Caste System in India - What is Caste System?

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Feb 8, 2023, 10:46

Caste System in India refers to the ancient Hindu system of classification of people. It involves designating people their occupations based on their caste and systematically enforcing them to stick to it. Every individual in Indian society is identified by their caste. Strictly followed since ancient times, the caste system in India segregates people into inflexible hierarchical groups.

This system of segregation is believed to be more than 3000 years old and the stature of every Indian in the society is determined by their caste. The caste system in India exists in a much-diluted form today but it is important to know its history, effects, and prevalence even today.

What is Caste System?

Caste System is defined as the system of a hierarchical classification of people based on their class and occupation. The large and diverse Indian society is characterized by caste-based societal segregation that is a part of its history and culture. An individual in Indian society is identified by their caste, which also dictates their stature in society.

According to the Indian caste system, caste groups are formed based on the karma and dharma of the individuals. People generally associate a sense of superiority with “upper caste” people and inferiority with “lower caste” people. The caste system in India has led to blatant discrimination towards the “lower caste” people since ancient times.

How Many Caste in India?

There are four total castes in India. An individual’s membership to a caste is predetermined by their birth. It is believed that those with superior karma and dharma are birthed into “upper castes”. Here are the names of all castes of the caste system in India:



Position in the Caste Hierarchy


Priests, Teachers

Superiors in the caste hierarchy.


Rulers, Warriors

Inferior to Brahmins, superior to others.


Merchants, Land Owners

Inferior to Brahmins and Kshatriyas, superior to others.



Considered inferiors in the caste hierarchy.


Odd Jobs

Considered “Untouchables”.

Highest Caste in India

The Brahmins are the people of the highest caste in India. They are on top of the caste hierarchy and are treated with the utmost respect in Indian society. In ancient times, the occupation designated to them based on the caste system was teaching and priesthood.

On the other hand, Shudras are considered the lowest caste in India. However, even below the Shudras are the Dalits, who are placed outside the caste system. They are historically known as the “Untouchables” and are treated as not only inferiors but also “impure”.

Caste System in India - Origins and History

The Indian caste system originated in the ancient Vedic society (c. 1000–500 BCE). It has survived through the Classical Period, Medieval Period, Mughal Era as well as British Rule. It is deemed as an important system of classification of Indian society by many. However, the caste system in India is also criticized by many for perpetrating injustice and discrimination towards the so-called “lower castes”.

The history of the caste system in India is shared here:

  • Classical Period (320–650 CE) - The varna system colour-coded the prevailing castes in the society.
  • Medieval Period (650–1400 CE) - The caste system was well established by this time.
  • Mughal Era (1000–1750 CE) - The Indian caste system was prevalent even during the Mughal Era. Some people within the caste hierarchy embraced Islam because of the caste discrimination they were facing.
  • British Rule (1857–1947) - The Britishers tried to bring reform and act against some of the injustices that the “lower caste” people faced.

Affirmative Action Against Indian Caste System

Throughout history, individuals and communities have raised their voices against the caste system. It is an oppressive and unjust segregation of people which leads to discrimination and violence against certain communities. The caste system in India has led to caste-based violence in several parts of the country. Not to mention the untouchability that people still practice against “lower caste” people.

With the Government adopting important measures to provide equal rights and opportunities to all, the effects of the caste system have been regulated to some extent. Through affirmative action policies such as reservation, the underprivileged have got a chance to finally come up the social ladder.

Caste System - Details

  • According to the caste system in India, the society is divided into many small groups known as castes. Each caste group is autonomous, and the birth process identifies its memberships.
  • Each caste has its own rule, customs and practices, and rituals.
  • The Caste System is hierarchical in nature. The four primary castes are Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras, with the Brahmins being the head of the ranking and the Sudras at the bottommost.
  • Every caste is divided into small units based on gotras. Hence, mainly there are four castes and small sub-groups under them.
  • Caste system in India enforces the practice of endogamy. It allows its members to get married within the caste itself.
  • The caste is determined by birth and remains unchanged even if there is a change in the person’s occupation, wealth, and education. Also, the occupation is decided on the basis of the caste system in India.
  • The concept of pollution and purity is an essential component of the caste system. People discriminate against people of the “lower caste” by believing that they are inherently inferior to them because of their caste.

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FAQs on Caste System in India

Q.1. What is the caste system?

The caste System is a system of segregating individuals in Indian society based on their lineage and occupation. The caste system in India is a rigid social structure, which determines the stature of a person by the caste assigned to them at birth. The caste system has led to many inequities and discrimination in India.

Q2. Who started the caste system in India?

The origins of the caste system can be traced back to the Vedic Age (c. 1000–500 BCE). During this period of time, a person’s occupation was determined by the varna (class) they belonged to. Eventually, the caste system evolved and became an inhuman, rigid, and poisonous system of segregating people.

Q3. What are the effects of caste system in India?

The caste system in India has led to prejudice, taboo, and untouchability (a form of discrimination) against the “lower caste” people. For ages, the people of the “lower castes” have been denied the opportunity to educate themselves and move up the social ladder. Even today, such form of prejudice and discrimination exists in Indian society.

Q4. What is the importance of the caste system in India?

Some people claim that the caste system in India is important because it is a brilliant way of maintaining hierarchy in society. However, scholars argue that the caste system is only deemed as important by people who are up in the social ladder, mainly the “upper caste” people.

Q5. How many total caste in India are there?

There are four total castes in India. According to the Indian caste system, the four castes are:

  • Brahmins
  • Kshatriyas
  • Vaishyas
  • Shudras