Class V. Caste System A Class vs. a Caste System In any country’s history, a high stage of social development is reached only when the main social divisions are formed. “The caste system penetrates the Hindu society to a level unknown elsewhere. It plays some part in other civilizations but in India it has invaded the whole.
It is in this sense that we may speak of the caste system as a phenomenon peculiar to India” (Pocock 27). The class system of the United States and the caste system of India share common characteristics but, at the same time, they different in many ways. A caste system rigidly restricted occupationally, socially, members may not marry outside the caste. Caste system devalues and discriminates people according to their genetic and/or social background. There are said to be four major traits typical of caste systems. Included are the following: membership into the caste is hereditary; marriage within the caste is mandatory; mobility is nearly impossible; occupation is strongly related to caste (Hurst, 1998).
Conversely, a class system is a society based upon different groups. These groups are composed of people whose strata’s are often related to occupational or property divisions. They are composed of a set of consistent and stable patterns that persist through time. In the United States it is based upon a classification of individuals who are grouped into power levels which “represent the structural inequality in the allocation of rewards, privileges, and resources.” These levels are often referred to as the “upper,” “middle.” And “lower” classes. They largely determine life chances in relating directly to the incomes and educational composition of each individual class (Davis 65-72). One of the strongest and most complex examples of the caste system can be found in Hindu India, where a hierarchy of thousands of distinct castes reflect religious practice, occupation, locale, culture status, or tribal affiliation.
In addition, their society is divided into four social classes: -the Brahmans, priests and scholars; Kshatriyas, the military and rulers; Vaisyas, farmers and merchants; and Sudras, peasants and laborers. Below the Sudras were the untouchables, who performed the most menial tasks. The Untouchables are often regarded as the “polluters” include peoples whose occupations are those such as hairdressers, janitors, tanners, butchers, and undertakers. They were given this title because they make contact with such “pollutants” as blood, dirt, dung, hair, leather, menstrual flow, saliva etc. Popularly known in the past as “pariahs”, the politically correct terms now used are Dalits (“the oppressed”) and/or Harijans (“Children of God”), a term introduced by Mahatma Gandhi. Although caste segregation is officially illegal, it is very prevalent in India (Singh 9-19). An open system is a society in which people can change their economic, prestigious and power status easily.
In contrast, a closed system is society in which people face great difficulty in changing these statuses. One should keep in mind that no society is completely open or closed, in fact, all societies have at least one or more characteristics of both closed and open systems. The United States is a good example of a relatively open system. This is because the US is founded upon the assumption that each person is given the equal opportunity to achieve that maximum level of success at the highest level of the class system. America is based on the belief that this achievement can be reached through competence, contribution to the community and society and through diligence and hard work. Unfortunately, this ideal is often discounted when stereotypes assigned to people on the basis of gender, age, and race come into play. In lieu of this many sociologists often view the United States’ society as a very closed system because of the high degree racial inequality.
Similarly, a Hindu caste system is a good example of a closed system. Although the caste system in India was far more closed before 1900, India still suffers similarly in rural areas. People in India have traditionally inherited their status at birth from their parents. As a matter of course, it is uncommon for this status to change through the course of their life. Unlike in the United States, personal merit and diligence go without reward.
It seems that no matter how hard or how much this sector of the lower caste strives they can never reach the prestige and status of those who inherit their high status. Fortunately, through the aid of social variables such as, varying birth and death rate in caste level, discontent among the repressed and exploited, competition between the different castes, and introduction of modern technologies and religious conversions, India’s caste system has begun to allow greater mobility its social stratum. Many similarities exist when comparing the Indian caste system to the class system of the United States. One similarity is that “each caste plays important roles in society and benefits from the roles performed by others (Hurst, 1998).” The caste system is one of interdependence. Similarly, the United States class system is a one of co-dependence because each member of society plays a pivotal role in sustain the preservation of our culture.
Another similarity focuses on the four basic characteristics of a caste structure and the U.S. system in terms of racial inequality. The first parallelism is that India’s caste is determined largely by who you parents are and likewise the United States follows that “the class that a parent(s) is a reliable predictor of what class their child will become a part of later on” (O’Hanlon 199). Both systems have social ideas that consist of two contradictory positions: different social groups are not equal, both for the well being of the state they’re equally important. Likewise, the United States developed what is now known as the middle-working class, in the United States, in contrast, the racial status of biracial children born of black and white parents is governed by what is often referred to as the “one drop rule” (Davis, 1991): In the South during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow laws, a person with “one drop of black blood” was black. This idea translated into the practice of classifying a person as black if he or she had any known black ancestors (Davis, 1991). The “one drop” rule still holds true in today’s society, though not as rigid.
Professional golfer Tiger Woods describes himself as “Cablinasian”, because his mother is from Thailand and his father has African, European, and Native American ancestors. Because his main sponsor, Nike Company, has labeled him as black, he is now regarded as such in the press. The second basic characteristic, that marriage within one’s caste is mandatory, is not true in the legal sense. In the United States, there is no longer any laws forbidding interracial marriages. But, instead, it is a “rule” that is practiced by many. “Marriage statistics show that there are certain professions which inter-marry freely while there are many others which do so very rarely.
A number of customs show that the different ‘worlds’ do not like to mix and thus certain quarters of the city, certain cafes and certain schools are frequented exclusively by certain categories of the population (Singh 111). So, therefore, this characteristic of the caste system is not necessarily as strict in the United States, but it is one that is followed by the majority of those living in the U.S. The third characteristic of the caste system, that mobility is virtually impossible, is clearly true of the black-white distinction that exists in the United States. There is essentially no mobility from black to white or from white to black for typical white and black people in the United States. “Passing” from one race to another has been known to happen, but it is something that occurs only in a closed system, such as the Indian caste system. This characteristic also contrasts with the U.S. class system. Mobilit …