Part 2 india theme social hierarchical controls
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Part 2: India Theme: Social hierarchical controls. Lesson 16. ID & SIG. caste system, jati , untouchables, varna. Where we left off in Lesson 13: Roots of Hinduism.

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Part 2: India Theme: Social hierarchical controls

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Part 2 india theme social hierarchical controls

Part 2: IndiaTheme: Social hierarchical controls

Lesson 16

Id sig


  • caste system, jati, untouchables, varna

Where we left off in lesson 13 roots of hinduism

Where we left off in Lesson 13:Roots of Hinduism

  • The Vedas (“Wisdom”) were collections of prayers and hymns of the Indo-European Aryans who migrated into India around 1500 B.C.

    • Reflect the knowledge that priests needed to carry out their functions

  • The Aryans developed a social structure with sharp distinctions between individuals and groups according to the occupations and roles in society

    • These distinctions became the basis of the caste system

    • Brahmins (priests) were at the top of the caste system

Fanciful depiction of the Indo-Aryans entering India

Aryan social order

Aryan Social Order

  • Aryan social hierarchy served to maintain order and stability that other societies such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China maintained through state and political structures

  • The term caste comes from the Portuguese word casta meaning a social class of hereditary and usually unchangeable status

    • Coined by Portuguese merchants and mariners who visited India during the 16th Century

Caste and varna

Caste and Varna

  • As the Aryans settled in India they interacted with more people to include the darker-skinned Dravidians

  • The Aryans began using the word varna meaning “color” to refer to the major social classes

    • This suggests that social distinctions arose partly from differences in skin color



  • After about 1000 B.C., Aryans increasingly recognized four main varnas

    • Brahmins (priests)

    • Kshatriyas (warriors and aristocrats)

    • Vaishyas (cultivators, artisans, and merchants)

    • Shudras (landless peasants and serfs)



  • Some centuries later, the Aryans added the category of untouchables

  • The untouchables performed dirty or unpleasant tasks such as butchering animals or handling dead bodies

  • Such work made them become so polluted that their very touch could defile individuals of higher status

Members of the untouchable class dispose of corpses after the 2004 tsunami

Subcastes jati

Subcastes (Jati)

  • Until about the 6th Century, the four varnas were sufficient to maintain the desired social distinctions, but increased urbanization and specialization demanded a more complex hierarchy

  • Jati emerged as subcastes

    • Largely determined by occupation

    • By the 18th and 19th Centuries there were several thousand jati

    • Even untouchables had jati and some looked down on others as more polluted and miserable than themselves

Castes and subcastes

Castes and Subcastes

  • Prescribed an individual’s role in society in the minutest of detail

    • Members of the same jati ate together, intermarried, and cared for their own sick

    • Elaborate rules dictated how members of different jati addressed each other and communicated

    • Violation of the rules could result in expulsion from the larger group

Social order

Social Order

  • Individuals came to identify themselves more closely with their jati than with their cities or states

  • The caste system served as the principal foundation of social stability in India, doing what states and empires did to maintain public order elsewhere



  • There were some provisions for movement between classes, but individual upward mobility was not easy

    • More often it occurred for a group as members of a jati improved their condition collectively

  • The caste system enabled foreign people to find a place in Indian society

Expansion of the caste system

Expansion of the Caste System

  • As more people migrated to India, especially Turks and Muslim merchants, the caste system continued to provide order

  • Immigrant groups gained recognition as distinct groups under the umbrella of the caste system

    • Established codes of conduct both within their group and in their interactions with others

Caste and economic development

Caste and Economic Development

  • Since jati was so closely tied to occupation they often took the form of workers’ guilds that were able to powerfully represent the group’s interests

  • Merchants and artisans established distinct jati based on their particular type of commerce or industry

Geographic expansion

Geographic Expansion

  • At first the caste system was confined to northern India where the Aryans had first entered

  • As commercial relationships pushed south, the caste system took hold there as well

  • By the 11th Century the caste system was the principal basis of social organization in southern India

Caste in india today

Caste in India Today

  • The preamble of India’s constitution forbids negative public discrimination on the basis of caste.

  • In reality, caste ranking and caste-based interaction continue

    • More prominent in the countryside than in urban settings and more in the realms of kinship and marriage than in less personal interactions

    • “The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) is part of a wider struggle to abolish ‘untouchability’ and to ‘cast out caste’. ‘Untouchability’ and caste discrimination continue to be a brutal reality for more than 160 million Dalits living in India today, despite the fact that more than half a century has passed since India was born as a ‘democratic’ and independent state.”


How were populations controlled in india

How were populations controlled in India?

How were populations controlled in india1

How were populations controlled in India?

  • Caste system

    • Maintained order by assigning an individual to a place in the social hierarchy and established a rigid code of behavior based on that assignment

    • Allowed immigrant groups to find a place in society by recognizing them as distinct groups within the overall system

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