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Closely allied with religious belief, and deeply rooted in the history of India, caste remains an important feature of Indian society. Caste in many Indian languages is jati, or birth - a system of classifying and separating people from birth within thousands of different groups labeled by occupation, ritual status, social etiquette, and language. Scholars have long debated the origins of this system, and have suggested as the origin religious concepts of reincarnation, the incorporation of many ethnic groups within agricultural systems over the millenia, or occupational stratification within emerging class societies.

Modernization and urbanization in India have led to a decline in the outward display of caste exclusiveness, so that issues of caste may never emerge directly in the workplace. Entire castes have changed their status, claiming higher positions as they shed their traditional occupations or accumulate money and power.

In many villages, however, the segregation of castes by neighborhood and through daily behavior still exists. In the cities, segregation takes more subtle forms, emerging directly at times of marriage and existing more often as an undercurrent of discrimination in educational opportunities, hiring, and promotion.

The British schedules of different castes, especially those of very low or Untouchable (Dalit) groups, later became the basis for affirmative-action programs in independent India, which allowed some members of the most oppressed caste groups access to good education and higher paying jobs. Meanwhile, attempts by low-ranking and separately poor castes to organize and agitate against discrimination have been met with violence in most Indian states and territories.

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  • This page was last modified on 4 August 2008, at 10:09.
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