The caste system in India has been described by some as “social stratification”…a convenient way to maintain distinctions among the various social classes.

In some respects, it resembles the Confucian social structure found in other Asian countries. I lived in Korea for a year, and I’ve sensed a similar social hierarchy since I arrived here in India.

A crucial difference, however, is that much of the caste system is based on hereditary characteristics. You’re born into it, and nothing you do can change your caste.

The Confucian structure, however, is more achievement based, and often hinges on education levels, occupation, wealth and professional position. Upward mobility is available for anyone willing to study hard enough, work long enough or get lucky enough.

In India, this move up the social ladder is more difficult, though it is becoming increasingly possible in recent decades. In fact, a member of the Dalit (lowest castes and “untouchables”) was even elected as president of India back in 1997.

This is an exceptional case however, and many here in India still have an ingrained resignation to their “lot in life,” particularly in the more rural areas. These rural populations are also prone to ongoing caste discrimination, though it was officially “outlawed” back in 1950.

Here in Andhra Pradesh, I visited a caste of weavers the other day who’ve been involved with textile production for generations. They’re part of the Saliyas caste, and their work was simultaneously fascinating and depressing
It was a step back in time to see the cotton go from rough, white strands to dyed product to fine spools of thread to finished blanket. This wasn’t made by giant machines in any wholesale factory. It was made by a whole host of hands from start to finish, and those hands have been doing it their entire lives.

Upon the moment they were born, their destiny was largely sealed. Their working life would take place in the weaving industry, somewhere in the production line, making less than a dollar a day.

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About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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  1. Jo Nading said... 


    February 17th, 2012 at 1:22 pm  

    always amazed. thanks for the great pics and explanations. We here (in USA) can’t imagine being locked into a place in life with no hope for a future change. So glad that little by little things are changing…and eager to hear more. So appreciate your writing and your honest heart.

  2. Carrie said... 


    February 17th, 2012 at 3:32 pm  

    Fascinating and depressing is right. It’s so interesting to see the process from start to finish, but it’s sad to know that these people have, literally, no other options.

  3. Steve S said... 


    February 21st, 2012 at 4:31 am  

    Great message on the caste system Stephen. So glad you are exposing the lies. One correction, however, which isn’t as minor as it may sound. Only the practice of “untouchability” was outlawed back in the ’50s. The practice of casteism has NOT been outlawed, and casteism is the root of untouchability, so the law against untouchability is really just a whitewash. Casteism, in all forms, is the unwritten rule of law of governance across India.

    • Steve-O said... 


      March 2nd, 2012 at 7:22 am  

      Thanks Steve, and yes, I think I coulda/shoulda been more explicit on that point in this gallery. I tried to clarify it in the one from Feb 29. By all means, let me know if you anything else catches your eye, and thanks for looking out!

  4. Emmy said... 


    February 27th, 2012 at 3:45 pm  

    Very interesting article. I had heard of the caste system in school ,but didn’t ponder the ramifications of this cruel injustice till I read this article.

    • Steve-O said... 


      March 2nd, 2012 at 7:26 am  

      Thanks Emmy.. It really is an ongoing atrocity, despite the “laws of the land.” Definitely check out the other article, “A Hopeless Cause” for further explanations, as well as Barry’s old article “A Movement in the Dark.”

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