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1. caste


ETYM Portu. casta race, lineage, from Latin castus pure, chaste: cf. French caste, of same origin.
(Homonym: caste).
1. Social status or position conferred by a system based on class.
2. A social class separated from others by distinctions of hereditary rank or profession or wealth.
3. (Hindu) A hereditary social class stratified according to ritual purity.
Stratification of Hindu society into four main groups: Brahmans (priests), Kshatriyas (nobles and warriors), Vaisyas (traders and farmers), and Sudras (servants); plus a fifth group, Harijan (untouchables). No upward or downward mobility exists, as in classed societies. The system dates from ancient times, and there are more than 3,000 subdivisions.
In Hindu tradition, the four main castes are said to have originated from the head, arms, thighs, and feet respectively of Brahma, the creator; the members of the fifth were probably the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, known variously as Scheduled Castes, Depressed Classes, Untouchables, or Harijan (name coined by Gandhi, “children of God”). This lowest caste handled animal products, garbage, and human wastes and so was considered to be polluting by touch, or even by sight, to others. Discrimination against them was made illegal 1947 when India became independent, but persists.

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