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Dalit liberation struggles

Debt Chatterjee

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Southern Asia » India

Period 2000 - present
1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

People Gandhi

Key-Topics caste, democracy, equality, party politics, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00441.x


Hindu society is marked by caste stratification. Etymologically, the term caste derives from the Portuguese word casta , which means “breed” or “race.” Originating probably as four varnas (divisions based on social functions), the Brahmins (priests and scholars specializing on scriptures), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants), and Sudras (laborers serving the above three), today some 3,000 social groups claim caste status. G. S. Ghurye (1993) identified six outstanding features of caste-ruled Hindu society, namely, segmental division of society, hierarchy, restrictions on feeding and social intercourse, civil and religious disabilities and privileges of the different sections, lack of unrestricted choice of occupation, and restrictions on marriage. Central to caste ideology has been the notion of “purity” and “pollution” of the castes. The practice of untouchability remains integral to the caste order. Persons belonging to the castes lowest in terms of the hierarchy and considered as the most polluting are stigmatized as untouchables. Untouchable castes have been variously referred to as panchamas, antyajas, atishudras, avarna , depressed classes, Harijans, scheduled castes, and Dalits. In 2001, they comprised around 16 percent of India's population: 36 percent are workers, amongst whom 48 percent are agricultural laborers. Many are engaged in traditional occupations ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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