malayalam as a language is also attributed to the Nambudiri Brahamin's mixing of Sanskrit and the local Tamil language. Their dominating influence was to be found in all matters: religion, politics, society, economics and culture.
A theory presented by Pullapilly and also by Rene Barendse, who as of 2012[update] is a Fellow of the International Institute for Asian Studies, claims that the caste system established by Nambudiri Brahmins of Kerala was in accordance with the will of Parasurama, an avatar of Vishnu. The Nambudiris had control of 64 villages and asserted that they had powers given to them by the gods, so much so that they considered even other Brahmin groups to be outside the caste hierarchy. Both writers consider this to be the traditional Nambudiri myth of origin. The Nambudiri Brahmins were at the top of the ritual caste hierarchy, outranking even the kings. Anyone who was not a Nambudiri was treated by them as an untouchable.
The Nambudiris had varying rules regarding the degrees of ritual pollution while interacting with people of different castes. In return, most castes practised the principles of untouchability in their relationship with the other regional castes. Untouchability in Kerala is not restricted to Hindus, and George Mathew says that, "Technically, the Christians were outside [the] caste hierarchy, but in practice a system of inclusion and exclusion was developed ...". Among Christians, the established Syrian Christians also practised the rules of untouchability. In the colonial period, many lower castes were converted to Christians by the European Missionaries, but the new converts were not allowed to join the Syrian Christian community and they continued to be considered as untouchables even by the Syrian Christians. Syrian Christians derive status within the caste system from the tradition that they were elites, who were evangelised by Thomas the Apostle. Anand Amaladass says that "The Syrian Christians had inserted themselves within the Indian caste society for centuries and were regarded by the Hindus as a caste occupying a high place within their caste hierarchy." Syrian Christians followed the same rules of caste and pollution as that of Hindus and they were considered as pollution neutralisers. Rajendra Prasad, an Indian historian, said that the Syrian Christians took ritual baths after physical contact with lower castes .
The rules of untouchability were severe to begin with, and they were very strictly enforced by the time of the arrival of the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century.Robin Jeffrey, who is a professor specialising in the modern history and politics of India, quotes the wife of a Christian missionary, who wrote in 1860 that:
... a Nair can approach but not touch a Namboodiri Brahmin: a Chovan [Ezhava] must remain thirty-six paces off, and a Pulayan slave ninety-six steps distant. A Chovan must remain twelve steps away from a Nair, and a Pulayan sixty-six steps off, and a Parayan some distance farther still. Pulayans and Parayars, who are the lowest of all, can approach but not touch, much less may they eat with each other.
Nonetheless, higher ranked communities did have some social responsibility for those perceived to be their inferiors: for example, they could demand forced labour but had to provide food for such labourers, and they had a responsibilities in times of famine to provide their tenants both with food and with the seeds to grow it. There were also responsibilities to protect such people from the dangers of attack and other threats to their livelihood, and so it has been described by Barendse as "an intricate dialectic of rights and duties".
Caste system in colonial Kerala
By the late nineteenth century, the caste system of Kerala had evolved to be the most complex to be found anywhere in India, and the exploitation of it had become considerable. Barendse explains this development:
... it turned to gross unrequited exploitation only in the nineteenth century when the British colonial pacification removed the threat of the peasant harvests being ravaged by armies or robbers and their huts being burned to the ground.
By this time there were over 500 groups represented in an elaborate structure of relationships and the concept of ritual pollution extended not merely to untouchability but even further, to un-approachability and even un-seeability. The system was gradually reformed to some degree, with one of those reformers, Swami Vivekananda, having observed that it represented a "mad house" of castes. The usual four-tier Hindu caste system, involving the varnas of Brahmin (priest), Kshatriya (warrior), Vaishya (business person, involved in trading, entrepreneurship and finance) and Shudra (service person), did not exist. Kshatriyas were rare and the Vaishyas were not present at all. The roles left empty by the absence of these two ritual ranks were taken to some extent by a few Nairs and by Syrian Christians, respectively.
Caste in the modern era
The process of amelioration of caste distinctions by various social reform movements were overtaken by the events of 1947. With independence from Britain came the Indian constitution, and Article 15 of that document outlawed discrimination on the grounds of caste and race.Myron Weiner has said that the ideological basis for caste "... may be (almost, but not quite) moribund" and that:
No political parties, and no political leaders, no intellectuals support the idea that caste is part of a natural moral order based on hierarchy, ... that caste is occupationally linked and hereditary, that each caste (jati) embodies its own code of conduct (dharma), and that low-caste membership is the consequence of transgressions in one's previous life.
Weiner points out that despite the ideological demise:
... as a lived-in social reality it is very much alive. The demise of orthodoxy, right beliefs, has not meant the demise of orthopraxy, right practice. Caste remains endogamous. Lower castes, especially members of scheduled castes, remain badly treated by those of higher castes. But the gap between beliefs and practices is the source of tension and change. The lower castes no longer accept their position in the social hierarchy, and no longer assume that their lower economic status and the lack of respect from members of the higher castes are a "given" in their social existence. But the movement for change is not a struggle to end caste; it is to use caste as an instrument for social change. Caste is not disappearing, nor is "casteism" - the political use of caste — for what is emerging in India is a social and political system which institutionalizes and transforms but does not abolish caste.
Despite being outlawed, the Indian governments – both at national and at regional level – do still recognise distinctions between the various communities but this recognition is for the purpose of positive discrimination. Throughout post-independence India, including in Kerala, there exists a framework of reservation which is fluid in nature and attempts to recognise the socio-economic disparities between various castes. Depending both on local circumstances and on the changing modern socio-economic environment, castes are classified as Forward Classes (or General), Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes. These classifications determine what - if any - assistance a caste community receives in any given area. Formal classification lists are compiled for the latter three groups; any community which is not listed in any of those categories is, by default, a Forward Class.
Writing in the context of violence against Dalits elsewhere in India, Frontline magazine said in 2006 that:
Successive governments have brought in legislation and programmes to protect the rights of Dalit communities. The safeguards enshrined in the Constitution stipulate that governments should take special care to advance the educational and economic interests of Scheduled Castes, that untouchability is unacceptable and that all Dalit communities should have unrestricted entry in Hindu temples and other religious institutions. There are political safeguards in the form of reserved seats in State legislatures and in Parliament ... But prejudices die hard.
However, Frontline goes on to note that the situation in Kerala now, is not as severe, to the extent that those seeking to research:
... continuing inequality and deprivation among traditionally disadvantaged groups in Kerala do not include Dalits any longer in their list of communities that still represent "distinct pockets of deprivation". The list includes only the traditional coastal fishing communities, the S.T.s [Scheduled Tribes] of North Kerala, and the new underclass of Tamil migrant workers ...
Around 2003, the Government of Kerala recognised 53 Scheduled Castes, 35 Scheduled Tribes and 80 Other Backwards Classes. The 2001 Census of India recognised 68 Scheduled Castes, who comprised 9.8% of the population. They were 99.9% Hindu, with a negligible number of Sikhs and Buddhists. The Census recognised 35 Scheduled Tribes, comprising 1.14% of the population and with 93.7% being Hindus. A further 5.8% were Christian, and the remainder Muslim or "not stated".
- ^Fuller (1976), p. 53.
- ^ abcPullapilly (1976), pp. 26–30.
- ^ abBarendse (2009), p. 640.
- ^Gough (1961), p. 306.
- ^ abJeffrey (1976), pp. 9–10.
- ^Mathew (1989), p. 22.
- ^ abFuller (1976), pp. 55-56.
- ^Fuller, C.J. "Indian Christians: Pollution and Origins." Man. New Series, Vol. 12, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1977), pp. 528–529.
- ^Amaladass (1993), pp. 15-19.
- ^Amaladass, Anand (1993) [1989 (New York: Orbis Books)]. "Dialogue between Hindus and the St. Thomas Christians". In Coward, Harold. Hindu-Christian dialogue: perspectives and encounters (Indian ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 18. ISBN 81-208-1158-5.
- ^Vadakkekara, Benedict (2007). Origin of Christianity in India: a Historiographical Critique, pp. 325–330. Media House Delhi.
- ^Prasad, Rajendra. A Historical Developmental Study of Classical Indian Philosophy of Morals. 12. Concept Publishing. ISBN 978-8-18069-595-7.
- ^Barendse (2009), pp. 641-642.
- ^ abNossiter (1982), pp.25–27.
- ^Barendse (2009), p. 643.
- ^ abWeiner (2001), p. 195.
- ^Weiner (2001), p. 193.
- ^Viswanathanin & Shramakrishnan (2006), p. 6.
- ^Krishnakumar (2006), p. 24.
- ^"Official website of Kerala government". Archived from the original on 2008-02-15.
- ^"Data Highlights: The Scheduled Castes"(PDF). Census of India 2001. 27 March 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- ^"Data Highlights: The Scheduled Tribes"(PDF). Census of India 2001. 27 March 2007. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- Amaladass, Anand (1993) [1989 (New York: Orbis Books)]. "Dialogue between Hindus and the St. Thomas Christians". In Coward, Harold. Hindu-Christian dialogue: perspectives and encounters (Indian ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 15–19. ISBN 81-208-1158-5.
- Barendse, Rene J. (2009). Arabian Seas 1700-1763: The Western Indian Ocean in the eighteenth century. Arabian Seas 1700-1763. 1. Leiden: BRILL. p. 640. ISBN 978-90-04-17661-4. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
- "Excerpts from The Constitution of India". Left Justified. 1997. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- Fuller, C. J. (March 1976). "Kerala Christians and the Caste System". Man. New Series. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 11 (1): 53–70. doi:10.2307/2800388. JSTOR 2800388. (Subscription required (help)).
- Gough, E. Kathleen (1961). "Nayars: Central Kerala". In Schneider, David Murray; Gough, E. Kathleen. Matrilineal Kinship. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-02529-5. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- Jeffrey, Robin (1976). The Decline of Nayar Dominance: Society and Politics in Travancore 1847–1908. Sussex University Press. ISBN 0-85621-054-4.
- Heller, Patrick (1999). The Labor of Development: Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8624-1. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
- Krishnakumar, R. (29 December 2006). "Kerala Contrast"(PDF). Frontline. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- Mathew, George (1989). Communal Road To A Secular Kerala. Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-7022-282-8.
- Nossiter, Thomas Johnson (1982). "Kerala's identity: unity and diversity". Communism in Kerala: a study in political adaptation. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-04667-2. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- Pullapilly, Cyriac K. (1976). "The Izhavas of Kerala and their Historic Struggle for Acceptance in the Hindu Society". In Smith, Bardwell L. Religion and Social Conflict in South Asia. International studies in sociology and social anthropology. 22. Netherlands: E. J. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-04510-1. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
- Sebastian, C. D. (2009). "Interaction between Classical Indian Ethics and Christian Ethics". In Prasad, Rajendra. A Historical-Developmental Study of Classical Indian Philosophy of Morals. History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilisation, Vol. XII, Part 2. Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 978-81-8069-595-7. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
- Viswanathanin, S .; Shramakrishnan, Venkite (29 December 2006). "At a Crossroads"(PDF). Frontline. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
- Weiner, Myron (2001). "The struggle for equality: caste in Indian politics". In Kohil, Atul. The Success of India's Democracy. Contemporary South Asia. 6. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80530-8. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
For other uses, see Caste (disambiguation).
Caste is a form of social stratification characterized by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a lifestyle which often includes an occupation, status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion. Although caste systems exist in various regions, its paradigmatic ethnographic example is the division of Indian society into rigid social groups, with roots in India's ancient history and persisting until today. However, the economic significance of the caste system in India has been declining as a result of urbanization and affirmative action programs. A subject of much scholarship by sociologists and anthropologists, the Indian caste system is sometimes used as an analogical basis for the study of caste-like social divisions existing outside India. In biology, the term is applied to role stratification in eusocial animals like ants and termites, though the analogy is imperfect as these also involve extremely stratified reproduction.
The origins of the term 'caste' are attributed to the Spanish and Portuguese casta, which, according to the John Minsheu's Spanish dictionary (1599), means "race, lineage, or breed". When the Spanish colonized the New World, they used the word to mean a "clan or lineage". However, it was the Portuguese who employed casta in the primary modern sense when they applied it to the thousands of endogamous, hereditary Indian social groups they encountered upon their arrival in India in 1498. The use of the spelling "caste", with this latter meaning, is first attested to in English in 1613.
In South Asia
Main article: Caste system in India
Modern India's caste system is based on the social groupings called jāti and the theoretical varna. The system of varnas appears in Hindu texts dating back to 1000 BCE and envisages the society divided into four classes: Brahmins (teachers, scholars and priests), Kashatriyas (warriors and nobles), Vaishyas (farmers, traders and artisans) and Shudras (labourers/service providers). The texts do not mention any separate, untouchable category in varna classification. Scholars believe that the system of varnas was a theoretical classification envisioned by the Brahmins, but never truly operational in the society. The practical division of the society had always been in terms of jātis (birth groups), which are not based on any specific principle, but could vary from ethnic origins to occupations. The jātis have been endogamous groups without any fixed hierarchy but subject to vague notions of rank articulated over time based on lifestyle and social, political or economic status. In many instances, as in Bengal, historically the kings and rulers had been called upon, when required, to mediate on the ranks of jātis, which might number in thousands all over the subcontinent and vary by region. In practice, the jātis may or may not fit into the varna classes and many prominent jatis, for example the Jats and Yadavs, straddled two varnas i.e. Kshatriyas and Vaishyas, and the varna status of jātis itself was subject to articulation over time.
Starting with the British colonial Census of 1901 led by Herbert Hope Risley, all the jātis were grouped under the theoretical varnas categories. According to political scientist Lloyd Rudolph, Risley believed that varna, however ancient, could be applied to all the modern castes found in India, and "[he] meant to identify and place several hundred million Indians within it." The terms varna (conceptual classification based on occupation) and jāti (groups) are two distinct concepts: while varna is the idealised four-part division envisaged by the Twice-Borns, jāti (community) refers to the thousands of actual endogamous groups prevalent across the subcontinent. The classical authors scarcely speak of anything other than the varnas, as it provided a convenient shorthand; but a problem arises when even Indologists sometimes confuse the two.
Upon independence from Britain, the Indian Constitution listed 1,108 castes across the country as Scheduled Castes in 1950, for positive discrimination. The Untouchable communities are sometimes called Scheduled Castes, Dalit or Harijan in contemporary literature. In 2001, Dalits were 16.2% of India's population. Most of the 15 million bonded child workers are from the lowest castes.
Independent India has witnessed caste-related violence. India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes – the most disadvantaged groups - in a separate category. In 2005, government recorded approximately 110,000 cases of reported violent acts, including rape and murder, against Dalits  For 2012, the government recorded 651 murders, 3,855 injuries, 1,576 rapes, 490 kidnappings, and 214 cases of arson.
The socio-economic limitations of the caste system are reduced due to urbanization and affirmative action. Nevertheless, the caste system still exists in endogamy and patrimony, and thrives in the politics of democracy, where caste provides ready made constituencies to politicians. The globalization and economic opportunities from foreign businesses has influenced the growth of India's middle-class population. Some members of the Chhattisgarh Potter Caste Community (CPCC) are middle-class urban professionals and no longer potters unlike the remaining majority of traditional rural potter members. The co-existence of the middle-class and traditional members in the CPCC has created intersectionality between caste and class. There is persistence of caste in Indian politics. Caste associations have evolved into caste-based political parties. Political parties and the state perceive caste as an important factor for mobilization of people and policy development. It is not politics that gets caste-ridden; it is caste that gets politicized.
Main article: Caste system in Nepal
The Nepalese caste system resembles that of the Indian jāti system with numerous jāti divisions with a varna system superimposed for a rough equivalence. But since the culture and the society is different some of the things are different. Inscriptions attest the beginnings of a caste system during the Licchavi period. Jayasthiti Malla (1382–95) categorized Newars into 64 castes (Gellner 2001). A similar exercise was made during the reign of Mahindra Malla (1506–75). The Hindu social code was later set up in Gorkha by Ram Shah (1603–36).
Main article: Caste system among South Asian Muslims
Religious, historical and sociocultural factors have helped define the bounds of endogamy for Muslims in some parts of Pakistan. There is a preference for endogamous marriages based on the clan-oriented nature of the society, which values and actively seeks similarities in social group identity based on several factors, including religious, sectarian, ethnic, and tribal/clan affiliation. Religious affiliation is itself multilayered and includes religious considerations other than being Muslim, such as sectarian identity (e.g. Shia or Sunni, etc.) and religious orientation within the sect (Isnashari, Ismaili, Ahmedi, etc.).
Both ethnic affiliation (e.g. Pathan, Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi, etc.) and membership of specific biraderis or zaat/quoms are additional integral components of social identity. Within the bounds of endogamy defined by the above parameters, close consanguineous unions are preferred due to a congruence of key features of group- and individual-level background factors as well as affinities. McKim Marriott claims a social stratification that is hierarchical, closed, endogamous and hereditary is widely prevalent, particularly in western parts of Pakistan. Frederik Barth in his review of this system of social stratification in Pakistan suggested that these are castes.
Main article: Caste system in Sri Lanka
The caste system in Sri Lanka is a division of society into strata, influenced by the textbook varnas and jāti system found in India. Ancient Sri Lankan texts such as the Pujavaliya, Sadharmaratnavaliya and Yogaratnakaraya and inscriptional evidence show that the above hierarchy prevailed throughout the feudal period. The repetition of the same caste hierarchy even as recently as the 18th century, in the British/Kandyan period Kadayimpoth - Boundary books as well, indicates the continuation of the tradition right up to the end of Sri Lanka's monarchy.
Main article: Balinese caste system
Balinese caste structure has been described in early 20th-century European literature to be based on three categories – triwangsa (thrice born) or the nobility, dwijāti (twice born) in contrast to ekajāti (once born) the low folks. Four statuses were identified in these sociological studies, spelled a bit differently from the caste categories for India:
- Brahmanas - priest
- Satrias - knighthood
- Wesias - commerce
- Sudras - servitude
The Brahmana caste was further subdivided by these Dutch ethnographers into two: Siwa and Buda. The Siwa caste was subdivided into five – Kemenuh, Keniten, Mas, Manuba and Petapan. This classification was to accommodate the observed marriage between higher-caste Brahmana men with lower-caste women. The other castes were similarly further sub-classified by these 19th-century and early-20th-century ethnographers based on numerous criteria ranging from profession, endogamy or exogamy or polygamy, and a host of other factors in a manner similar to castas in Spanish colonies such as Mexico, and caste system studies in British colonies such as India.
China and Mongolia
During the period of Yuan Dynasty, ruler Kublai Khan enforced a Four Class System, which was a legal caste system. The order of four classes of people was maintained by the information of the descending order were:-
Some scholars notes that it was a kind of psychological indication that the earlier they submitted to Mongolian people, the higher social status they would have. The 'Four Class System' and its people received different treatment in political, legal, and military affairs.
Today, the Hukou system is considered by various sources as the current caste system of China.
There is also significant controversy over the social classes of Tibet, especially with regards to the serfdom in Tibet controversy.
Main article: Edo society
In Japan's history, social strata based on inherited position rather than personal merit, was rigid and highly formalized in a system called mibunsei (身分制). At the top were the Emperor and Court nobles (kuge), together with the Shogun and daimyo. Below them, the population was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, craftsmen and merchants. Only samurai were allowed to bear arms. A samurai had a right to kill any peasants, craftsman or merchant who he felt were disrespectful. Merchants were the lowest caste because they did not produce any products. The castes were further sub-divided; for example, peasants were labelled as furiuri, tanagari, mizunomi-byakusho among others. As in Europe, the castes and sub-classes were of the same race, religion and culture.
Howell, in his review of Japanese society notes that if a Western power had colonized Japan in the 19th century, they would have discovered and imposed a rigid four-caste hierarchy in Japan.
De Vos and Wagatsuma observe that Japanese society had a systematic and extensive caste system. They discuss how alleged caste impurity and alleged racial inferiority, concepts often assumed to be different, are superficial terms, and are due to identical inner psychological processes, which expressed themselves in Japan and elsewhere.
Endogamy was common because marriage across caste lines was socially unacceptable.
Japan had its own untouchable caste, shunned and ostracized, historically referred to by the insulting term Eta, now called Burakumin. While modern law has officially abolished the class hierarchy, there are reports of discrimination against the Buraku or Burakumin underclasses. The Burakumin are regarded as "ostracised." The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō and those of residents of Korean and Chinese descent.
The baekjeong (백정) were an “untouchable” outcaste of Korea. The meaning today is that of butcher. It originates in the Khitan invasion of Korea in the 11th century. The defeated Khitans who surrendered were settled in isolated communities throughout Goryeo to forestall rebellion. They were valued for their skills in hunting, herding, butchering, and making of leather, common skill sets among nomads. Over time, their ethnic origin was forgotten, and they formed the bottom layer of Korean society.
In 1392, with the foundation of the Confucian Joseon dynasty, Korea systemised its own native class system. At the top were the two official classes, the Yangban, which literally means "two classes." It was composed of scholars (munban) and warriors (muban). Scholars had a significant social advantage over the warriors. Below were the jung-in (중인-中人: literally "middle people". This was a small class of specialized professions such as medicine, accounting, translators, regional bureaucrats, etc. Below that were the sangmin (상민-常民: literally 'commoner'), farmers working their own fields. Korea also had a serf population known as the nobi. The nobi population could fluctuate up to about one-third of the population, but on average the nobi made up about 10% of the total population. In 1801, the vast majority of government nobi were emancipated, and by 1858 the nobi population stood at about 1.5 percent of the total population of Korea. The hereditary nobi system was officially abolished around 1886–87 and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894, but traces remained until 1930.
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 even so protests erupted when missionaries tried to integrate baekjeong into worship, with non-baekjeong finding this attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage. Around the same time, the baekjeong began to resist open social discrimination. They focused on social and economic injustices affecting them, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by upper class, authorities, and "commoners," and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.
With the Gabo reform of 1896, the class system of Korea was officially abolished. Following the collapse of the Gabo government, the new cabinet, which became the Gwangmu government after the establishment of the Korean Empire, introduced systematic measures for abolishing the traditional class system. One measure was the new household registration system, reflecting the goals of formal social equality, which was implemented by the loyalists’ cabinet. Whereas the old registration system signified household members according to their hierarchical social status, the new system called for an occupation.
While most Koreans by then had surnames and even bongwan, although still substantial number of cheonmin, mostly consisted of serfs and slaves, and untouchables did not. According to the new system, they were then required to fill in the blanks for surname in order to be registered as constituting separate households. Instead of creating their own family name, some cheonmins appropriated their masters’ surname, while others simply took the most common surname and its bongwan in the local area. Along with this example, activists within and outside the Korean government had based their visions of a new relationship between the government and people through the concept of citizenship, employing the term inmin ("people") and later, kungmin ("citizen").
Main article: Songbun
The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported that "Every North Korean citizen is assigned a heredity-based class and socio-political rank over which the individual exercises no control but which determines all aspects of his or her life." Regarded as Songbun, Barbara Demick describes this "class structure" as an updating of the hereditary "caste system", combining Confucianism and Stalinism. She claims that a bad family background is called "tainted blood", and that by law this "tainted blood" lasts for three generations.
See also: Social classes of Tibet
Heidi Fjeld has put forth the argument that pre-1950s Tibetan society was functionally a caste system, in contrast to previous scholars who defined the Tibetan social class system as similar to European feudal serfdom, as well as non-scholarly western accounts which seek to romanticize a supposedly 'egalitarian' ancient Tibetan society.
Main article: Yazidi
Yezidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader is a hereditary emir or prince, whereas a chief sheikh heads the religious hierarchy. The Yazidi are strictly endogamous; members of the three Yazidi castes, the murids, sheikhs and pirs, marry only within their group.
The Ancient Egyptians were divided into four social classes:
- the royalty and nobles
- artisans, craftworkers and merchants
Pre-Islamic Sassanid society was immensely complex, with separate systems of social organization governing numerous different groups within the empire. Historians believe society comprised foursocial classes:
- Priests (Persian: Asravan)
- Warriors (Persian: Arteshtaran)
- Secretaries (Persian: Dabiran)
- Commoners (Persian: Vastryoshan)
Main article: Al-Akhdam
In Yemen there exists a hereditary caste, the African-descended Al-Akhdam who are kept as perennial manual workers. Estimates put their number at over 3.5 million residents who are discriminated, out of a total Yemeni population of around 22 million.
Main article: Caste system in Africa
Various sociologists have reported caste systems in Africa. The specifics of the caste systems have varied in ethnically and culturally diverse Africa, however the following features are common - it has been a closed system of social stratification, the social status is inherited, the castes are hierarchical, certain castes are shunned while others are merely endogamous and exclusionary. In some cases, concepts of purity and impurity by birth have been prevalent in Africa. In other cases, such as the Nupe of Nigeria, the Beni Amer of East Africa, and the Tira of Sudan, the exclusionary principle has been driven by evolving social factors.
Among the Igbo of Nigeria - especially Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Edo and Delta states of the country - Obinna finds Osu caste system has been and continues to be a major social issue. The Osu caste is determined by one's birth into a particular family irrespective of the religion practised by the individual. Once born into Osu caste, this Nigerian person is an outcast, shunned and ostracized, with limited opportunities or acceptance, regardless of his or her ability or merit. Obinna discusses how this caste system-related identity and power is deployed within government, Church and indigenous communities.
The osu class systems of eastern Nigeria and southern Cameroon are derived from indigenous religious beliefs and discriminate against the "Osus" people as "owned by deities" and outcasts.
The Songhai economy was based on a caste system. The most common were metalworkers, fishermen, and carpenters. Lower caste participants consisted of mostly non-farm working immigrants, who at times were provided special privileges and held high positions in society. At the top were noblemen and direct descendants of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen and traders.
In a review of social stratification systems in Africa, Richter reports that the term caste has been used by French and American scholars to many groups of West African artisans. These groups have been described as inferior, deprived of all political power, have a specific occupation, are hereditary and sometimes despised by others. Richter illustrates caste system in Ivory Coast, with six sub-caste categories. Unlike other parts of the world, mobility is sometimes possible within sub-castes, but not across caste lines. Farmers and artisans have been, claims Richter, distinct castes. Certain sub-castes are shunned more than others. For example, exogamy is rare for women born into families of woodcarvers.
Similarly, the Mandé societies in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone have social stratification systems that divide society by ethnic ties. The Mande class system regards the jonow slaves as inferior. Similarly, the Wolof in Senegal is divided into three main groups, the geer (freeborn/nobles), jaam (slaves and slave descendants) and the underclass neeno. In various parts of West Africa, Fulani societies also have class divisions. Other castes include Griots, Forgerons, and Cordonniers.
Tamari has described endogamous castes of over fifteen West African peoples, including the Tukulor, Songhay, Dogon, Senufo, Minianka, Moors, Manding, Soninke, Wolof, Serer, Fulani, and Tuareg. Castes appeared among the Malinke people no later than 14th century, and was present among the Wolof and Soninke, as well as some Songhay and Fulani populations, no later than 16th century. Tamari claims that wars, such as the Sosso-Malinke war described in the Sunjata epic, led to the formation of blacksmith and bard castes among the people that ultimately became the Mali empire.
As West Africa evolved over time, sub-castes emerged that acquired secondary specializations or changed occupations. Endogamy was prevalent within a caste or among a limited number of castes, yet castes did not form demographic isolates according to Tamari. Social status according to caste was inherited by off-springs automatically; but this inheritance was paternal. That is, children of higher caste men and lower caste or slave concubines would have the caste status of the father.
Ethel M. Albert in 1960 claimed that the societies in Central Africa were caste-like social stratification systems. Similarly, in 1961, Maquet notes that the society in Rwanda and Burundi can be best described as castes. The Tutsi, noted Maquet, considered themselves as superior, with the more numerous Hutu and the least numerous Twa regarded, by birth, as respectively, second and third in the hierarchy of Rwandese society. These groups were largely endogamous, exclusionary and with limited mobility. Maquet's theories have been controversial.
Horn of Africa
In a review published in 1977, Todd reports that numerous scholars report a system of social stratification in different parts of Africa that resembles some or all aspects of caste system. Examples of such caste systems, he claims, are to be found in Ethiopia in communities such as the Gurage and Konso. He then presents the Dime of Southwestern Ethiopia, amongst whom there operates a system which Todd claims can be unequivocally labelled as caste system. The Dime have seven castes whose size varies considerably. Each broad caste level is a hierarchical order that is based on notions of purity, non-purity and impurity. It uses the concepts of defilement to limit contacts between caste categories and to preserve the purity of the upper castes. These caste categories have been exclusionary, endogamous and the social identity inherited.Alula Pankhurst has published a study of caste groups in SW Ethiopia.
Among the Kafa, there were also traditionally groups labeled as castes. "Based on research done before the Derg regime, these studies generally presume the existence of a social hierarchy similar to the caste system. At the top of this hierarchy were the Kafa, followed by occupational groups including blacksmiths (Qemmo), weavers (Shammano), bards (Shatto), potters, and tanners (Manno). In this hierarchy, the Manjo were commonly referred to as hunters, given the lowest status equal only to slaves."
The Borana Oromo of southern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa also have a class system, wherein the Wata, an acculturated hunter-gatherer group, represent the lowest class. Though the Wata today speak the Oromo language, they have traditions of having previously spoken another language before adopting Oromo.
The traditionally nomadic Somali people are divided into clans, wherein the Rahanweyn agro-pastoral clans and the occupational clans such as the Madhiban were traditionally sometimes treated as outcasts. As Gabboye, the Madhiban along with the Yibir and Tumaal (collectively referred to as sab) have since obtained political representation within Somalia, and their general social status has improved with the expansion of urban centers.
Medieval Europe's caste system had the following order:
- Nobility, royalty
- Knights, squires, pages, clergy
- Peasants, slaves, serfs
For centuries, through the modern times, the majority regarded Cagots who lived primarily in the Basque region of France and Spain as an inferior caste, the untouchables. While they had the same skin color and religion as the majority, in the churches they had to use segregated doors, drink from segregated fonts, and receive communion on the end of long wooden spoons. It was a closed social system. The socially isolated Cagots were endogamous, and chances of social mobility non-existent.
In July 2013, the UK government announced its intention to amend the Equality Act 2010 to "introduce legislation on caste, including any necessary exceptions to the caste provisions, within the framework of domestic discrimination law". Section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 provides that "a Minister may by order amend the statutory definition of race to include caste and may provide for exceptions in the Act to apply or not to apply to caste".
From September 2013 to February 2014, Meena Dhanda led a project on ‘Caste in Britain’ for the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
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