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Caste Structure In Rural Set Up

The institution of caste represents the entire system by which the whole society is organized into different groups their interrelationships are determined, division of labor and exchange of goods and services are carried on the social roles and obligations of the individuals are prescribed.

Risley defined caste as a collection of families or group of families bearing a common name claiming a common descent from a mythical ancestor, human or divine, professing to follow the same hereditary calling and forming a single homogeneous community.

According to M.N Srinivas the features of caste prevailing through the past centuries may be described under 9 heads: hierarchy, restriction on food, drink and smoking; distinction in custom, dress and speech; pollution, ritual and other privileges and disabilities; caste organization and caste mobility.


    a) Hierarchical division of society- Caste brings an element of hierarchy in society by dividing it into different strata, Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra on the basis of relative ritual purity. These major groups are again subdivided into a number of small groups which are also graded into various positions in terms of high or low. According to Bottomore in modern India there are perhaps some 2500 jatis in each major region.Ghurye also finds that in each linguistic region there are about 200 caste groups which are further subdivided into about 3000 smaller units each of which is endogamous and constitutes the area of effective social life for the individual.

    b) Hereditary-Each caste is a hereditary group. The membership of the caste is confined to those who are born into it by an endogamous marriage relation. The status of an individual is determined by virtue of his birth. Each caste has a traditional occupation and all the members strictly follow this occupation to earn their livelihood.

    c) Endogamy-Every caste is an endogamous group. This endogamous character is maintained by the rules and regulation of marriage. However gotra exogamy is maintained in each caste. Every caste is subdivided into different small units on the basis of gotra.The members of one gotra are believed to be successors of a common ancestor-hence prohibition of marriage within the same gotra.

    d) Unique culture- Ghurye says that castes are small and complete social worlds in themselves marked differently from one another though subsisting within the larger society. Every caste has a distinct culture, traditions and customs which distinguish it from those of the other groups. The behavioral pattern, food habits etc is prescribed by the caste rules.

    e) Closed group- Endogamy, unique culture and heredity combined together to make caste a closed group. No person can enter into a particular caste except by birth.Srinivas talks about process of Sanskritisation which takes place with in Indian society.

    f) Organization- Every caste has its own organizational structure known as caste panchayat which lays down rules and regulations that have to be obeyed by the members of that caste. The internal differences and conflicts are settled in the caste panchayat which serves as a judicial system. Socially every caste group is an autonomous body having judiciary, executive and financial power of its own which it exercises over the members of that caste in the interests of the caste as a whole.

    g) Rights and Privileges-These vary from caste to caste. Generally the Brahmins enjoy the most privileged position and have extensive rights which they can exercise over the members of other castes. They have a dominant position in social, political and economic fields of rural life. Such rights and privileges decrease as one descends the caste hierarchy.