Meaning and Definitions of Caste System in India – Explained!

Several definitions of the term caste have been given by sociologists. While some have viewed caste as a special type of social stratification, others have treated it as an “ethnographic category” relevant only to Hindu India. Some sociologists even consider it a structural phenomenon “not of “world-wide application” but one that is “indissolubly linked witli the Pan-Indian civilization”.

Some Popular Definitions of Caste:

1 “Caste is an endogamous group, or collection of endogamous groups, bearing a common name, membership of which is hereditary; imposing on its members certain restrictions in the matter of social intercourse; either following a common traditional occupation or claiming a common origin; and generally regarded as forming a single homogeneous community.” —E.A.H. Blunt

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2. “Caste is a hereditary, usually localised group, having a traditional association with an occupation and a particular position in the local hierarchy of castes. Relations between castes are governed among other things by concepts of pollution and purity, and generally, maximum commensality occurs within the caste.” —M.N. Sriivas

3. “Caste is an extended kinship group in which every member is either an actual or a potential kin of another.” — Karve

4. “Caste is a hereditarily specialised and hierarchically arranged groups”As a system, it has three characteristics: (a) hierarchy, (b) hereditary specialization, and (c) Repulsion. — Bougie

5. “Caste is a closed corporation, rigorously hereditary, bound with others by common occupation and equipped with a council that rules its members by the sanctions of certain penalties”. —M. Emile Senart

6. “Caste in a “collection 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 regarded by those who are competent to give an opinion as forming a single homogenous community”. —Risley

7. “Caste is a system of stratification in which mobility up and down the status leader, at least ideally may not occur”. —W A. Green

8. “When status is wholly predetermined so that men are born to their lot without any hope or changing it, then class takes the extreme form of caste”. —Maclver and Page

9. “When a class is somewhat strictly hereditary, we may call it a caste”. —C.H. Cooley

In very simple words, Caste is an aggregate of persons whose share of obligations and privileges are fixed by birth which have behind them the sanction of religion and tradition.