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24 Nov


India is a country of many castes. The term caste is generally used in two senses: sometimes in the sense of Varna and sometimes in the sense of Jati.
(1) Varna refers to a segment of the four-fold division of Hindu society based on functional criterion.
(ii) The four varnas are Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra with their specialised functions as learning, defence, trade and manual service. The Varna hierarchy is accepted all over India.
Jati refers to a hereditary endogamous status group practising a specific traditional occupation. There are more than 3,000-3,500 jätis in India. These are hierarchically graded in different ways in different regions. It may also be noted that the practice of caste system is not confined to Hindus alone. We find castes among the Muslim, Christian, Sikh as well as other communities. As mentioned before in the marriage among Muslims, sections of Muslim community in India are stratified into Shias and Sunnis.
Further they are divided into
Ajlaf (Momins, Mansooris, Ibrahims)
Ashraf (Saiyed, Sheikh, Pathan)
Arzal (Halakhors)
Ashrafs are considered to be of highest status and endogamy is practised strictly. Ashrafs claim the superior status owing to their foreign ancestry. The non-Ashrafs are assumed to be converts from Hinduism and are therefore drawn from the indigenous population. They, in tum, are divided into a number of occupational castes like teli (oil dealer), dhobi (washerman), darjee (tailor), etc.
Among the Muslims, sections of the ulema (scholars of Islamic jurisprudence) provide religious legitimacy to caste with the help of the concept of kafa’a. A classical example of scholarly declaration of the Muslim caste system is the Fatwa-i-Jahandari, written by the fourteenth century Turkish scholar, Ziauddin Barani, a member of the court of Muhammad bin Tughlaq (Tughlaq dynasty, Delhi Sultanate). Barani made clear the intense caste-centric system prevalent and regarded the Ashraf Muslims as racially superior to the Ajlaf Muslims. He divided the Muslims into grades and sub-grades. In his scheme, all high positions and privileges were to be a monopoly of the high born Turks, not the Indian Muslims since they were converted from indigenous Hindu population.
Furthermore, there is caste consciousness among the Christians in India. Since a vast majority of Christians in India are converted from Hindu fold, the converts have carried the caste system into Christianity. Among the Sikh again we have so many castes including Jat Sikh and Majhabi Sikh (lower castes).


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