Interplay of Caste and Class in the State of Uttar Pradesh

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David Grusky defines social stratification as the categorization of people in a society into rankings of socioeconomic tiers based on their income, education, wealth, race and power. In other words, social stratification occurs when people in a society are hierarchized into different groups or classes based on the difference of their social standings, as per some widely affirmed form of valuation. Essentially, social stratification is viewed as a specific sort of social disparity.[1] This research paper deals with two forms of social stratification, i.e., stratification based on caste and stratification based on class.

O’Neil said: – “You cannot hide your caste. You can try to disguise it, but there are so many ways to slip up.”[2]

The expression ‘Caste’ originates from the Portuguese term ‘Casta’, which implies breed/race. The genesis of the caste system in India has always been a matter of debate.[3] The caste system rests on the principle of inherited inequality. Essentially, the Hindu system of caste comprises of four varnas; they are: a) Brahmins (teachers and priests), b) Kshatriyas (Kings or warriors), c) Vaishyas (businessman and landowners) and, d) Shudras (working class; labourer’s). This system is not exhaustive. Practically speaking, in our daily lives, neither the distinction of castes is this rigid, nor the castes are confined to these categories only.

Moreover, all varnas are further categorized into “Jatis” Hundreds of jatis may co-exist in Varna, and even these jatis might be in a hierarchal order within the Varna, based on the principle of pollution and purity.[4] Sociologists believe that class is gradually replacing caste. Presently, the caste system is prevalent more in rural areas than in urbanized cities.[5] Moreover, it has been proven by several studies that caste remains the bedrock of social organization in our country.[6] 

One of the most actively debated subject in social sciences is the concept of class. Class is defined primarily by property, wealth, occupation, income, and education.[7] The class system even existed during the Roman period. However, due to the development of industrialized society, class as a form of stratification disseminated in all parts of the world. This sort of stratification is conspicuous in urban-industrialized regions.[8] Marx defined class as an association of people who experience a similar relationship with his so-called ‘forces of production’. According to him, two principal social groups exist: the first is a ruling class, and the other is a subject class. He said that until the forces of production are collectively held, the class system will not end. Fundamentally, there are three types of classes: – the upper class (elite families; own resources), the lower class (poor and often illiterate; usually BPL) and the middle class (educated group; live good lifestyle).

Furthermore, the middle class is divided into three sub-parts: – a) the upper-middle-class, b) the middle-class and, c) the lower-middle-class, respectively. The system of class rests on the achievement principle; therefore, mobility is possible.[9] The division of Varna from its inception in the Rigvedic period represented class differences supported by the beliefs and political authority of the class in power, i.e., the ruling class.[10]

Both Caste and Class are regarded as two distinct types of social stratification, and it has been proven that both of them may exist together in a society.[11] In India, it does exist together, and one such example is the state of Uttar Pradesh.


The state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) lies in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent. It has a population of about 19.98 crores,[12] which makes it the most populous state in the country. UP holds a special place in several debates when the matter of caste pops in. It has faced many problems related to caste and class—for instance, crime against lower castes. Although caste and class are two effective forms of stratification, there is minimal research on how both of these function in a similar setting and what effect these have on each other. This research paper tries to learn about the current condition of the state using two key socioeconomic indicators: education and employment.


The forthcoming discussion and analysis aim to determine whether caste and class affect each other with special reference to the state of UP; if yes, then how and to what degree? It also aims to understand the characteristics of both classes as well as caste.


In order to accomplish the goal of this research paper, the author uses numerous secondary and primary sources of information. Research surveys conducted by various research establishments were relied upon as reliable sources for data. In addition, several Journals, studies and various articles have been used to collect information, using online research databases such as JSTOR, Hein Online, Economic and Political Weekly, SAGE Journals etc.

Discussion And Analysis

This portion of the paper comprises a brief discussion on the characteristics of the Indian class and caste system, then an in-depth analysis of interplay of caste and class in UP is carried out using two socio-economic indicators.

Characteristics of Indian Caste-Class system

Firstly, for understanding the Indian caste system, one needs to know its principal traits, which are as follows: –

  1. society is divided into multiple segments/sections.
  2. there is a hierarchy among the groups.
  3. numerous constraints between the groups regarding social interactions and other things like higher-caste people cannot eat/drink/sit with lower-caste people.
  4. prevalence of several religious as well as civil constraints (For example., lower caste are not allowed to enter temples/public places which are exclusively occupied for higher caste, i.e., Brahmins)
  5. One stark characteristic of the Indian caste system is endogamy, i.e., members of a caste are not allowed to marry people outside their caste groups; otherwise, they are punished or ostracized by the members of their caste.
  6. In a caste system, the lower caste is deprived of choosing their profession.

Meanwhile, most of these traits are transforming speedily with time; the endogamous nature of the caste groups does not show any considerable change.[13]

Class is one of the most crucial determinants of success/opportunities in an individual’s life since it binds people directly to the economic order.[14] T

he constitution of India has categorized the conventional caste-classes into the following extensive categories:[15]

  1. scheduled castes,[16]
  2. general castes,
  3. other backward classes,[17] and
  4. scheduled tribes.[18]

Characteristics of a class system other than the above mentioned are –

  1. movement from one class to another is allowed, even descending movement is allowed but is criticized.
  2. Inter-marriage facilitates movement among the classes.
  3. In every class, its members tend to show uniformity in their opinions, thoughts, and practices.

In short, members of a particular class have common concerns; they cherish one another and have intimate communications with them.[19] 

Analyzing the interplay of Caste and Class by utilizing Socio-economic Indicators

A person born into a particular caste and class generally determines his/her access to opportunities, for instance, which school he/she can go to, what profession/job one is allowed to pursue etc. When we carefully scrutinize the education pattern in India, we can see that a sizeable portion of our population remains deprived of chances of acquiring formal education.[20] Many scholars contend that formal education helps the underprivileged classes to enhance their knowledge, abilities as well as status in society, while some others contend that formal education serves as a contradicting resource for them; it certainly opens gates for various opportunities but also draws the underprivileged class into an arrangement of social inequality.[21] 

A Case study was conducted on “Chamars” (falls under the OBC category) of the Bijnor district’s rural area (UP).[22] The study aimed to examine the role of formal education in their life. We will be using the data used in this study as per our research requirements and comparing the year 1990 and 2001. According to the survey, in 1990, 41% of boys in the age group of 8 – 12 years, only 2% in the age group of 13-17 years and 0% in the age group of 18-22 years went to government/non-state schools and 14%, 36% and 16% is same age categories went government secondary schools. In 2001, 42% boys in the age group of 8 – 12 years, only 4% in the age group of 13-17 years and 0% in the age group of 18-22 years went to government/non-state schools and 8%, 47% and 10% is same age categories went government secondary schools.

Moreover, for higher education, there were 6% men in 1990 and only 1% men in 2001. Essentially, there was an increase in primary and secondary education, but there was a steep fall in the higher education category; the reason for this was that earlier men in 1990 who completed higher education later worked as daily wagers and as labourer’s. In the district, the “Jats” (ruling class) (In 2001, in 13-17 years category, 94 percent children of Jats went to primary school) were the upper class as well as the higher caste than the Chamars (subject class) in OBC’s.

The Chamars were dependent on the Jats for their employment. The parents of Chamars had contemplated this, so they stopped investing in further education of their children and made them work in agricultural fields owned by the Jats. The Jats never allowed the Chamars for upward movement in the class; therefore. As a result, Sanskritization could not take place, so Chamars in the village continued to be underprivileged. The formal education failed to change the economic status of the Chamars in the village, which highlights the long-lasting quality of socioeconomic disparities based on both castes and class. This study also showed that the initiatives taken by the government for their betterment were rarely successful/beneficial in improving their social and economic status.[23] Also, schooling and the reservations in employment for their category did not contribute towards a virtuous circle of growth. 

Another factor through which we can study the interplay of class and caste is employment. According to the 2011 Caste Census of India, the Work participation rate of all the SCs in the state was only 34.7% which was even less average of SCs throughout India.[24] Also, this rate was more than the rate in 1991, and lesser labour participation force implies that their economic growth will also be less, and lesser economic growth means minor change in their economic status. We know that by the process of Sanskritization, an underprivileged/lower caste/tribe transforms its way of living, traditions, ceremonies to that of dominant or higher caste in order to move up in the caste-hierarchy.[25] It is also a well-known fact that some castes are respected because of their economic status/power. Sanskritization at local levels can also occur if the underprivileged castes for moving up the hierarchy change their classes (from lower to middle or middle to upper) and imitate their lifestyles and practices. 

The constitution of India for eradicating such economic and social disparities provides reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the underprivileged castes/classes. The aim of the introducing reservation system in jobs was to benefit people of those categories who had remained socially and economically disadvantaged for an extended period.[26] This aim was partially fulfilled as upper-class or middle-class people in these reservation categories (ST’s, SC’s and OBC’s) take advantage of the reservation, rather than the lower-class people for whom this system was introduced. There is no actual check in this system. And then children of these upper/middle-class people use the benefit again. They defeat the lower caste children in gaining the benefit of this in admissions and government job exams. This is because they have had better availability of resources, facilities, and upbringing than lower-class children. 

A critical aspect of the interplay of caste and class is the Honor killings that have been taking place for a long time in the state. UP has the highest number of honors killing cases.[27] In 2018 only, there were around 50 cases of Honor crimes.[28] These killings occur mainly because of inter-caste marriages. Usually, the family of the higher caste and/or classes kill their children because they feel ashamed and are scared of the fact that their caste people will shun them and they will be ostracized by society. Also, the idea of class and caste is so embedded in their minds that they consider inter-caste marriages as a sin by which they will not attain salvation.


From our above discussion about caste and class, it must be clear by now that poor people constitute as the lower (proletariat; subject class in India)[29] and then we also saw that the less privileged or under-privileged castes have been historically disadvantaged, which implies that they have not been allowed to accumulate wealth and move upward in the society economically, which further implies that they have been forced to stay at the bottom of the class ladder as well. This also explains that both caste and class are interrelated and affect each other to a great extent. Nevertheless, some evidence shows that gradually class is taking place of caste, as people are getting educated and aware. Therefore, we can say that in future, the caste as a concept will vanish, and class will take its place.

[1] David Bryan Grusky, Social Stratification: Class, Race and Gender in Sociological Perspective, (2nd ed., 2001).

[2] Mangala Subramaniam, The Power of Women’s Organizing: Gender, Caste and Class in India, 4 – 6 (1st Ed., 2006).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Divya Vaid, The Caste-Class Association on India: An Empirical Analysis, 52 ASIAN SURVEY, 395, 399 – 400 (2012).

[5] K. L. Sharma, Caste and Class in India: Some Conceptual Problems, 33 Sociological Bulletin 1, 1 – 2 (1984).

[6] Supra Note, 2.

[7] Supra Note, 4.

[8] Supra Note, 5.

[9] Prakhar Bisht, Social Stratification in India, 20 IOSR-JHSS 28, 28 – 29 (2015).

[10] Ajit Roy, Caste and Class: An interlinked view, 14 EPW 297, 299 – 300 (1979).

[11] Victor S. D’Souza, Caste and Class: A Reinterpretation, 2 JAAS 192, 193 – 194 (1967)

[12] Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, 2011 Census Data, Final population totals. Available at: – 

[13] Govind Sadashiv Ghurye, Caste and Class in India, 3 – 27 (2nd ed., 1957).

[14] Richard Breen & David B. Rottman, Class Stratification: A Comparative Perspective IX-XII (2013).

[15] Srinivas Goli et al., Continuing caste inequalities in rural Uttar Pradesh, 35 IJSSP 252, 252 – 253 (2015).

[16] Hereinafter referred to as SCs.

[17] Hereinafter referred to as STs.

[18] Hereinafter referred to as OBCs.

[19] Ernest Beaglehole, Race, Caste and Class, 52 JSP 1, 8 – 9 (1943).

[20] Taapsi Kohli, Caste, Class and Education, Oxfam India (19th Sept. 2019).

Available at: –

[21] Bradley Adam Levinson et al., The Cultural Production of the Educated Person: Critical Ethnographies of Schooling and Local Practice, 1 -26 (1st ed., 1996).

[22] Craig Jeffery et al., Degrees without Freedom: The Impact of Formal Education on Dalit Young Men in North India, 35 Dev. Change 963, 967 – 983 (2004).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India, 2001 Census Data, DATA HIGHLIGHTS: THE SCHEDULED CASTES.

Available at: –

[25] The concept of “Sanskritization” and “Dominant caste” was given by M.N. Srinivas.

[26] Vani Kant Borooah et al., The Effectiveness of Jobs Reservation: Caste, Religion and Economic Status in India, 38 Dev. Change 423, 423 – 426 (2007).


[28] Richa Srivastava, 50 cases of honour crimes reported in Uttar Pradesh last year, The Hindustan Times (Mar. 8th, 2018, 1: 13 pm).

Available at: –

[29] Supra Note, 9.

Written By

Malaya Joshi

The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences

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