The class system in Indian society was like Caste and class point towards inequality and hierarchy. In both the cases, however, the principle of organization differs. The core features of caste are endogamy or marriage within caste, occupational differentiation and hereditary specialization of occupations, the notion of pollution and a ritual hierarchy in which Brahmins are generally at the top.
Classes, on the other hand, broadly refer to the economic basis of ownership or nonownership relation to the means of production.
But how do caste and class correlate to each other? Classes are subdivided in terms of types of ownership and control of economic resources and the type of services contributed to the process of production. The Brahmanical ritual hierarchy of the caste is also not universally applicable and upheld by all. In many cases, the ritual hierarchy is only contextual. The prosperous Jats in North India enjoy social and political dominance without equivalent ritual status. In most popular renditions of caste, hierarchy alone is emphasized and that too from Brahmanical point of view
Sometimes, however, caste works as a discrete community, without hierarchical relationship to other segments of society. Our conceptual categories do not always recapture the existing social reality. For instance, a conceptual distinction is often made between sharecroppers and agricultural laborers. In actual life, however, there is a high degree of overlap and they do not constitute discrete entities. Similar overlap is found in the rentierlandlord and cultivatorowner categories. The picture becomes hazier when we turn to the casteclass configuration.
Caste and class resemble each other in certain respects and differ in others. Castes constitute the status groups or communities that can be defined in terms of ownership of property, occupation, and style of life. Social honor is closely linked to ritual values in this closed system. Class positions also tend to be associated with social honor; however, they are defined more in terms of ownership or nonownership of means of production. The classes are much more open and fluid and have the scope of individual upward social mobility. In the caste system, only an entire segment can move upward, and hence, the mobility is much slower.
Although there is considerable divergence between the hierarchy of caste and that of class, the top and bottom segments of the class system are largely subsumed under the caste structure. The upper castes own means of production (land in rural areas) and act as rentiers. The landless agrarian proletarian coincides with the lower castes or Dalits who provide labor services for the rentier upper caste people as well as rich prosperous farmers of intermediate level.
At the intermediate level, articulation of classidentities is more complex. The process of differentiation of communities dislocates classrelations from the castestructure. If caste and class show a fair degree of overlap at the top and bottom level and in some cases appear almost coterminus, the picture is quite ambiguous at the intermediate level of the caste hierarchy. Similarly, the processes of modernization, especially urbanization, acquisition of education and new skills, act as the forces of dislocation that puncture the forces of social inertia and modify caste rigidity.
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