What caste can Gupta marry

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The term "caste" - jati and varna

The term caste comes from the Portuguese word "casto", which means something like "pure" or "chaste". The Portuguese, as early colonial rulers in India, tried to name a phenomenon of demarcation and hierarchical arrangement of groups, especially in relation to marriage, which they did not know from their own culture. The term caste, which is therefore not an Indian term but a foreign attribution, was applied to two different, nonetheless similar Indian categories - namely jati and varna.

The former, jati, could be translated as "species", "genus" or "root" - a term that is used in India not only to divide people into different groups, but also to classify animals, stones and the like can. In relation to the social system, jati refers to the empirical groups that can be found in India today. In the 1881 census, when the British began to systematically map India, the British counted almost 2,000 castes (jati).

In contrast, the category varna - a term that can be translated as "color" - denotes the four mythologically founded castes of the Brahmanic ideology. From the primordial man Purusha four varna or castes have sprung: from the mouth the priests or brahmins, from the shoulder the warriors or kshatriya, from one thigh the traders or vaishya and finally from the sole of the foot the servants or servants. Shudra. As the type of body parts already indicates, the four varna are hierarchically ordered, i.e. the Brahmins are at the top of this hierarchy and thus above the Kshatriya or warriors, who in turn are considered to be higher than the Vaishya. The Shudra form the lowest category within the varna scheme, with the "casteless" falling out of this scheme being viewed as even lower. All four varna are assigned different colors - for example white for the Brahmins or red for the Kshatriya.

There is a relationship between jati and varna insofar as each jati assigns itself to one of the four varna. The claims of a jati XY, for example to be a warrior or Kshatriya, are often controversial and can be rejected by non-members of this caste. The claims to a certain status as varna and its recognition are often in flux and change through processes of social mobility, i.e. claims are increased or adjusted when castes experience social advancement. However, while caste as jati is often locally or regionally limited and one finds quite different castes in different parts of India with regard to their names, myths, number etc., the four varna can be used as all-Indian categories in order to allow a certain comparability of the status of individuals Allow box.

Ideas for creating boxes

In addition to the already mentioned myth about the origin of the varna, there are a number of other theories about how castes came about. However, all of these explanations are speculative, which is why many scientists have deliberately limited themselves to the current caste system and how it works. Nonetheless, some ideas about the "evolution" of the boxes should be mentioned here.

In the dharmashastra (see Pandey 1993 [1969], Tambiah 1973), legal books with rules of conduct for the four varna, a theory is represented as to how the jati arose from the varna - namely through the mixing of the individual varna or through the marriage of People of different varna. The norm propagated in the dharmashastra stated that Brahmins should only marry Brahmins, Kshatriya only Kshatriya etc., i.e. marriage should be arranged within the varna. The marriages that deviate from the norm - for example between a Brahmin and a Kshatriya - would create new categories. The children from such a relationship are neither Kshatriya nor Brahmins, but a caste of their own. The marriage of high status women with men of lower status would result in very low status categories and, in the extreme case of the marriage of a Brahmanin and a Shudra man, the Chandala category, which is also identified with today's "untouchables" (see below). Through "mixed marriages" the number of castes would have multiplied - the four varna became hundreds of jati.

In contrast, in A.M. Hocart (1987 [1935]), which has been picked up more recently (see below), the king at the center of the caste system, who would have assigned different roles to different people in the sacrificial ritual. Due to the inheritance of the functions in the ritual, such as priest, barber, etc., boxes were later created. In this approach, the division of labor is of particular importance in the creation.

Historical explanations of the caste phenomenon mostly refer to various waves of immigration to India, whereby the "Aryans" in particular subjugated the already resident population - in some cases identified with the Dravidian population. The local population was assigned the rank of Shudra or servants or, in the worst case, of "untouchables" by the "Aryans". This theory emphasizes the "racial antipathy" (see in Klass 1993 [1980]) of immigrants who wanted to avoid "mixing" with the subject population. Such historical models, however, remain as presumptuous as another hypothesis (Klass 1993 [1980]), according to which the castes developed from clans in that the originally totemic * clans had limited marriage to their own group in the course of history.

(*) In relation to clans, totemism can be understood as a spiritual relationship of the whole group to a totem as a "protector" or "helper". The totem can appear in the form of animals, plants, etc., there are family ties with the clan that are often thematized in myths and subject to special taboos.

The Ideology of the Caste System I: The Dumonts Model and the Value of Purity

An early draft of the characterization of the caste system was presented by the French sociologist C. Bouglé (1997 [1957]). He argued:

"the spirit of caste unites [...] three tendencies, repulsion [understood here as separation in the sense of marriage etc. - US], hierarchy and hereditary specialization, and all three must be borne in mind if one wishes to give a complete definition of the caste system. "(Bouglé 1997 [1957]: 65)

Building on this and within a structuralist theory that focuses on the often unconscious ideas and values ​​of society, the French ethnologist Louis Dumont (1980 [1966]) emphasized that the three principles of caste set out by Bouglé - namely rejection or separation, Hierarchy, hereditary division of labor - the common fundamental opposition underlying pure versus impure. The separation of the "purer" from the relatively ritually "impure" castes (but also purer persons within the castes) accordingly forms the basis of the caste hierarchy as well as the separation - marriage or eating together with "impure" ones is excluded - and the Division of labor, since "impure" professions such as leather workers are distinguished from "purer" professions such as priests. Contact with people of lower status or "impure" ones is accordingly considered to be "contaminating" and, depending on the contact, requires more or less extensive cleansing rituals in order to restore one's own purity or the previous status.

Hierarchy - especially as a caste hierarchy - Dumont understands as:

"as the principle by which the elements of a whole are ranked in relation to the whole, it being understood that in the majority of societies it is religion which provides the view of the whole, and that the ranking will thus be religious in nature. " (Dumont 1980 [1966]: 66)

According to Dumont, the caste hierarchy should be seen as the order of the relatively ritually clean in opposition to the relatively ritually unclean. It relates the elements, here the castes, to the whole, the caste system, which is based on the necessary, hierarchical and complementary coexistence of pure and impure. The extremes of the hierarchy are embodied by the Brahmins as priests and the relatively purest category and the so-called "untouchables" as the relatively most impure category.

Excursus on the understanding of hierarchy in the caste system according to Dumont

According to Dumont's holistic perspective, which is directed towards society as a whole, hierarchy is not understood as a linear gradation or "a chain of superimposed commands" (Dumont 1980 [1966]: 239), but as "encompassing of the contrary", ie as respectively Inclusions of opposites.

Dumont (1980 [1966]: 240) establishes such a hierarchical and inclusive relationship in English, for example, between "man" (man) and "woman" (woman), ie while on a higher level one, understood as a person as in mankind, Including women, one as a man and woman as a woman stand opposite one another on a subordinate level. One as an inclusive category would therefore be hierarchically higher than woman. Dumont sees a similar gender hierarchy in the Genesis of the Bible, in which Eve is created from Adam's rib. So while on the one hand Adam and Eve stand in opposition to one another as man and woman, Adam, who embodies the whole in the myth, includes Eve as part of him - namely the rib.

In Dumont's understanding, the caste hierarchy is structured according to the same pattern, i.e. while according to the classical scriptures, for example, only the hierarchically higher Brahmins and Kshatriya are allowed to order a sacrifice and thus stand in opposition to the Vaishya, Brahmins and Kshatriya together include the Vaishya, in that Brahmins, Kshatriya and Vaishya together are considered "twice-born" who are allowed to carry the sacred cord. The Shudra, on the other hand, are explicitly excluded and are in opposition to the "twice-born". "Twice-born" and Shudra, on the other hand, stand as varna in opposition to the casteless "untouchables".

The ideology of the caste system II:
The criticism of Dumont's model and the role of the king

A good 30 years before Dumont, A.M. Hocart (1987 [1935]) designed a model by Kaste in which he placed the king at the center of the caste system. The service to the king is the decisive idea and the basis of caste. Hocart writes:

"what is uppermost in the minds of all our witnesses is the idea of ​​service: the farmers [in the role of the dominant caste or the king - US] are feudal lords to whom the others owe certain services, each according to his caste" (Hocart 1987 [1935]: 99)

Caste is mainly expressed in the ritual and the caste system appears in Hocart's understanding as a victim organization or as a "sacrificial organization". He notes:

"aristocracy are feudal lords constantly involved in rites for which they require vassals or serfs, because some of these services involve pollution from which the lord must remain free" (Hocart 1987 [1935]: 104).

So are boxes

"Merely families to whom various offices in the ritual are assigned by heredity" (Hocart 1987 [1935]: 107).

Some critics of Dumont's approach, such as Raheja (1988) or Dirks (1979), refer heavily to Hocart in their arguments. Dirks, for example, emphasizes that mixing political-economic relationships with ritual or religious ties helps to understand caste. Such a confusion contradicts Dumont's theory, which clearly separates the religious level embodied by the Brahmins from the political-economic sphere represented by the king. The thesis advocated by Dumont that the religious level includes the political-economic level and that the Brahmin thus has a higher status than the king, is thereby called into question. In contrast to Dumont, who at best grants the king a few magical-religious functions and primarily emphasizes his worldly power, Raheja and Hocart see the king at the center of the ritual. According to Raheja, from the perspective of the king, the brahmins as well as barbers and other castes as recipients of inauspicious, i.e. unhappy gifts, are in an identical structural position.

In the debate about the role of Brahmin and Kshatriya within the caste system, American ethnologists such as Marriott (1976), Raheja or Dirks have the dualism postulated by Dumont of status or religious authority (Brahmanas) on the one hand and secular power (Kshatriya) on the other hand as one criticized the idea originating from western thought and tried to counter it with a supposed Indian monism - expressed in sacred kingship, ie the king had secular power and religious authority. A hierarchy based on purity with the Brahmins at the top, on the other hand, was viewed as a primarily Brahmanic ideology that only became dominant in the colonial discourse due to the extensive absence of kings - initially replaced by Islamic rulers and subsequently mainly by British colonial rulers. Dumont adopted and generalized this one-sided perspective of the priests in his model, but this neglected the idea of ​​kingship, which is still very present at the local level in India.

The same accusation of generalizing a certain perspective has recently been made to Raheja et al. More recent works (see Galey 1990, Basu 2000) also speak of multiple, context-dependent hierarchies within the caste system, i.e. while the king in the context of the temple is subordinate to the priest who establishes the relationship to the divine, this relationship is reversed in the context of the palace, where the king dominates.

"Untouchability": The "casteless" or Dalits

A good 16% of the Indian population are classified by the government as "Scheduled Castes" or "Listed Castes". This category includes the so-called "untouchables" who for the most part, but not necessarily, live in poor conditions. But India's contradictions also include the fact that, despite ongoing discrimination against "untouchables", between 1997 and 2002 K.R. For the first time, Narayanan an "untouchable" man held the prestigious, albeit purely representative, office of Indian President. In addition to "human sacrifice" and "widow burning", the so-called "untouchability" preoccupied the British colonial rulers in India like hardly any other phenomenon. In this context, too, an external attribution was created that did not correspond to any Indian category: "untouchable" was only later translated literally into Hindi or other Indian languages.

In general, "untouchability" denotes the low position of social groups in or the partial exclusion from a complex caste hierarchy, which has already been described. Even if any contact with lower-status groups in the caste system, be it through food, marriage or physical contact, is generally considered to be contaminating and should be avoided, the boundary to the very lowest castes or casteless is nevertheless particularly emphasized. "Untouchables" can be spatially separated, i.e. their settlements are outside the villages. Even if they are illegal under Indian law, they can in practice be prevented from entering temples or from using certain wells, etc. In extreme cases, even their sight and shadow are considered to be contaminating. In the past, "untouchables" were sometimes even forced to wear bells in order to avoid accidental clashes. However, the practice of "untouchability" is very different in different regions of India. "Untouchables", for example, do not have to set up separate farmsteads in all areas, but sometimes have their houses between those of other castes.

Within the independence movement and especially in the 1930s, a debate about the characterization of the "untouchables" as Hindus and the question of their representation in Indian politics, their protection and their promotion took place between Bhimrao Ambedkar, who is revered as Babasaheb, and Mahatma Gandhi. Ambedkar, himself an "untouchable" from the Mahar caste, first pleaded in 1931 for separate electorates (electoral groups) for "untouchables", which he wanted to introduce in a similar way to Muslims. For "untouchables", also known as "depressed classes" before the term "scheduled castes" was introduced, a certain number of seats should be reserved in parliament, with the "untouchable" MPs being elected only by "untouchables" . Ambedkar saw the "untouchables" in contrast to the caste Hindus. He argued that the "untouchables" had to break away from the caste order. Disappointed by the tenacity of the ideas about purity and the persistent discrimination, he finally converted to Buddhism shortly before his death, together with many followers.In contrast to Ambedkar, Gandhi saw the possibility of reforming the caste system, which could be cleansed of the negative excesses of "untouchability". This attitude is expressed by his designation Harijan: Even people outside the caste system are "children of God".

In the compromise negotiated between Gandhi and Ambedkar in 1935, the so-called "Poona Act", it was agreed that seats in parliament would be reserved for "untouchables" according to their proportion of the population, but that these "untouchable" MPs would be elected by all voters in the respective constituency and thus there should be no separate electorates. This agreement was confirmed for the entire British colony in the "Government of India Act" of 1935 and enshrined in the constitution after Ambedkar became the first Indian Minister of Justice. This reservation policy - also known as "positive discrimination" - still applies to the "Scheduled Castes" as well as "Scheduled Tribes". Unlike the Adivasi, however, there is no constituency in which the "untouchables" form their own majority. In view of the Indian electoral law, this leads to the consequence that candidates also have to win over other groups (caste Hindus, Muslims or Adivasis) in order to gain a majority of votes in an electoral district, and thus a mandate.

The fundamental debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar was echoed in later ethnological debates (see Moffatt 1979), to what extent one could speak of a separate culture of the "untouchables" or to what extent there is a consensus on the values ​​of the caste order, which is also shared by the "untouchables" will. Apart from the general clichés of otherness, which can also be found under Oberkasten, and in which, for example, a relative sexual freedom of movement under the "untouchables", a greater material orientation, etc., ethnologists such as Kolenda (1983), for example, point to the low importance of Karma theory pointed out under "untouchables". Others emphasized the role of emotions among "untouchables" in contrast to the centrality of rituals among caste Hindus, pointed to the high evaluation of individual abilities as opposed to subordination to the group, or emphasized the supposed radical turning away from or rejection of the caste system among " Untouchables "as opposed to strategies of status change within the system in other castes.

So while some ethnologists, sometimes guided by their sympathies for the "untouchables" and their antipathies for the caste system, placed diversity and cultural differences at the center, other ethnologists such as Dumont and Moffatt pointed to such ideas of an "untouchable" Indian subculture or an alternative Canons of values ​​back. Undoubtedly existing differences between "untouchables" and caste Hindus are not to be explained by different ideas and values, but rather by a "communication block", i.e. the lack of understanding and the low exchange due to spatial separation, but above all also by the refusal of the Brahmins etc. to perform rituals for "untouchables".

In this respect, the "untouchables" do not have their own culture that is valued higher than the caste order, but would, as Moffatt shows in his study on "untouchables" in Tamil Nadu, replicate the caste structures among one another as much as possible. Functions such as that of the barber, from which the "untouchables" are excluded, are compensated for by the creation of a group of "untouchable" barbers, whereby such a replication of the caste system under "untouchables" up to the exclusion of a group, ie the "untouchables" the "untouchables", can lead. The caste hierarchy, in which the Brahmins and the "untouchables" are in complementary opposition, is thus also of value for the "untouchables". Of course, this does not mean that the hierarchy is free of conflict, but conflicts with other groups, for example about one's own status, are carried out within this framework.

Many "casteless" call themselves Dalits today. This name, borrowed from Sanskrit, which can be translated as the "oppressed", was originally used by the "casteless" organized by Ambedkar in Maharashtra. After the death of its charismatic pioneer, the movement was partially absorbed into regionalist movements. For some years now, a new generation of intellectual Dalits has been trying to combat the ongoing discrimination they denounce as "apartheid" and to awaken a self-confidence that - contrary to Brahmin ideologies - emphasizes the lordly, not "natural" aspect of exclusion from the caste society. Whether and to what extent the "casteless" form their own value systems depends on the success of such political struggles.

The caste system under the conditions of economic and political change

Even if the caste system often appears or is described as rigid and rigid, diverse processes of change can nonetheless be recognized (see Dumont 1980 [1966], Kolenda 1983, Srinivas 1998). Changes within the caste system result, for example, from permanent processes of the emergence of new castes, especially from religious movements, as soon as they start to marry or eat only within their community. There is also a relatively high degree of mobility, especially in the middle ranks of the hierarchy, while the hierarchical poles of the caste order - Brahmins and "untouchables" seem to be subject to far fewer changes. The fluidity in the middle levels, i.e. the ascent and simultaneous descent of individual castes, can be caused by factors such as land reclamation and irrigation, changed political constellations, immigration, etc., from which individual castes benefit. Regardless of this, but also in combination with such factors, castes can try to claim a higher status or such by following on from high-status castes, e.g. by imitating customs such as the prohibition of widow marriage, giving dowries, etc. To substantiate claim. In the literature, these by no means new processes have been referred to as Sanskritization (Srinivas 1998), Brahmanization, Rajputization, etc.

With regard to the three pillars of the caste system described at the beginning - separation with regard to marriage and eating, hierarchy and division of labor - one can also see that the last pillar, the relationship to production, is becoming increasingly weaker. This is due to the emergence of new professions, especially in an urban context, whereby new professions, in contrast to the old ones, are often no longer hereditary a priori. However, there is a tendency to convert new occupations, such as engineering, into hereditary occupations.

Monetization, urbanization and increased spatial mobility are also contributing to the change, which can be seen, for example, in an emerging cross-caste middle class. However, the existence of a middle class does not mean that one should overestimate the primarily economic change that is particularly visible in cities, because even in metropolises like Delhi, for example, the vast majority of marriages are arranged within the castes. In addition, the fact that the hereditary division of labor is only one pillar of the caste system makes the thesis of the Indian left extremely questionable, according to which castes would lose their meaning in favor of "classes" with increasing capitalist penetration of society.

Ultimately, another tendency for caste to change within the political system can be seen - namely, an increasing politicization of caste. On the one hand, this is inextricably linked with the emergence of caste organizations since the beginning of the 20th century, which are dedicated to the interests of the respective caste. On the other hand, this process is related to the system of positive and protective discrimination already described in relation to the "untouchables" or the reservation policy of the Indian government, which made the caste category relevant for access to state subsidies. Thus, government perks are not given because of economic hardship, but because of belonging to certain castes. In many, but not all cases, the majority of the caste benefiting from the reservations are mostly poor and disadvantaged.

With the expansion of the reservations in the course of the implementation of the proposals of the Mandal Commission in 1990, whereby the so-called "Other Backward Classes" (OBC) are now also promoted through a quota, the importance of box in the political process increases even further. Due to the current debate about the introduction of reservations for economically disadvantaged segments of the "Forward Classes" or "Forward Castes", ie for high-ranking but poor upper castes, the politicization of castes, also summarized under the term "casteism", is likely to increase .

One consequence of this development are caste-specific parties in India who represent particularly large castes or caste conglomerates such as the north Indian peasant or shepherd castes of the Jats or Yadavs and who advocate their interests in the distribution of state privileges. It is very questionable whether the constitutional prohibition of negative discrimination on the basis of caste can be achieved if a policy of positive discrimination alleviates centuries-old disadvantages, but at the same time reinforces the existence of castes and their role in political discourse.


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