This approach, however, can be criticised in the light of modern-day western society, as one could insist that norms and values differ between various social and ethnic groups, providing a formation of numerous identities. In relation to the caste system, the rigidity of the varnas has also weakened over time, arguably due to colonialism and the natural secularisation of the state as it endorses western perceptions and ideas. However when contrasting both concepts, it is questionable whether class, from a Marxist perspective, ever had this effect on western society.
The bourgeoisie who owned the means of production, had economic superiority and political power over the proletariat (the working class), but it could hardly be suggested that this alone was sufficient to deter class conflict. Karl Marx himself claimed that the proletariat, whose labour was being exploited by the bourgeoisie, would realise their oppression and consequently the classes would polarise, with the working class overthrowing the ruling class. However, this never happened and as a result it could be argued that class can be seen as a control apparatus in keeping different social groups from clashing with one another.
Thus, caste and social class can be noted as similar in terms of comparing them as a form of social hierarchy. Arguably, caste is a source of identity that can be seen as extremely important to the Indian individual. As discussed before, it is intrinsic of Indian culture and has strong links to Hindu beliefs. Indians in contemporary society still view caste as important. According to Beteille (2002), the Indian intelligentsia are adamant that caste no longer has bearing on the modern Indian identity and that it lacks any relevance in contemporary Indian society.
Educated Indians ridiculed those who still abided by the laws of caste. This is probably because caste is perceived as a backward and oppressive system by some. This can be demonstrated by John Wilson’s view on the matter, who called the caste system ‘most fearful development ever exhibited on the face of the globe… the worst social arrangement observed by the proudest nations” (Dirks, castes of mind, pg 56). Drawing from this quote, it is safe to say that as a result, the intelligentsia of today is troubled about their stance on caste. Beteille maintains that up until the nineteenth century, i.
e. colonialism and the British presence in India, distinctions were acknowledged by Hindus and these were upheld by institutions such as law, religion and morality. This is no longer the case due to the consequences of colonialism, secularisation and general urbanisation of India. Dumont (1966) confuses the situation further as he believes that caste takes away one’s identity; in other words, subordinates the individual and consequently only has importance when placed outside the caste-based society, which he refers to as the “individual outside world”.
Class identity is still prominent in some ways in contemporary society. Middle class citizens tend to use economic capital as a primary means of conveying their class status, i. e. through consumerism. This capital, as Bourdieu theory on cultural capital goes, can be used to gain cultural capital. This concept can be applied to the ritually impure Indian with wealth previously mentioned. Class, however, has become a malleable source of identity which is becoming less defined as more factors contribute towards making up one’s social status.
The presence of postmodernism is overwhelming as to how much it has fragmented class identities. In the modern western world, it can be possible look at class subjectively as there seem to be no barriers which indicate otherwise. In conclusion, my argument will summarise the fact that caste and class differ in many ways, however, also share many similarities. I tend to agree with Beteille’s view on caste of it having lost legitimacy in present-day times. This can be seen as the case with class as one could argue it simply lacks the significance it once had in determining one’s social position within society.
Although class prejudices still exist in society, they are less informed and do not permeate specific aspects of society such as caste does, which can be seen through the importance still placed on same-caste marriages in the Indian sub-continent. Social class boundaries have also deteriorated drastically and it is hard to define what class is, as one’s norms and values could adhere to one culture but lack of economic capital may disregard what that individual’s perception of what their own class is.
Taking into consideration this point, Beteille’s analysis of the caste system also acknowledges that social shifts (e.g. urbanisation) within society are taking place, resulting in the system being modified. It no longer remains an “eternal institution” which Beteille sees as the primary faults of anthropologists. It is thus difficult to contrast these two concepts in terms of which is more significant as a form of social hierarchy. It could be drawn that people generally from a lower class or caste suffer the burden of an inferior socio-economic status more so and thus it is a disadvantage.
Bibliography Books: Dumont, Louis 1980, Homo Hierarchius, University of Chicago Press,Dirks, Nicholas B. 2001, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Princeton University Press Beteille, A 1992, Caste in Contemporary India, Delhi University Press Holborn, M and Langley, P. 2002, Sociology Themes and Perspectives: AS- and A-Level Handbook, Collins Education Publisher Parsons, R and Barnes D. 1998, GCSE Modern World History, Coordination Group Publication Ltd Eriksen, T. 2001, Small Places, Large Issues, Pluto Press Website: BBC, Religion and Ethics – Hinduism http://www. bbc. co. uk/religion/religions/hinduism/living/caste. shtml.