Caste and Class in India are intertwined/overlap. Share your views.

Caste and class are both ‘status groups’ in Max “Weber’s phraseology. A ‘status group’ is a collection of persons who share a distinctive style of life and a certain consciousness of kind. While caste is perceived as a heredi­tary group with a fixed ritual status, a social class is a category of people who have a similar socio-economic status in relation to other segments of their community or society.

The individuals and families who compose a social class are relatively similar in educational, economic and prestige status. Those who are classified as part of the same social class have similar life chances. Some sociologists regard social classes as being primarily economic in nature whereas others tend to stress factors such as prestige, style of life, attitudes, etc.

Caste system is characterised by ‘cumulative in-equality’ but class system is characterised by ‘dispersed inequality’. The members of a class have a similar socio-economic status in relation to other classes in the society, while the members of a caste have either a high or low ritual status in relation to other castes. Caste is a unique phe­nomenon (Leach and Dumont) found in India but class is a universal phenomenon found all over the world. Caste works as an active political force in a village but not the class.

Andre Beteille (1965), on the basis of his study of caste and class in Sripuram in South India found that classes do not constitute a basis for communal and political action. Referring to this Leach (1960) has said that while caste assumes economic and political functions and competes with other castes, it defies caste principles. Gough and Richard Fox also hold the same position. M.N. Srinivas (1962:7), however, does not agree with Leach on this. He maintains that competi­tion between caste groups cannot be described as defiance of caste principles. It is true that castes depend on each other (jajmani system) but besides interdependence, castes also compete with each other for acquir­ing political and economic power and high ritual position.

Yet another difference between caste and class is that caste has an organic character but class has a segmentary character. In caste system, upper castes compete with each other for the services of the lower castes but in the class system, lower classes compete with each other for the favour of the upper classes (Leach, 1960:5–6).

Further, in the caste system, status of a caste is deter­mined not by the economic and the political privileges but by the ritualistic legitimation of authority, i.e., in the caste system, ritual norms encompass the norms of power and wealth (Dumont).

For example, even though Brahmins have no economic and political power, yet they are placed at the top in the caste hierarchy. In the class system, ritual norms have no importance at all but power and wealth alone determine one’s status. Bailey, however, does not accept Dumont’s statement that relig­ious ideas rather than the economic values establish the rank of each caste. He says that if we accept this statement, it would mean that changes in control over economic resources can take place without causing changes in rank.