當代印度的種姓制度基於人稱「迦提」的社會組別以及理論上的瓦爾那應運而生。「瓦爾納」制度早在公元前1000年就已經出現在印度教的若干文獻中，將社會構想為由四個階層組建出的結構：婆羅門（教師、學者、牧師）、 剎帝利（戰士、貴族）、吠舍（農民、商人、手藝人）以及首陀羅（勞務者）。這些文獻並沒有提及在瓦爾納制度中有任何分離、不可接觸的種姓類別。學者們認為，瓦爾納系統是婆羅門構想出來的理論社會階級制度，但並沒有真的在社會當中成功運作過。社會運行的模式是一直基於迦提（出身）的，並沒有特別依照某些規則進行區分，但因種族、職業等原因而異。不同迦提之間是可以相互通婚的，但因長久以來的生活方式、社會地位、經濟實力的原因，人們會對不同的階級的地位產生模糊的高低貴賤的概念。實際上，迦提的制度可能與瓦爾納的制度並不互通。許多重要的迦提，比如賈特和亞達夫（Yadavs）就橫跨了兩個瓦爾納制度（Kshatriyas 和 Vaishyas），就連迦提的瓦爾納現狀本身也時時有待澄清。
Starting with the British colonial Census of 1901 led by Herbert Hope Risley, all the jātis were grouped under the theoretical varnas categories. According to political scientist Lloyd Rudolph, Risley believed that varna, however ancient, could be applied to all the modern castes found in India, and "[he] meant to identify and place several hundred million Indians within it." The terms varna (conceptual classification based on occupation) and jāti (groups) are two distinct concepts: while varna is the idealised four-part division envisaged by the Twice-Borns, jāti (community) refers to the thousands of actual endogamous groups prevalent across the subcontinent. The classical authors scarcely speak of anything other than the varnas, as it provided a convenient shorthand; but a problem arises when even Indologists sometimes confuse the two.
Upon independence from Britain, the Indian Constitution listed 1,108 castes across the country as Scheduled Castes in 1950, for positive discrimination. The Untouchable communities are sometimes called Scheduled Castes, Dalit or Harijan in contemporary literature. In 2001, Dalits were 16.2% of India's population. Most of the 15 million bonded child workers are from the lowest castes.
Independent India has witnessed caste-related violence. India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes – the most disadvantaged groups - in a separate category. In 2005, government recorded approximately 110,000 cases of reported violent acts, including rape and murder, against Dalits  For 2012, the government recorded 651 murders, 3,855 injuries, 1,576 rapes, 490 kidnappings, and 214 cases of arson.
The socio-economic limitations of the caste system are reduced due to urbanization and affirmative action. Nevertheless, the caste system still exists in endogamy and patrimony, and thrives in the politics of democracy, where caste provides ready made constituencies to politicians. The globalization and economic opportunities from foreign businesses has influenced the growth of India's middle-class population. Some members of the Chhattisgarh Potter Caste Community (CPCC) are middle-class urban professionals and no longer potters unlike the remaining majority of traditional rural potter members. The co-existence of the middle-class and traditional members in the CPCC has created intersectionality between caste and class. There is persistence of caste in Indian politics. Caste associations have evolved into caste-based political parties. Political parties and the state perceive caste as an important factor for mobilization of people and policy development. It is not politics that gets caste-ridden; it is caste that gets politicized.
尼泊爾的種姓制度和印度的迦提制度很像，有著若干的迦提分類，並用瓦爾納制度大致將二者等同，但社會、文化的不同自然也使得種姓制度有所不同。有銘文顯示，在尼波羅國時期就已經出現了種姓制度。賈亞斯提提·馬拉（Jayasthiti Malla，尼泊爾國王，1382年 - 1395年期間在位）就將尼瓦爾人分成了64個種姓；馬亨德拉·馬拉在位期間（Mahindra Malla，1506年-1575年期間在位）也做出了類似的舉動。後來，Ram Shah（1603年 - 1636年期間在位）在廓爾喀設立了印度的社會制度。
Both ethnic affiliation (e.g. Pathan, Sindhi, Baloch, Punjabi, etc.) and membership of specific biraderis or zaat/quoms are additional integral components of social identity. Within the bounds of endogamy defined by the above parameters, close consanguineous unions are preferred due to a congruence of key features of group- and individual-level background factors as well as affinities. McKim Marriott claims a social stratification that is hierarchical, closed, endogamous and hereditary is widely prevalent, particularly in western parts of Pakistan. Frederik Barth in his review of this system of social stratification in Pakistan suggested that these are castes.
The caste system in Sri Lanka is a division of society into strata, influenced by the textbook varnas and jāti system found in India. Ancient Sri Lankan texts such as the Pujavaliya, Sadharmaratnavaliya and Yogaratnakaraya and inscriptional evidence show that the above hierarchy prevailed throughout the feudal period. The repetition of the same caste hierarchy even as recently as the 18th century, in the British/Kandyan period Kadayimpoth - Boundary books as well, indicates the continuation of the tradition right up to the end of Sri Lanka's monarchy.
- Brahmanas - priest
- Satrias - knighthood
- Wesias - commerce
- Sudras - servitude
The Brahmana caste was further subdivided by these Dutch ethnographers into two: Siwa and Buda. The Siwa caste was subdivided into five – Kemenuh, Keniten, Mas, Manuba and Petapan. This classification was to accommodate the observed marriage between higher caste Brahmana men with lower caste women. The other castes were similarly further sub-classified by these 19th-century and early-20th-century ethnographers based on numerous criteria ranging from profession, endogamy or exogamy or polygamy, and a host of other factors in a manner similar to castas in Spanish colonies such as Mexico, and caste system studies in British colonies such as India.
During the period of Yuan Dynasty, ruler Kublai Khan enforced a Four Class System, which was a legal caste system. The order of four classes of people was maintained by the information of the descending order were:-
- Semu people
- Han people (in the northern areas of China)
- Southerners (people of the former Southern Song dynasty)
Some scholars notes that it was a kind of psychological indication that the earlier they submitted to Mongolian people, the higher social status they would have. The 'Four Class System' and its people received different treatment in political, legal, and military affairs.
Heidi Fjeld has put forth the argument that pre-1950s Tibetan society was functionally a caste system, in contrast to previous scholars who defined the Tibetan social class system as similar to European feudal serfdom, as well as non-scholarly western accounts which seek to romanticize a supposedly 'egalitarian' ancient Tibetan society.
In Japan's history, social strata based on inherited position rather than personal merit, was rigid and highly formalized in a system called mibunsei (身分制). At the top were the Emperor and Court nobles (kuge), together with the Shogun and daimyo. Below them, the population was divided into four classes: samurai, peasants, craftsmen and merchants. Only samurai were allowed to bear arms. A samurai had a right to kill any peasants, craftsman or merchant who he felt were disrespectful. Merchants were the lowest caste because they did not produce any products. The castes were further sub-divided; for example, peasants were labelled as furiuri, tanagari, mizunomi-byakusho among others. As in Europe, the castes and sub-classes were of the same race, religion and culture.
De Vos and Wagatsuma observe that Japanese society had a systematic and extensive caste system. They discuss how alleged caste impurity and alleged racial inferiority, concepts often assumed to be different, are superficial terms, and are due to identical inner psychological processes, which expressed themselves in Japan and elsewhere.
Japan had its own untouchable caste, shunned and ostracized, historically referred to by the insulting term Eta, now called Burakumin. While modern law has officially abolished the class hierarchy, there are reports of discrimination against the Buraku or Burakumin underclasses. The Burakumin are regarded as "ostracised." The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō and those of residents of Korean and Chinese descent.
The baekjeong (백정) were an 「untouchable」 outcaste of Korea. The meaning today is that of butcher. It originates in the Khitan invasion of Korea in the 11th century. The defeated Khitans who surrendered were settled in isolated communities throughout Goryeo to forestall rebellion. They were valued for their skills in hunting, herding, butchering, and making of leather, common skill sets among nomads. Over time, their ethnic origin was forgotten, and they formed the bottom layer of Korean society.
In 1392, with the foundation of the Confucian Joseon dynasty, Korea systemised its own native class system. At the top were the two official classes, the Yangban, which literally means "two classes." It was composed of scholars (munban) and warriors (muban). Scholars had a significant social advantage over the warriors. Below were the jung-in (중인-中人: literally "middle people". This was a small class of specialized professions such as medicine, accounting, translators, regional bureaucrats, etc. Below that were the sangmin (상민-常民: literally 'commoner'), farmers working their own fields. Korea also had a serf population known as the nobi. The nobi population could fluctuate up to about one-third of the population, but on average the nobi made up about 10% of the total population. In 1801, the vast majority of government nobi were emancipated, and by 1858 the nobi population stood at about 1.5 percent of the total population of Korea. The hereditary nobi system was officially abolished around 1886–87 and the rest of the nobi system was abolished with the Gabo Reform of 1894, but traces remained until 1930.
The opening of Korea to foreign Christian missionary activity in the late 19th century saw some improvement in the status of the baekjeong. However, everyone was not equal under the Christian congregation, and even so protests erupted when missionaries tried to integrate baekjeong into worship, with non-baekjeong finding this attempt insensitive to traditional notions of hierarchical advantage.[來源請求] Around the same time, the baekjeong began to resist open social discrimination. They focused on social and economic injustices affecting them, hoping to create an egalitarian Korean society. Their efforts included attacking social discrimination by upper class, authorities, and "commoners," and the use of degrading language against children in public schools.
With the Gabo reform of 1896, the class system of Korea was officially abolished. Following the collapse of the Gabo government, the new cabinet, which became the Gwangmu government after the establishment of the Korean Empire, introduced systematic measures for abolishing the traditional class system. One measure was the new household registration system, reflecting the goals of formal social equality, which was implemented by the loyalists』 cabinet. Whereas the old registration system signified household members according to their hierarchical social status, the new system called for an occupation.
While most Koreans by then had surnames and even bongwan, although still substantial number of cheonmin, mostly consisted of serfs and slaves, and untouchables did not. According to the new system, they were then required to fill in the blanks for surname in order to be registered as constituting separate households. Instead of creating their own family name, some cheonmins appropriated their masters』 surname, while others simply took the most common surname and its bongwan in the local area. Along with this example, activists within and outside the Korean government had based their visions of a new relationship between the government and people through the concept of citizenship, employing the term inmin ("people") and later, kungmin ("citizen").
Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported that "Every North Korean citizen is assigned a heredity-based class and socio-political rank over which the individual exercises no control but which determines all aspects of his or her life." Regarded as Songbun, Barbara Demick describes this "class structure" as an updating of the hereditary "caste system", combining Confucianism and Stalinism. She claims that a bad family background is called "tainted blood", and that by law this "tainted blood" lasts for three generations.
Pre-Islamic Sassanid society was immensely complex, with separate systems of social organization governing numerous different groups within the empire. Historians believe society comprised four social classes:
Various sociologists have reported caste systems in Africa. The specifics of the caste systems have varied in ethnically and culturally diverse Africa, however the following features are common - it has been a closed system of social stratification, the social status is inherited, the castes are hierarchical, certain castes are shunned while others are merely endogamous and exclusionary. In some cases, concepts of purity and impurity by birth have been prevalent in Africa. In other cases, such as the Nupe of Nigeria, the Beni Amer of East Africa, and the Tira of Sudan, the exclusionary principle has been driven by evolving social factors.
Among the Igbo of Nigeria - especially Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Edo and Delta states of the country - Obinna finds Osu caste system has been and continues to be a major social issue. The Osu caste is determined by one's birth into a particular family irrespective of the religion practised by the individual. Once born into Osu caste, this Nigerian person is an outcast, shunned and ostracized, with limited opportunities or acceptance, regardless of his or her ability or merit. Obinna discusses how this caste system-related identity and power is deployed within government, Church and indigenous communities.
The Songhai economy was based on a caste system. The most common were metalworkers, fishermen, and carpenters. Lower caste participants consisted of mostly non-farm working immigrants, who at times were provided special privileges and held high positions in society. At the top were noblemen and direct descendants of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen and traders.
In a review of social stratification systems in Africa, Richter reports that the term caste has been used by French and American scholars to many groups of West African artisans. These groups have been described as inferior, deprived of all political power, have a specific occupation, are hereditary and sometimes despised by others. Richter illustrates caste system in Ivory Coast, with six sub-caste categories. Unlike other parts of the world, mobility is sometimes possible within sub-castes, but not across caste lines. Farmers and artisans have been, claims Richter, distinct castes. Certain sub-castes are shunned more than others. For example, exogamy is rare for women born into families of woodcarvers.
Similarly, the Mandé societies in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone have social stratification systems that divide society by ethnic ties. The Mande class system regards the jonow slaves as inferior. Similarly, the Wolof in Senegal is divided into three main groups, the geer (freeborn/nobles), jaam (slaves and slave descendants) and the underclass neeno. In various parts of West Africa, Fulani societies also have class divisions. Other castes include Griots, Forgerons, and Cordonniers.
Tamari has described endogamous castes of over fifteen West African peoples, including the Tukulor, Songhay, Dogon, Senufo, Minianka, Moors, Manding, Soninke, Wolof, Serer, Fulani, and Tuareg. Castes appeared among the Malinke people no later than 14th century, and was present among the Wolof and Soninke, as well as some Songhay and Fulani populations, no later than 16th century. Tamari claims that wars, such as the Sosso-Malinke war described in the Sunjata epic, led to the formation of blacksmith and bard castes among the people that ultimately became the Mali empire.
As West Africa evolved over time, sub-castes emerged that acquired secondary specializations or changed occupations. Endogamy was prevalent within a caste or among a limited number of castes, yet castes did not form demographic isolates according to Tamari. Social status according to caste was inherited by off-springs automatically; but this inheritance was paternal. That is, children of higher caste men and lower caste or slave concubines would have the caste status of the father.
Ethel M. Albert in 1960 claimed that the societies in Central Africa were caste-like social stratification systems. Similarly, in 1961, Maquet notes that the society in Rwanda and Burundi can be best described as castes. The Tutsi, noted Maquet, considered themselves as superior, with the more numerous Hutu and the least numerous Twa regarded, by birth, as respectively, second and third in the hierarchy of Rwandese society. These groups were largely endogamous, exclusionary and with limited mobility. Maquet's theories have been controversial.
In a review published in 1977, Todd reports that numerous scholars report a system of social stratification in different parts of Africa that resembles some or all aspects of caste system. Examples of such caste systems, he claims, are to be found in Ethiopia in communities such as the Gurage and Konso. He then presents the Dime of Southwestern Ethiopia, amongst whom there operates a system which Todd claims can be unequivocally labelled as caste system. The Dime have seven castes whose size varies considerably. Each broad caste level is a hierarchical order that is based on notions of purity, non-purity and impurity. It uses the concepts of defilement to limit contacts between caste categories and to preserve the purity of the upper castes. These caste categories have been exclusionary, endogamous and the social identity inherited. Alula Pankhurst has published a study of caste groups in SW Ethiopia.
Among the Kafa, there were also traditionally groups labeled as castes. "Based on research done before the Derg regime, these studies generally presume the existence of a social hierarchy similar to the caste system. At the top of this hierarchy were the Kafa, followed by occupational groups including blacksmiths (Qemmo), weavers (Shammano), bards (Shatto), potters, and tanners (Manno). In this hierarchy, the Manjo were commonly referred to as hunters, given the lowest status equal only to slaves."
The Borana Oromo of southern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa also have a class system, wherein the Wata, an acculturated hunter-gatherer group, represent the lowest class. Though the Wata today speak the Oromo language, they have traditions of having previously spoken another language before adopting Oromo.
The traditionally nomadic Somali people are divided into clans, wherein the Rahanweyn agro-pastoral clans and the occupational clans such as the Madhiban were traditionally sometimes treated as outcasts. As Gabboye, the Madhiban along with the Yibir and Tumaal (collectively referred to as sab) have since obtained political representation within Somalia, and their general social status has improved with the expansion of urban centers.
Medieval Europe had a social stratification similar to that on the Indian subcontinent, that is:-
For centuries, through the modern times, the majority regarded Cagots of western France and northern Spain as an inferior caste, the untouchables. While they had the same skin color and religion as the majority, in the churches they had to use segregated doors, drink from segregated fonts, and receive communion on the end of long wooden spoons. It was a closed social system. The socially isolated Cagots were endogamous, and chances of social mobility non-existent.
In July 2013, the UK government announced its intention to amend the Equality Act 2010 to "introduce legislation on caste, including any necessary exceptions to the caste provisions, within the framework of domestic discrimination law". Section 9(5) of the Equality Act 2010 provides that "a Minister may by order amend the statutory definition of race to include caste and may provide for exceptions in the Act to apply or not to apply to caste".
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- Oxford English Dictionary (caste, n., Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition; online version June 2012, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989 [2012-08-05]) Quote: caste, n. 2a. spec. One of the several hereditary classes into which society in India has from time immemorial been divided; ... This is now the leading sense, which influences all others.
- Parry, Jonathan, Caste, (編) Kuper, Adam; Kuper, Jessica, Social Science Encyclopedia, London and New York: Routledge: 131, 2003, ISBN 978-0-415-28560-5
- Pavri, Firooza, Caste, (編) Tim Forsyth, Encyclopedia of International Development, Abingdon, Oxon, OX ; New York, NY: Routledge: 63–, 2004, ISBN 978-0-415-25342-0
- Ramu, G. N., Caste, (編) William A. Darity, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, (Macmillan social science library), Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008 [2012-09-24], ISBN 978-0-02-865967-1
- Roberts, Nathaniel P., Anthropology of Caste, (編) William A. Darity, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, (Macmillan social science library), Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008 [2012-09-24], ISBN 978-0-02-865967-1
- Salamone, Frank A., Caste, (編) Rodriguez, Junius P., The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery, Volume 1, Santa Barbara, CA; Oxford, UK: ABC-CLIO: 133, 1997 [2012-08-05], ISBN 978-0-87436-885-7
- Scott, John; Marshall, Gordon, caste, A Dictionary of Sociology, Oxford, UK; New York, NY: Oxford University Press: 66, 2005 [2012-08-10], ISBN 978-0-19-860987-2
- Sonnad, Subhash R., Caste, (編) Christensen, Karen; Levinson, David, Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE: 115–121, 2003 [2012-08-05], ISBN 978-0-7619-2598-9
- Sooryamoorthi, Radhamany, Caste Systems, (編) Leonard, Thomas M. (editor), Encyclopedia of the Developing World, New York, NY: Routledge: 252–, 2006 [2012-08-05], ISBN 978-0-415-97662-6
- Winthrop, Robert H., Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology, ABC-CLIO: 27–30, 1991 [2012-08-10], ISBN 978-0-313-24280-9
- Spectres of Agrarian Territory by David Ludden 11 December 2001
- "Early Evidence for Caste in South India", p. 467-492 in Dimensions of Social Life: Essays in honor of David G. Mandelbaum, Edited by Paul Hockings and Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York, Amsterdam, 1987.
- Auguste Comte on why and how castes developed across the world - in The Positive Philosophy, Volume 3 (see page 55 onwards)
- Robert Merton on Caste and The Sociology of Science
- Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age - Susan Bayly
- Class In Yemen by Marguerite Abadjian (Archive of the Baltimore Sun)
- International Dalit Solidarity Network: An international advocacy group for Dalits