ABSTRACT

What is caste, really? This is not an easy question. We need to distinguish between varna and jati , of course, but need also to look at the totality of social practices that make up what people experience as caste. For beyond ritual status, I propose, caste may be seen as a set of social practices embedded in local history and culture: local discriminatory practices, wealth and landownership patterns, ideologies of equality or hierarchy and the many in between, and local or state-level patterns of political mobilisation. These practices vary over space, giving rise to many different kinds of caste systems that are in constant evolution and processes of negotiation with other social forces. This elasticity will also work over time, even relatively short time, changing as other social forces are changing.