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Caste Versus Class Essay

1652 words - 7 pages

Social stratification can be found in every country, and in many different variations. The Indian caste system has often caught critique, despite its deeply embedded beliefs in Hindu culture. “The caste system penetrates the Hindu society to a level unknown elsewhere. It plays some part in other civilizations but in India it has invaded the whole. It is in this sense that we may speak of the caste system as a phenomenon peculiar to India” (Pocock 1974: 228). However, despite the criticism, the American class system has similarly limited its members. The class system found in the United States and the Hindu caste system of India share many common characteristics, but, at the same time, they are different in many ways.
A caste system is a system that restricts its members occupationally and socially, and it is typically unacceptable for members to marry outside of their own caste. This system often devalues its members according to their family history and status, with purity being the foremost concern leading to the creation of separate castes (Singh 2008: 121-122). However,
“The notion of a single hierarchy or multiple hierarchies based on purity and pollution is inadequate to address the reality of caste in India. It fails to recognize the inequality of castes founded on unequal access to land and political power, and the consequent exploitation of the lower castes by the higher castes that was intrinsic to the system. Alternatively, it is argued that the status of a caste in the caste system was determined above all by its access to land, which also carried with it political power and social honour” (Singh 2008: 119).

Keeping this in mind, within the Indian caste system, there are four major traits: caste membership is hereditary; it is mandatory to marry within one’s caste; mobility is almost impossible; caste is strongly related to occupation (Singh 2008: 123).
In contrast to caste, a class system is a society “based upon different groups”, and the composition of the groups is most often based upon one’s occupation or wealth (Digby 2009: 43). These groups are consistent, and often stable throughout time. Within the United States, class membership is based upon levels of power that represent wealth, privilege and resources. These groups are otherwise known as “upper”, “middle”, and “lower” class (Digby 2009: 43).
India’s caste system is also one of great complexity, involving a hierarchy of individual castes that in turn reflect religious affiliation, tribal membership, occupation, and social status (Lynch 2001: 259-260) Of the thousands of individual castes, there are four social classes. The Brahmins are the priests and scholars, and are the purest of the social classes (Lynch 2001: 260). They are the religious leaders, and uphold the caste system very strongly (Lynch 2001: 260). The Kshatriyas are the rulers and the military, or the kingly class (Lynch 2001: 261). The Vaisyas are composed of merchants, craftsmen and farmers, and the...

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