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27 mars 2009 5 27 /03 /mars /2009 16:36

By Zeter Georges  -
Cast System versus New Middle Class in Modern India

The crudities and cruelties of the caste system needs not blind us to its other aspects. There is no doubt that it is the main cause of the fundamental stability and contentment by which Indian society has been braced up for centuries against the shocks of politics and the cataclysms of Nature. It provides every man with his place, his career, his occupation, his circle of friends. It makes him, at the outset, a member of a corporate body: it protects him through life from the canker of social jealousy and unfulfilled aspirations; it ensures him companionship and a sense of community with others in like case with himself. The caste organization is to the Hindu his club, his trade union, his benefit society, his philanthropic society. An Indian without caste, as things stand at present, is not quite easy to imagine."[1]).

The caste system in India
is a social system where people are ranked into groups based on heredity within rigid systems of social stratification. The caste is a group whose members are restricted in their choice of occupation and degree of social participation. Marriage outside the caste is prohibited. Social status is determined by the caste of one's birth.

The Indian term for caste is jati, which generally designates a group varying in size from a handful to many thousands. There are thousands of such jatis, and each has its distinctive rules and customs:


1 -The Brahmans, the priestly and learned class

2- The Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers

3- The Vaisyas, farmers and merchants 

4- The Sudras, peasants and labourers

5- The Dalits, the “untouchables” are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system of segregation.


The Dalits or Panchamas (meaning; fifth division or “broken people”), who performs the most menial tasks. Of India's 1 billion people, 160 million are untouchables.



The middle class of India has arrived

The middle class in India has the sense that it is coming into its own; that it has acquired the numerical strength (300 million and more, if you use a fairly loose definition) to make the Indian market matter even in a global context; and to demand that their issues be addressed when elections come round.

The cacophony on television, the visible shift in focus of the general newspapers (out with coverage of city slums, in with coverage of shopping malls), the rush to start new airlines and the obvious international interest in India, all say the same thing: the middle class in India has arrived.

In conclusion, the most striking feature of contemporary India is the rise of a confident new middle class. It is full of energy and drive — and it is making things happen. That it goes about in an uninhibited, pragmatic and amoral fashion is true.

It is different from the older bourgeoisie, which was tolerant, secular and ambiguous. The new class is street-smart. It has had to fight to rise from the bottom, and it has learnt to manoeuvre the system, but…



India faces problems with the balance of the sexes in the country; some areas have a ratio of 80 girls to every 100 boys due to selective abortions. Boys are more highly prized in Indian society and as a result, many couples will have additional children after a girl in an effort to produce a boy. In cases where the family already has one or two female children the likelihood of a female [foetus] being aborted is significantly higher.


Recent scrutiny of birth records at eight major hospitals in Delhi revealed the extent of sex-selection abortion. For parents having their second baby after a girl child, there were only 558 girls for every 1,000 boys. After two years the ratio was even more pronounced, with only 219 girls for every 1,000 boys.


Some efforts from the government

“The government says it wants to change society's perception of girls”.

It hopes the new move will bring down the strong preference for sons in the country, which it says is adding to population pressure with families producing more children in the hope of a male child. The desire for male children often also leads to selective abortions and discrimination against girls.”[2]

Crossing the caste’s lines


Until recently, an arranged Marriage in India was defined as the type of wedding alliance brought forward by parties other than the bride or the groom -- typically the parents. The marriages where the partners choose each other are known as “Love Marriages” in India.

The arranged marriages are quite common even in today's India -- only the criteria have slightly changed. The rigid caste system is somewhat diluted and marriages outside of the sub-caste are considered, so are marriages outside of one's own language or province.



In a uniquely Indian version of Romeo and Juliette, a teenage girls and boys were publicly lynched earlier this month in rural Uttar Pradesh. The girl's parents and hundreds of villagers watched and applauded.

The crime? The girl was a Brahmin, Hinduism's highest caste; the boy, a Vaisyas, a somewhat lower, though still respectable, farming caste. The girl's family had been 'defiled' by their daughter crossing the 'pollution barrier' to consort with a lower caste boy. The appropriate punishment was death.



More and more arranged marriages today take into account the preferences of brides… Because of the… imbalance gender; women finally can make their own choice!

Eric Margolis: (Issue No.6, November 2002)



[1] Sidney Low, Vision of India, 1906, ch. xv. p. 263

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4272286.stm

[3] http://www.sikhspectrum.com/112002/eric_caste.htm


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