Caste Interactions in Daily Life
The divisions between the castes are reaffirmed on a daily
basis, especially in rural areas, by many forms of language and
etiquette. Each caste uses different personal names and many use
slightly different forms of speech, so it is often possible for
people to determine someone's caste as soon as the person begins
speaking. Persons of lower rank behave politely by addressing
their superiors with honorable formulas and by removing their
headgear. A standard furnishing in upper caste rural houses is a
low stool (kolamba), provided so that members of lower
castes may take a lower seat while visiting. Villages are divided
into separate streets or neighborhoods according to caste, and
the lowest orders may live in separate hamlets. In times past,
low-caste persons of both sexes were prohibited from covering
their upper bodies, riding in cars, or building large homes.
These most offensive forms of discrimination were eliminated by
the twentieth century after extensive agitation.
Outside the home, most social interactions take place without
reference to caste. In villages, business offices, and factories,
members of different groups work together, talking and joking
freely, without feeling uncomfortable about their caste
inequalities. The modern urban environment makes excessive
concern about caste niceties impossible; all kinds of people
squeeze onto buses with few worries about intimate personal
contact. Employment, health, and educational opportunities are
officially open to all, without prejudice based on caste. In
urban slums, the general breakdown of social organization among
the destitute allows a wide range of intercaste relationships.
Despite the near invisibility of caste in public life, castebased factions exist in all modern institutions, including
political parties, and when it comes to marriage--the true test
of adherence to ritual purity--the overwhelming majority of
unions occur between members of the same caste.
Data as of October 1988